Antibiotic resistance is a real disease and it’s one of our own making.
Why there should be flesh-eating bacteria that cannot be controlled with antibiotics, in an era where robots perform surgery, is hard to understand.
Yet by recognizing what many–even many doctors–still believe about antibiotics, and is not true, we can use the drugs more wisely…and when we don’t really need them, we can use natural methods instead. Food can play a role in helping to fight infection, in surprising ways.
Fiction 1: We invented antibiotics around the time of penicillin, in the 1930s.
Not true: bacteria invented antibiotics, millions of years ago: bacteria isolated from caves, far from human interference for literally millions of years, are resistant to at least one type of modern antibiotic. So, antibiotic resistance has been with us since the beginning of the earth.
Fiction 2: Take every dose, even after you feel better.
I’ve recommended this myself, but the simple fact is that shorter-course therapies create less antibiotic resistance, and are invariably as effective as longer course: sinuitis, pneumonia, cellulitis, more). Bascially, shorter is better: if you feel better, and your symptoms are resolved, call your clinician to see if you can stop early. Chances are, you can.
Fiction 3: Antibiotic resistance happens because in the infection itself, bacteria mutate to combat the antibiotic.
Usually, resistance comes about because of a change in the microbiome (either the gut or the skin), not because of bacteria at the site (there is an exception to this: tuberculosis). But in most cases, resistance comes about because of bacteria’s natural genetic sharing of ways to resist other bacteria. preexisting resistance mechanisms. Somewhere in your body, normal bacteria naturally resistant to the antibiotic are now enriched, and can cause other infections.
Fiction 4: Antibiotics that kill bacteria are better than antibiotic that just immobilize them.
More studies have found an antibiotic that works by stasis to work better than the opposite: for many pneumonias, skin infections, sexually transmitted infections, even typhoid.
Fiction 5: The vast majority of antibiotics prescribed are needed and taken.
In reality, about a third of antibiotics given to patients in the medical office may be inappropriate, and inappropriate use lowers the population of bacteria that are not already resistant, making resistance worse.
Fiction 6: Antibiotics fed to animals don’t get transferred to what we eat when we eat animals.
Resistant bacteria may be transmitted to humans through the foods we eat. FDA-approved uses of antibiotics include:
Disease treatment for animals that are sick;
Disease control for a group of animals when some of the animals are sick;
Disease prevention for a group of healthy animals that are at risk of becoming sick; and
Growth promotion or increased feed efficiency in a herd or flock of animals to promote weight gain.
What can you do?
- Take antibiotics for only bacterial infections: they do not work against viruses. Ask your doctor whether you have a viral infection or a bacterial one.
- Ask for a short course of therapy, not a long one. Shorter is better.
- Eat for a diverse microbiome, so you can have many different kinds of helper bacteria to ride out any antibiotic storm.
- Take probiotics 4 hours apart from your antibiotics, so your antibiotics do not kill your probiotics…beneficial bacteria you are replacing as the antibiotics you are taking work on all the bacteria in the body.
- Make sure you eat probiotic foods as well, when you are taking antibiotics: naturally fermented sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, chile paste, olives and more.
- Make sure you eat prebiotic foods too: these help to feed the probiotics: foods with fiber are rich in prebiotics.
- Buy meats and poultry which are certified organic or sustainably raised, which have not been treated with antibiotics for the above FDA indications.=
For more scientific detail, see this excellent summary of five myths.
Recommended probiotics (Amazon)
Making kombucha, from The Art of Fermentation (The Splendid Table)