The more antibiotics are prescribed for coughs and flu-like illnesses, the more bacteria become resistant in a vicious cycle.
According to Reuters:
"Medical experts say overuse of antibiotics in Europe, the United States and other wealthy regions is building widespread resistance in and threatening vital medical treatments from hip replacements and cancer therapies, to intensive care."
There's much talk about the seriousness of antibiotic-resistant disease, yet few actually take it into consideration when making day-to-day health- and dietary decisions for their families.
It's easy to think that one more round of antibiotics won't hurt. In fact, many believe it's absolutely necessary for nearly all infections. And it's a rare person that gives any thought at all to the fact that eating factory farmed meat fuels antibiotic-resistant disease.
But this is where it needs to start – within the home of each and every one of us.
The Staggering Statistics of Lethal Antibiotic-Resistant Infections
Although doctors are urged to limit antibiotic prescriptions, as long as people ask to get them for every ear-, nose-, throat- or urinary infection they may have, the habitual prescribing of potent antibiotics is not likely to cease.
The knee-jerk decision to ask your doctor for antibiotics for every minor infection adds to the toll these drugs exact on public health, and it's a significant one.
Did you know that antibiotic-resistant infections now claim more lives each year than the "modern plague" of AIDS?
It's hard to believe, but according to a study published in October, 2007 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), there were close to 100,000 cases of invasive Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections in the United States in 2005, which lead to more than 18,600 deaths.
HIV/AIDS, meanwhile, killed 17,000 people that same year.
And when you include ALL resistant infections, not just MRSA, the numbers become even more staggering.
Approximately 1.7 million Americans contracted infections during hospital stays in 2007, and a subsequent 100,000 people perished from these diseases, according to the U.S. Center of Disease Control (CDC).
It's also costing the American health care system more than $1.87 billion a year to treat these drug-resistant bacteria, according to Reuters.
As long as we continue using bazookas to eradicate mosquitoes, which is essentially what you're doing when using potent antibiotics for minor infections, this trend of creating ever more resistant strains of infections will continue.
Keep in mind that, according to this latest meta-analysis, the health risk from over-use of antibiotics is also a very personal one, as opposed to simply raising the occurrence of antibiotic resistance in the general population over time.
"The more antibiotics are prescribed for coughs and flu-like illnesses, or urine infections, the more bacteria become resistant in a vicious cycle, said British researchers who analyzed 24 previous studies of antibiotic resistance.
"The effect is greatest in the month immediately after treatment, but may last for up to a year, and this residual effect may be a driver for high levels of resistance in the community."
What this boils down to is that whenever you use an antibiotic, you're increasing your susceptibility to developing infections with resistance to that antibiotic – and you can become the carrier of this resistant bug, and spread it to others.
"… The more we prescribe, the more the bacteria become resistant," says lead researcher Alastair Hay. "And really the only way of turning that vicious cycle into a virtuous circle is to only prescribe when it is absolutely necessary in the first place." [Emphasis mine.]
Naturally, this issue needs to be addressed on a large scale, by doctors and hospitals, but I urge you to also take personal responsibility and evaluate your own use of antibiotics, and avoid taking them -- or giving them to your children -- unless absolutely necessary.
How Your Dietary Choices Come into Play
Compounding the problem is that not only are potent antibiotics over-prescribed in modern medicine, they are also widely over-used in agriculture.
In fact, agricultural uses account for about 70 percent of all antibiotic use in the US, so it's a MAJOR source of human antibiotic consumption.
Animals are often fed antibiotics at low doses for disease prevention and growth promotion, and those antibiotics are transferred to you via meat, and even via the manure used as crop fertilizer.
Some countries have realized the hazard inherent in this and have opted for a healthier approach to raising their livestock. Denmark, for example, stopped the widespread use of antibiotics in their pork industry 12 years ago. After they implemented the ban on antibiotics, a Danish study confirmed that it had drastically reduced antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals and food.
So, reducing the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease is yet another reason for making sure you're only eating grass-fed, organically-raised meats.
Every so often, I'm criticized for recommending eating meat. But it's important to remember that I ONLY recommend meat from organic, grass-fed, free-range, humanely raised animals.. They are far superior to conventionally farmed meats in terms of quality and nutritional content, and second, they're not treated with antibiotics and other growth hormones.
So, please, understand that any time I discuss meat consumption, it is with the explicit understanding that I only promote humanely raised, organically farmed livestock that have roamed free, feeding on their natural food source, without any use of antibiotics and other growth-promoting drugs typically used in conventional farming.
(For more information about real meaning behind meat labels such as "free-range," or "biodynamic," please review this previous article.)
So keep in mind that in addition to enjoying better health, becoming an educated consumer and selecting organic meats over conventionally-raised meats will help quell the rise of antibiotic-resistant disease.
Natural Approaches to Preventing MRSA
Aside from the long-term preventive strategies of avoiding frivolous use of antibiotics for minor infections, and opting for antibiotic-free, organic meats, there are also several sound methods that can greatly hinder the spread of infectious disease on a day-to-day basis:
- Wash Your Hands ... and Make Sure Your Doctor Does Too
Handwashing, which is one of the oldest and most powerful antibacterial treatments, may be the key to preventing MRSA.
According to a Johns Hopkins study, the best way for patients to avoid such infections is for doctors and nurses to simply wash their hands before touching a patient. This is the most common violation in hospitals!
Be sure to use a mild soap, and avoid all antibacterial soaps as they typically contain triclosan, a dangerous chemical that can cause even more resistant bacteria. More importantly, antibacterial agents are not necessary for soap to work.
Studies have shown that people who use antibacterial soaps and cleansers develop a cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms just as often as people who use products that do not contain these antibacterial ingredients. In other words they are unnecessary and can cause you additional problems.
Guidelines to proper hand-washing include:
- Wash your hands for 10 to 15 seconds with warm water
- Use plain soap
- Clean all the nooks and crannies of your hands, including under fingernails
- Rinse thoroughly under running water
- In public places use a paper towel to open the door as a protection from germs that harbor on handles
- Avoid Sharing Your Personal Items
Since infection can spread by contact with contaminated objects, keep personal items like towels, clothing, bed linens, athletic equipment, razors and more to yourself.
- Use Natural Disinfectants
As with antibacterial hand soaps, antibacterial house cleaners are also best avoided. A natural all-purpose cleanser that works great for kitchen counters, cutting boards and bathrooms is 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Just put each liquid into a separate spray bottle, then spray the surface with one, followed by the other.
- Eat Garlic
Researchers have found that allicin, the active compound in garlic, is an effective, natural "antibiotic" that can eradicate even antibiotic-resistant bugs like MRSA. An added benefit is that the bacteria appear incapable of developing a resistance to the compound.
Keep in mind that the garlic must be fresh! The active ingredient is destroyed within one hour of smashing the garlic, so garlic pills are virtually worthless and should not be used.
Instead, compress the garlic with a spoon prior to swallowing it (if you are not going to juice it). If you swallow the clove intact you will not convert the allicin to its active ingredient.
Of course, there may be other effective strategies than the ones I just mentioned.
If you know of any others that would be helpful for preventing the spread of infections, I encourage you to add your comment below. If you aren't already registered it will literally only take a moment to register so you can post your own words of wisdom.