Antibiotics have had a staggering impact on human health and life expectancy. These anti-bacterial drugs have saved millions of lives and dramatically reduced suffering. But perhaps they have been too successful. Antibiotics have been used (incorrectly) to treat viruses, added to animal feed to increase yields and even put in hand soaps.
Much has been written about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and this is a grave concern. However, people, even physicians, sometimes lose sight of the fact that antibiotics are drugs. Like any drugs, they have side effects and contraindications.
The problem with the way we often use antibiotics is that they represent too much of a good thing. If you have a serious bacterial infection, by all means, take this type of critical, lifesaving medicine. However, like any drug, it’s good to steer clear of overuse in order to optimize the drug’s effectiveness and your long-term health.
Here are the top reasons to avoid antibiotics and how to take them safely…
1. They’re creating resistant bacteria
Certain bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, and the widespread overuse of antibiotics has already led to the development of drug-resistant harmful bacteria. You may already have heard of the difficult-to-treat and dangerous methicillin-resisitant staph aureus (MRSA). When you use antibiotics for every little minor illness, the bacteria in your body build a resistance to them, increasing the likelihood of them not working when you have a serious illness and legitimately need them later on.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now openly admits that antibiotic prescriptions have led to the calamitous emergence of super bugs that are impervious to our scientific ‘medicines.’
2. They eliminate gut bacteria
We’re hearing a lot about the importance of the microbiome these days. Healthy communities of flora in our gut help regulate everything from our weight, mood and mental health to our immunity and hormones.
It’s generally recognized that antibiotics can distort the healthy probiotic bacteria that live in your digestive tract. Antibiotics cause a lot of collateral damage to the good bacteria colonies when they’re eliminating the bad ones – which doesn’t spell good things for your body.
One of the most serious findings in recent research is the detrimental effect antibiotics can cause on mitochondria in the digestive tract. Mitochondria are tiny structures that produce cellular energy and are crucial to proper growth. When antibiotics put digestive mitochondria out of business, they threaten the basic ability of the digestive tract to function. That can lead to diarrhea, ulcerative colitis and other serious disease.
3. They increase your risk of cancer
Overusing antibiotics can have deadly consequences…
And I’m not just talking about antibiotic resistance (we’ve all read the horror stories about MRSA, C-difficile and Candida).
I’m talking about one of the most life-threatening diseases around — cancer.
You see, in the past decade or two, several studies have linked antibiotic use to an increased risk of cancer.
A 2004 study found a connection between antibiotic use and a higher risk of chest cancer.
A 2008 study linked antibiotic use to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including prostate, chest and lung cancer (it also found that antibiotic use was connected to an increased risk of dying from these cancers).
And a 2015 study linked specific types of antibiotics to an increased risk of stomach, lung, prostate and chest cancer
4. They are sometimes worthless
Millions of unnecessary antibiotic are prescribed each year. If you take antibiotics when you don’t actually need them they also can destroy your health and immunity.
You probably know that antibiotics do nothing for illnesses caused by viruses. So then why do some doctors so often prescribe antibiotics for viral bronchitis? And, why do other doctors try to talk you out of getting a prescription for an antibiotic therapy?
There is good reason for both approaches. But it’s important to consider the threat of antibiotic resistance when doling out antibiotics. When doctors prescribe them unnecessarily, and patients demand them when they aren’t warranted — or don’t take them as directed — it contributes to an already serious problem.
5. They can have severe side effects
Some classes of antibiotics like fluoroquinolones have severe side effects. The common drugs in this class include Avelox, Cipro, and Levaquin.
The side effects associated with these drugs can cause permanent damage. They are so severe that they contain an FDA black box warning on their packaging and patient inserts that state that these drugs can cause tendon damage and permanent peripheral neuropathy. That is nerve damage that causes tingling, numbness, pain, weakness and change in sensation.
These drugs may exacerbate muscle weakness in people with myasthenia gravis. They can also cause tendon rupture and joint swelling, skin reactions, loss of memory and even psychosis. Additional side effects can include kidney damage, vision problems, retinal detachment, hearing problems and heart damage.
These side effects are certainly not what the doctor prescribed and are on top of the gastrointestinal effects associated with these and other antibiotics.
6. There are other options
Sometimes during a cold or flu — or any time your immune system is stressed — an opportunistic bacterium gains a foothold. So it’s a good idea to stock up on natural antibacterial ingredients just in case. These natural agents can support overall immune health in addition to fighting bad bacteria — very different from antibiotic drugs which weaken your system by destroying healthy bacteria as well.
Since it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between a viral infection and a bacterial infection, it’s important to consult your health practitioner if symptoms persist.
Herbs and foods with natural antibiotic and immune boosting properties include cinnamon, clove, echinacea, garlic, honey, sage, usnea, yarrow and oregano.
7. If you have to take them…
If you have a serious bacterial infection, antibiotics may be necessary to help your body recover. But if you take those drugs, there’s a natural supplement you should also take to avoid uncomfortable side effects.
Taking antibiotics can cause diarrhea when the drugs kill off the friendly bacteria in your digestive tract. A growing body of research, however, has firmly established that you may be able to restore the good bugs by taking probiotic supplements or eating fermented foods (like sauerkraut) in between your doses of antibiotics. They’re particularly helpful for alleviating diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
Experts advise taking probiotics supplements a few hours after taking antibiotics so that the medicine doesn’t kill the helpful organisms in the supplements.