How many times in the consulting room do Homeopaths hear the same old story about antibiotics? A sickly looking adult or child has had one dose of antibiotics after another for recurring illnesses and infections. Sometimes the first dose of antibiotics has been given when the child is only a few weeks old. It is not uncommon to see a patient on their forth or fifth prescription that winter. The antibiotics may appear to help in the short term, but the person is obviously not becoming healthier.
With winter on our doorstep, here is a word of warning. We are now in the era of antibiotic resistance. The war on germs was declared when scientists first realised that bacteria were associated with various illnesses. Most people know the story of Penicillin – how in the late1920’s Alexander Fleming first saw the mould growing in his experimental plates containing staphylococci and noticed how the fungus – penicillin notatum, was killing of the live bacteria. The Florey group at Oxford University in England took up the challenge of isolating and finding a way of creating large quantities of penicillin. This war on germs continues still after 60 years and has yet to show signs of relenting.
As early as the 1940’s Howard Florey was noticing antibiotic resistance. Nowadays we need stronger and stronger antibiotics to achieve the same effect. The bacteria that survive each chemical onslaught are even stronger than their antecedents. The Clinical Director for Infection, at University College Hospital in London, Vanya Grant, stated “A dose of Amoxycillin which is regularly prescribed for sore throats, destroys 95% of your gut flora in one day. It destroys the good bugs and the ones that remain are the really unpleasant ones, which then again hold in your body. We have 100 million organisms living in or on us. We have grown up and evolved from the moment we are born in a state of balance and symbiosis, and they know their place, they stay in the gut or on the skin. Some of them keep you alive. What antibiotics do in one fell swoop is to completely ruin that balance”.
Antibiotics work in numerous ways to destroy the metabolism or life cycle of the bacteria. Some disrupt the bacteria’s biochemical mechanisms, others interfere with the production of the cell wall, while others confuse the bacteria by mimicking certain natural substances. Bacteria are however very inventive and hardy creatures, taking little time to adapt even the most sophisticated attempts to stop their advances. The way they achieve this is by changing their genes and chemistry, so that the antibiotic has no effect. They can create many generations within a few hours because they reproduce so rapidly. This makes the new offspring resistant to current drugs, thus creating the costly and mostly ineffective cycle of creating newer, more sophisticated antibiotics to overtake.
Not only has antibiotic resistance affected nearly every disease-producing bacteria in humans, it has caused previously harmless bacteria to become disease causing. The widespread use of antibiotics has caused some E.Coli (a common intestinal bacteria), to mutate into a more noxious form that has been held responsible in cases of diarrhoea, bladder infections and other related complaints. A paper written by Professor Harold C. Neu, from the Department of Medicine and Pharmacology at Columbia University, in Science (August 1992), points out some amazing statistics. In 1941, 40 thousand units of penicillin per day for 4 days were needed in the treatment of pneumococcal pneumonia, whereas today, 24 million units per day could be given and the patient die of pneumococcal meningitis. The bacteria that lead to bowel, respiratory, blood, bladder and skin infections are now resistant to virtually all the older antibiotics and he blames the extensive use of antibiotics in hospitals and communities for the crisis.
The antibiotic resistance phenomenon is not unlike that of the increasing resistance of agricultural pests to pesticides. Scientists knew of 7 insect and mite species that were resistant to pesticides in 1938. By 1984 that figure stood at 447, including some of the world’s most serious pests. Like bacteria, pests have adapted and evolved sophisticated measures for resisting the action of these chemicals, in response to the wider and heavier variety of pesticides that have been developed and that are designed to kill them. Pesticides also kill the natural enemies of the pests, interfering with the natural balance of the environment, much like antibiotics destroy the natural enemies of bacteria and symbiosis in the human body.
Antibiotics are prescribed at an alarming rate. In the United States, Gynaecologists and Obstetricians alone, write over 2 ½ million antibiotic prescriptions a week, while in the same period doctors within hospitals write 1 ½ million prescriptions for antibiotics. Leading the way are GP’s and Paediatricians, whom prescribe over $500 million worth of antibiotics for one condition only – childhood ear infections, with the same amount again spent on other ailments of childhood. Antibiotic prescriptions for children have risen by 51% over the past 15 years and continue to be prescribed for conditions that do not warrant their use. The heavy prescribing of antibiotics does not come without costs, both in dollars and human suffering.
Doctors are armed with a multitude of information pertaining to the drugs they prescribe, including contraindications, supplementary therapies and recommended investigations. In the case of antibiotics, it is recommended that prior and during therapy, culture and susceptibility tests be carried out to determine the species of bacteria present (if any) and then to test the chosen antibiotic’s suitability against the bacteria before a prescription is given. Unfortunately this is rarely done. Doctors argue that susceptibility and culture tests are impractical and cannot wait the 2 or 3 days required to conduct such tests as the patient is ill and needs help now. They often believe they “know” bacteria are to blame and obviously assume to have the ability to discern the correct corresponding antibiotic to prescribe. The example of childhood ear infections, a problem that accounts for almost half of paediatric antibiotic prescriptions, shows the problem with this deduction. A doctor with a young patient who has an ear complaint has a number of options – give antibiotics, an antihistamine, pain relieving medication, perform surgery or do nothing. Redness and fluid is seen on examination, thus he/she assumes a bacterial infection is present and prescribes antibiotics. Thirty to fifty percent of middle ear fluid of children with ear complaints does not contain harmful, infection causing bacteria. It is reported that up to 70% of middle ears contain no harmful bacteria in children who have not responded to antibiotics or grommet insertion. The likelihood of unfounded and inappropriate antibiotic therapy is quite high when you look at these statistics. Unless there is a discharge from the ear, cultures of middle ear fluid are difficult to perform as an incision must be made in the eardrum to obtain a fluid sample. However blatant prescribing of antibiotics without knowing if there is bacteria present, it’s type and susceptibility to the chosen antibiotic, can lead to the wrong prescription and diagnosis.
Billions of dollars are spent each year on new antibiotics to kill the bacteria associated with bacterial infections. Most researchers are looking for answers to questions such as “How can we kill this bacteria?” or “How can we prevent the spread of that bacteria?” While there is significance in asking these questions, no one seems to ask “What is it that makes us susceptible or resistant to infection”, “Why do some people get every bug that comes around and others none at all?” The factors that influence susceptibility are always ignored. Take tonsillitis as an example, one of the most poorly treated conditions by doctors due to the over-prescribing of antibiotics. Up to 80% of throat infections are viral, in which antibiotics have no impact. It is common to have Strep bacteria in your throat without any evidence of illness or infection. These people are known as carriers because they carry the germ, passing on the infection to others without become ill themselves. Why do they remain so well in the presence of large numbers of infectious organisms? What is different about their immune systems that render them unaffected? Is their something about their diet and lifestyle that keeps them free of illness? If bacteria cause disease, why don’t these people become sick? These are the questions researchers should be asking. During outbreaks of tonsillitis alone, up to 60% of the population can be carriers without displaying symptoms, yet there is virtually no time or money spent on studying these people. Maybe the results may confirm the philosophies that Homeopaths and other “alternative” practitioners have had for years. Maybe there is too much at stake to endorse such simple, cost effective ways to maintain health and fight disease.
Most people would agree that in the right place and at the right time, antibiotics can and do save lives, but if we continue to use them almost indiscriminately they will no longer have the power to do this. I see so many cases of over-prescription in my practice. I’ve seen babies as young as 6 months old prescribed a 10 day course for redness of the external ear and when parents question the prescription, get told to find another doctor (mind you this was the only good advice they did get!). The majority of the time the redness is gone within 2 days, most often with the arrival of a tooth. These experiences, combined with the fact that Candida (thrush) occurs in 90% of my clients who have been treated with them, have made me even more certain that excessive and prolonged use of broad spectrum antibiotics does more harm than good. Yeast-related conditions can then lead to more serious illnesses, such as hormonal problems, ear infection, sinusitis, depression, chronic fatigue, vaginitis, gastrointestinal dysfunction and mental confusion. In some cases, antibiotics inhibit the body’s ability to identify and eradicate invading bacteria. People acquire natural immunity when antibiotic therapy is delayed, protecting them from repeated episodes. Because antibiotics hinder the initial immune response, re-infection and subsequent infection more than likely.
With the discovery of new germs each year, the effort to create a specific drug to kill them becomes more futile. More and more research is confirming that diet, exercise, environment, nutrition, stress, lifestyle habits and attitude, have a profound effect on our immunity and consequent resistance to disease. Homeopaths and other Natural Therapist believe that if an individual is acquiring repeated infections, the only long-term solution is to strengthen the immune system. Whenever possible, acute conditions such as colds, sore throats, ear and chest infections, should be treated with Homeopathic medicines or other natural therapies. If you or your children are prescribed antibiotics, and you choose to proceed with the treatment, it is most important to take a course of acidophilus immediately. You will need to take a dose 2 hours after each dose of antibiotics (any sooner the acidophilus will be killed by the anti-biotic), then once daily for 2-3 weeks after your prescription has finished.
The information, statistics and examples in this article are only the tip of the iceberg in comparison with the thousands of publications devoted to this topic. I encourage you to become informed, activated parents, investigating what you can do to improve the nutritional and immunological status of your family. Be aware of the alternatives to antibiotics and the options available to you, sharing with others what you have learnt – you will make a difference.
Hart, K. “Corporate Funded Research Mat Be Hazardous To Your Health”. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, 1989, 45:3
“Media-Chek”. International Medical News Group. New York, 1988
Neu, H C. “The Crisis Of Antibiotic Resistance” Science 1992; 257; 1064-1073
Oradell, N J. “Physician’s Desk Reference”. Medical Economics Company, 1990.
Schmidt, M A. “Childhood Ear Infections: What Every Parent and Physician Should Know” North Atlantic Books, Berkley, California, 1990
Schmidt, M A., Smith, L M., Schnert, K W. “Beyond Antibiotics –