That bacteria can survive on strange “foods” is no surprise; some bacteria can break down oil spills, for instance. And it’s already known that soil bacteria can withstand some antibiotics.
However, what surprised researchers was that so many bacteria were able to not only survive, but flourish, when fed 18 different, common, antibiotics, some at levels 50 to 100 times higher than would be given to a human patient.
Now scientists are racing to figure out just how the bacteria devour antibiotics, since more dangerous germs that sicken people could potentially develop the same ability, and increase the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bugs.
One silver lining to the discovery, however, is that the germs help to prevent big antibiotic buildups in the soil, despite the widespread use of the drugs for livestock and humans. Ever heard of the term “bioremediation”? Well it’s being used around the world to clean up some pretty toxic soils, and at its heart are bacteria. These tiny workers can detoxify some of the nastiest toxins out there, including hydrocarbons, pesticides, herbicides, nitrogen compounds, and metals like lead, mercury and chromium.
So it’s not much of a stretch to find out that they can also gobble up antibiotics in a very efficient manner.
The question is whether these largely harmless soil bacteria will one day transfer their love for antibiotics to disease-causing organisms, in which case we’ll have one pretty big mess on our hands. That is, unless we begin to reduce our reliance on antibiotics ahead of time.
Antibiotics: Panacea or Poison?
Under the right circumstances, antibiotics are very effective, and quite necessary. That said, I believe they are vastly overused, to the extent that perhaps only 5 percent of the time they’re prescribed are they truly necessary.
That leaves the other 95 percent of antibiotic prescriptions as completely unnecessary and often harmful.
First of all, antibiotics do carry side effects, including an increased risk of breast cancer, asthma, allergies, and damage to your nervous system.
They also strip your gut of its natural, healthy bacteria, which weakens your immune system, and can lead to all sorts of diseases and additional ailments.
Antibiotic Resistance is a Major Man-Made Problem
Additionally, the unrestrained use of antibiotics in the United States and elsewhere -- for things like colds, coughs, sore throats, ear aches and the flu, which cannot be treated with antibiotics and usually clear up on their own -- has already led to alarming increases in antibiotic resistance.
You’ve heard of the recent surge in drug-resistant MRSA? An overuse of antibiotics, in humans and also in agriculture and livestock, is to blame.
To get an idea of the magnitude of the issue, a study published October 2007 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found there were close to 100,000 cases of invasive MRSA infections in the United States in 2005, which lead to more than 18,600 deaths.
To put that number into perspective, HIV/AIDS killed 17,000 people that year.
Meanwhile, several common antibiotic ingredients have already become less effective due to the increase in drug-resistant bacteria, including:
- Cefaclor (used for chest infections)
- Trimethoprim (used to treat urinary tract infections)
It means that you had best take care and get your immune system healthy so that you can easily fight off disease-causing viruses and bacteria that you’re exposed to.
This means doing all those things you know you should be doing, but perhaps aren’t doing enough of:
- By not taking antibiotics unless they’re absolutely necessary
- By getting your food from pure sources, which don’t use antibiotics in their livestock or livestock feed (and therefore won’t have antibiotic-ridden manure for fertilizer either)
- By avoiding antibacterial soaps (simple soap and water is all you need)