By Dr Graham Simpson
Opinion: Unnecessary or overuse of antibiotics is a ticking health timebomb, writes Dr Graham Simpson
There’s no doubt that antibiotics save millions of lives each year, and either you or your family members will almost certainly have taken them in the past. But such is their widespread use or – let’s be honest – over-use, that it may not be too long before that common infection or minor injury could once again be fatal.
That’s a scary prospect and it’s why those of us who believe in a more holistic approach are keen to see a drastic reduction in their use. So let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know about the dangers of antibiotic resistance, and how preventive medicine can help you.
Right now, we’re seeing too many antibiotics being prescribed when it’s simply inappropriate. Most unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are for respiratory conditions caused by viruses –common colds, sore throats, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections – which do not respond to antibiotics.
Here in the UAE, a 2010 study revealed that nearly three-quarters of antibiotic sales in the UAE happen over-the-counter without prescriptions. That’s why this year the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) drafted new legislation to prohibit the sale of antibiotics at any pharmacy in the UAE without a prescription.
Indiscriminate use of antibiotics has led to very real fears surrounding disease resistance and increasing death tolls. The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes antibiotic resistance as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today”.
In the US alone, two million people are infected with drug-resistant strains every year, with some 23,000 deaths as a result. There have been alarming predictions that by 2050, nearly 10 million people a year could die from antibiotic resistant infections. That’s probably in your lifetime, and certainly in those of your children and grandchildren.
But let’s be clear – it’s not quite the case that if you take a particular type of antibiotic too often or unnecessarily that you will become immune to it. No – it’s more accurate to say that it is the bacteria itself, not individuals, which become resistant.
Bacteria, by their very nature, are used to coping with hostile environments and, unfortunately for us, are great survivors. In the case of antibiotics, they have learned how to adapt. In fact, the more often they are exposed to a specific antibiotic, the more chance the bacteria have of developing a resistance to it.
Taking antibiotics unnecessarily can also create problems for the body in other ways. Like most medications, they can cause side effects. Antibiotics are the second most common cause of anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction which can be fatal). Less serious and more common reactions include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and skin irritation. One broad spectrum antibiotic can knock out your microbiome over 18 to 24 months.
Every time you take a course of antibiotics, not only do you destroy the bad bacteria that are causing the infection, but you also often wipe out plenty of the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut as well, which plays a large part in keeping your body healthy. Remember you have about 100 trillion bacteria but only about 40 trillion human cells.
For starters, don’t rush to get antibiotics at the first sign of a cold. Too often they are seen as a quick fix but are not always the best treatment. That’s because antibiotics treat bacterial not viral infections.
If you take an antibiotic when you actually have a viral infection it will simply attack the ‘good’ bacteria in your body. This could enable potentially harmful bacteria to replace the harmless ones.
Instead, avoid having to take antibiotics in the first place by boosting your natural defenses. Follow a Paleo regime of moderate carbohydrate, fat and protein combination to achieve optimal health and include nature’s natural antibiotics such as ginger, tomatoes, garlic, and turmeric to strengthen your body’s own health defense mechanisms.
Always seek a confirmed diagnosis from your GP who will only prescribe medication where appropriate. Don’t self-diagnose and then buy antibiotics online.
It’s also absolutely vital that if you do have to take antibiotics that you finish the course. Bacteria that survive when you stop taking your medication can grow and evolve to resist the drug the next time around.
Then make sure you rebuild your stores of healthy bacteria. Do this by eating food such as plain Greek yoghurt, garlic, lentils, beans, and asparagus, on which the healthy bacteria in our gut thrive.
Probiotic supplements are another very effective way to speed things up here. And be sure to avoid all processed foods packed with transfats, emulsifiers, sugars and other harmful additives. Keeping your vitamin D levels between 70 and 80 will help prevent diseases.
There’s no doubt that antibiotics can save your life. However, if things continue as they are, their misuse could be responsible for the downfall of your health. In the UAE, as elsewhere throughout the world, the solution lies in a joint effort between medical professionals and clients. Doctors must stick to strict prescribing guidelines and you as the client must follow the instructions of your GP and be mindful of the potential consequences of overuse.
About the author: Dr Graham Simpson graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is board certified in Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine. Dr. Simpson is a founding member of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) and is also a licensed homeopath. He has taught as an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Nevada. He is certified in Age Management Medicine by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and by the Cenegenics Education Research Foundation, and he remains a consultant for the Cenegenics Medical Institute. Dr. Simpson writes extensively in his mission to educate the public so that we can all live better and healthier.