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Antibiotics: Do They Really Work?

Antibiotics: Do They Really Work?
Antibiotics: Do They Really Work?
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You bet they do. They’re frequently life-saving, miracle drugs. In fact, they work so well we’ve become addicted to them since they were first introduced, seventy years ago, and that’s the problem. We’ve used them so much that bacteria have become immune to our antibiotics because, like all life on earth, they adapt to their environment. In 2013 alone, two million Americans were infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria killing 23,000 of us. For those 23,000 Americans it might as well have been 1913 not 2013. These figures are so startling some feel we’re heading back into the pre-antibiotic era. The question is: how did we get here and how do we get out?

Lets start with the basics. Antibiotics kill bacteria. They do not kill viruses. This means they are of no value to you when you have a cold or a flu-like illness. Second, there is no such thing as a strong antibiotic. The antibiotic is appropriate or not appropriate. By far the best antibiotic is the one that specifically targets the bacteria causing your problem. Think of it as precision bombing. It targets the bad guy but leaves the good guys unharmed. If, however, you’re catastrophically sick, we’re forced to nuke your body with broad-spectrum antibiotics or you die. The idea is to kill every possible bug that might be harming you. Of course, as soon as possible, we stop the nukes and use precision bombs because, otherwise, the side effects for you are devastating and can be lethal. Third—and this is critical to understand—NOT all bacteria are bad.

It’s hard for a lot of people to grasp that some bacteria are our friends and, without them, we’d be sick. In fact our bodies are individual rain forests with trillions of microbes—not just bacteria—but viruses and fungi living in us and on us. This is called our microbiome and many consider it to be a newly discovered organ. Without our microbiome, we wouldn’t be alive. We couldn’t survive. Scientists are now telling us our microbiome is vital for a wide variety of everyday stuff, like food digestion and even brain function. In other words, if you want to be healthy, respect your microbiome.

So how do antibiotics and your microbiome play together?  Not well. For instance, when you take antibiotics by mouth, it can allow a nasty bug called Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) to take over your system, resulting in you pooping like there’s no tomorrow. And there might not be a tomorrow, if we don’t fix it. The treatment for this? Until recently it was “stronger” antibiotics with even nastier side effects. Sadly for many, even this wasn’t enough and they died.

A bright spark then came up with the idea that, if it’s just a question of bad bugs running rampant, why not transplant some “good” bugs from a healthy colon and see what happens.  Yeah you read it right. We’re talking “treating” patients with poop: BUT healthy poop. Disgusting, I admit, but remarkably effective.

You get the picture, respect your microbiome if you want to be healthy and stay healthy. Below are my tips on antibiotic use and how to avoid three “superbugs” that the Feds have labeled an urgent threat to all of us.

My tips on antibiotic use:

  • If your doctor says “I wouldn’t take antibiotics for this,” listen to him or her. Don’t take them. Don’t insist on them. In the era of corporate medicine and patient satisfaction scores, your Doc may well give you antibiotics if you insist so that you’ll leave happy and give him or her a good satisfaction score.  Remember: if a doc’s patient satisfaction score is low, his corporate “masters” will ding his salary.
  • If you’re taking antibiotics every time you get body aches and a runny nose or “sinusitis,” you’re harming not only your own body but making it much more likely that people in your local community will get sick with antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. Let me say again, unnecessary antibiotics are bad for you, your family and neighbors. In many ways, it’s as harmful to your community as drunk driving.
  • There is no such thing as left over antibiotics. If you’re prescribed a course of antibiotics, finish them. Half taking a course just gives the bad bugs time to regroup and bounce back to make you even sicker. And then guess what? We have to give you “stronger” antibiotics with even nastier side effects to get you well. Not finishing the course is dumb, so don’t be.
  • Take a probiotic while on antibiotics. It helps restore your microbiome and at the very least reduce the amount of antibiotic associated diarrhea.  For those of you unfamiliar with probiotics, they are live bacteria or yeast that help maintain or restore your microbiome. You’ll find them in everyday foods, like yogurt, or in capsule form at your local health food store or supermarket.

How to avoid getting infected with superbugs:

There are three superbugs that are considered an urgent threat because of antibiotic resistance. They are Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

  • C. difficile: This bug causes diarrhea. So, if you get diarrhea while on antibiotics or within weeks of taking them, tell your doctor and seek prompt treatment or you may end up with a poop transplant. Who wants that? Not me.
  • CRE prevention: These bacteria cause serious life threatening infections. So, if you’re hospitalized, insist on everyone that touches you washing their hands first. This not only includes your doctor, but each and every member of the support staff. Absolutely no exceptions.
  • Drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae:This is a sexually transmitted infection so use a condom. They work.

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