By Dr. Mercola
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), antibiotic resistance is a major threat to public health worldwide, and the primary cause for this man-made epidemic is the widespread misuse of antibiotics.1
Antibiotic overuse occurs not just in medicine, but also in food production. In fact, agricultural usage accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotic use in the US,2 so it's a MAJOR source of human antibiotic consumption.
According to a 2009 report3 by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on this subject, factory farms used a whopping 29 million pounds of antibiotics that year alone.
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 through the animal manure that is used as crop fertilizer.
Antibiotics are also used to compensate for the crowded, unsanitary living conditions associated with large-scale confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
CDC Confirms Link Between CAFOs and Superbugs
Now, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention4 (CDC) has finally come out saying that yes, antibiotics used in livestock plays a role in antibiotic resistance and "should be phased out." According to the CDC's report,5 22 percent of antibiotic-resistant illness in humans is in fact linked to food. As reported by the featured article:6
"The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said that the report shows that drug-resistant hazards in the food supply pose a serious threat to public health. One-third of the 12 resistant pathogens that CDC categorized as a 'serious' threat to public health are found in food."
The four drug-resistant pathogens in question are Campylobacter, which causes an estimated 310,000 infections and 28 deaths per year; Salmonella, responsible for another 100,000 infections and 38 deaths annually; along with E.coli and Shigella. To address this growing problem, the CDC's report issues the following recommendations:
- Avoid inappropriate antibiotic use in food animals
- Track antibiotic use in food animals
- Stop spread of Campylobacter among animals on farms
- Improve food production and processing to reduce contamination
- Educate consumers and food workers about safe food handling practices
Source: CDC.gov, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013
MRSA Spreading Via Hog Farms?
Two drug-resistant pathogens more commonly associated with antibiotic overuse in human medicine include Clostridium difficile and Staphylococcus aureus. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infects more than 80,460 people and kills 11,285 people annually. Disturbingly, as discussed in a recent Mother Jones7 article, MRSA infection has been rapidly increasing among people outside hospital settings as well.
As stated in the article:
"Increasing evidence points to factory-scale hog facilities as a source. In a recent study,8 a team of researchers led by University of Iowa's Tara Smith found MRSA in 8.5 percent of pigs on conventional farms and no pigs on antibiotic-free farms. Meanwhile, a study9, 10 just released by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who live near hog farms or places where hog manure is applied as fertilizer have a much greater risk of contracting MRSA."
In the latter study, people with the highest exposure to manure were 38 percent more likely to contract community-associated MRSA, and 30 percent more likely to get healthcare-associated MRSA. Level of exposure was calculated based on proximity to hog farms, the size of the farms, and how much manure the farm in question used.
Back in 2009 a University of Iowa study11 found that a full 70 percent of hogs and 64 percent of workers in industrial animal confinements tested positive for antibiotic-resistant MRSA. The study pointed out that, once MRSA is introduced, it could spread broadly to other swine and their caretakers, as well as to their families and friends.
In other parts of the world, such as the European Union, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed has been banned for years. Yet in the US this is still a topic of debate, with industry supporters trying to downplay the inevitable fact that this irresponsible use of antibiotics is most likely posing a serious risk to human health and the environment.
As reported in 2011, you have a 50/50 chance of buying meat tainted with drug-resistant bacteria when you buy meat from your local grocery store. This shocking finding came from a study by the Translational Genomics Research Institute,12 which revealed that 47 percent of the meat and poultry samples tested contained antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. These were samples from 80 different brands of beef, chicken, pork, and turkey from more than two dozen grocery stores scattered across the United States, in large cities from Los Angeles to Washington D.C.
The fact that antibiotic-resistant superbugs are found so widely in US meat supplies is a major red flag, a sign that we are nearing the point of no return where superbugs will continue to flourish with very little we can do to stop them. While I am not one to recommend many medications, antibiotics can be VERY useful when you need to treat a serious bacterial infection. When used properly, in the correct contexts and with responsibility, antibiotics can and do save lives that are threatened by bacterial infections. But they will only remain effective if urgent changes are made to curb the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and disease… and this will only happen with a serious reduction in their use now.
Choose Your Foods Wisely
Conventional medicine certainly needs to curtail its prescriptions for antibiotics, but even if you use antibiotics judiciously you're still exposed to great amounts of antibiotics from the foods you eat, and this is entirely unnecessary. This is one of the primary reasons why I ONLY recommend organic, grass-fed, free-range meats or organic pastured chickens, as non-medical use of antibiotics is not permitted in organic farming. They're also far superior to CAFO-raised meats in terms of nutritional content.
To source pure, healthful meats, your best option is to get to know a local farmer -- one who uses non-toxic farming methods. If you live in an urban area, there are increasing numbers of community-supported agriculture programs available that offer access to healthy, locally grown foods even if you live in the heart of the city. Being able to find high-quality meat is such an important issue for me personally that I've made connections with sources I know provide high-quality organic grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, both of which you can find in my online store. You can eliminate the shipping charges, however, if you find a trusted farmer locally. If you live in the US, the Weston Price Foundation13 also has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase these types of foods, including grass-fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.
How CAFO Meats May Decimate Your Gut Health
Antibiotic-resistant disease is not the only danger associated with the misuse of these drugs. Excessive exposure to antibiotics—which includes regularly eating antibiotic-laced CAFO meats—also takes a heavy toll on your gastrointestinal health. This in turn can predispose you to virtually any disease. Protecting your gut health and reducing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are significant reasons for making sure you're only eating grass-fed, organically-raised meats.
In related news, researchers at Oregon State University point out the close links between your gut health and a wide range of health issues.14 As noted in the university press release:
"Problems ranging from autoimmune disease to clinical depression and simple obesity may in fact be linked to immune dysfunction that begins with a 'failure to communicate' in the human gut, the scientists say. Health care of the future may include personalized diagnosis of an individual's 'microbiome' to determine what prebiotics or probiotics are needed to provide balance.
Appropriate sanitation such as clean water and sewers are good. But some erroneous lessons in health care may need to be unlearned—leaving behind the fear of dirt, the love of antimicrobial cleansers, and the outdated notion that an antibiotic is always a good idea. We live in a world of 'germs' and many of them are good for us.
An emerging theory of disease, [Dr. Natalia] Shulzhenko said, is a disruption in the 'crosstalk' between the microbes in the human gut and other cells involved in the immune system and metabolic processes. 'In a healthy person, these microbes in the gut stimulate the immune system as needed, and it in turn talks back,' Shulzhenko said. 'There's an increasing disruption of these microbes from modern lifestyle, diet, overuse of antibiotics and other issues. With that disruption, the conversation is breaking down.'"
The widespread deterioration of people's gut health can be traced back to the change in our modern diet. This includes the introduction of meats from unnaturally-raised livestock, fed genetically engineered corn and soy along with a mixture of antibiotics and other drugs. But another important dietary factor is the shunning of traditionally fermented foods, which are naturally high in the beneficial bacteria necessary for optimal gut health. Mounting research shows that beneficial bacteria in your gut is likely to have significant benefits to your health and may be essential for:
- Protection against over-growth of other microorganisms that could cause disease
- Digestion of food and absorption of nutrients and certain carbohydrates
- Producing vitamins, absorbing minerals, and eliminating toxins
- Preventing allergies
- Maintaining natural defenses
Numerous studies have also shown that your gut flora plays a role in:
- Mood, psychological health, and behavior
- Celiac disease
- Weight gain and obesity
- Metabolic syndrome
Nurturing Your Gut Flora Is One of the Foundations of Optimal Health
Besides antibiotics, your gut bacteria are also vulnerable to factors such as chlorinated water, antibacterial soaps, pollution, and agricultural chemicals—especially glyphosate, which, incidentally, is the most widely used herbicide in the world. To protect your gut health, it's important to avoid processed, refined foods in your diet and to regularly reseed your gut with good bacteria by eating non-pasteurized, traditionally fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement.
One of the reasons why fermented foods are so beneficial is because they contain a wide variety of different beneficial bacteria. Also, if fermented with a probiotics starter culture, the amount of healthy bacteria in a serving of fermented vegetables can far exceed the amount you'll find in commercial probiotics supplements, making it a very cost-effective alternative. Ideally, you want to eat a variety of fermented foods to maximize the variety of bacteria you're consuming. Healthy options include:
Lassi (an Indian yogurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner) Various pickled fermentations of cabbage (sauerkraut), turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash, and carrots Tempeh Traditionally fermented raw milk such as kefir or yogurt, but NOT commercial versions, which typically do not have live cultures and are loaded with sugars that feed pathogenic bacteria Natto (fermented soy) Kim chee
When choosing fermented foods, steer clear of pasteurized versions, as pasteurization will destroy many of the naturally occurring probiotics. This includes most of the "probiotic" yogurts you find in every grocery store these days; since they're pasteurized, they will be associated with all of the problems of pasteurized milk products. They also typically contain added sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring, and artificial sweeteners, all of which will only worsen your health.
When you first start out, you'll want to start small, adding as little as half a tablespoon of fermented vegetables to each meal, and gradually working your way up to about a quarter to half a cup (2 to 4 oz) of fermented vegetables or other cultured food with one to three meals per day. Since cultured foods are efficient detoxifiers, you may experience detox symptoms, or a "healing crisis," if you introduce too many at once. That said, three very positive changes occur when your good-to-bad intestinal bacteria ratio is brought back into balance:
- Digestive problems diminish or disappear
- Your immune system de-stresses and is better equipped to fight off disease of all kinds, contributing to a longer and healthier life
- Your body begins to use all the good food and nutritional supplements you feed it