There is a time and a place for everything in medicine. Even, I would (very) begrudgingly admit, statins. But too often we are using meds without a full understand of the dark side of medicine.
And that dark side can be as devastating to your health as any diseases we’re trying to conquer with drugs. Antibiotics are on this list.
When you would ask the average doctor what the principle danger of antibiotics is, it is almost assured that you will get antibiotic resistance as the answer. And antibiotic resistance is a community issue. As the prescribing physician, it’s easy to think that the risk of antibiotic resistance has little to do with the patient standing in front of you with an upper respiratory infection. After all, antibiotic resistance is a community” thing, not an “individual” thing.
In other words, if there is little harm of antibiotic resistance from unneeded antibiotic use to the patient staring you in the face, the potential benefit, however small, is worth the risk. So that prescription will be given on the off chance that it may help the upper respiratory infection.
The first peer reviewed published article on probiotics was published in 1908. Now, 106 years later (as of the writing of this article) very few doctors grasp even the basics of the relationship between us and the bacteria in our gut. This is despite literally thousands of studies documented the benefits of probiotics.
But even this concept is reversed.
It’s not about the benefits of probiotics. Rather, it’s about the devastating health consequences of destroying the beneficial bacteria seeking refuge in your body:
- Disrupted immune balance, leaving you susceptible to allergies, asthma and autoimmune conditions
- Inability to fight off infections from disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites
- Inability to detoxify toxic chemicals from the environment
- Alteration of the hormone balance in the body, leading to depression, obesity and anxiety
The list is far longer, but I think you get the idea.
The group who does NOT get the idea, however, is the one continuing to write prescriptions for antibiotics in all but the most severe cases. Ear infections. H. pylori in the stomach. Upper respiratory tract infections. Pharyngitis (sore throat). Before dental work. After every surgery. Sinus infections. As a preventative just in case a bacterial infection MIGHT happen during a viral illness. The list is quite long. And all of this in spite of mounds of research screaming to NOT use antibiotics.
Until prescribing providers truly, deeply and passionately understand just how important it is to have a normal bacterial flora living and thriving within us, our society will be plagued with chronic diseases.
This particular article drives this home. Even further, most of this entire Journal of Clinical Investigation is devoted to the topic of just how integrated bacterial populations are integrated into every part of our health.
The authors highlight the emerging viewpoint that we need to view ourselves and the bacteria within us as an ecological community. One where wanton destruction of its inhabitants have long-term damaging consequences to our health.
It takes no convincing for society to look with horror on the killing of Siberian tigers for the pelts, elephants for their tusks, the overfishing of certain fish populations to near extinction or the loss of the rainforests killing the abundant life that lives within.
It is through this lens that we need to view the bacteria within us. We need to focus our efforts on supporting solid growth and diversity in our newborns and infants through vaginal birth, breastfeeding and NO antibiotics in the first few years of life. As we age we need to focus on diets that support the growth of bacteria rich in soluble fibers and without processed junk. We need to do everything in our power to avoid drugs that block acid production in the stomach (unless a bleeding ulcer is present). And we need to change the way we raise livestock in an antibiotic soup.
Until we can make these changes, both in understanding and in behaviors, the modern, antiseptic life is going to rob us of health.