It’s alarming to think that 4.02 billion prescriptions are written in the US every year, a great majority for antibiotics. (That’s 13 for every man, woman, and child.) In examining the actual need for these prescriptions the medical journal, Internal Medicine, found that 60% of patients with a sore throat were prescribed an antibiotic when in reality, strep throat (which does require antibiotics) only occurs in 10% of sore throat cases. An abundance of evidence has shown antibiotics do not alleviate acute bronchitis and yet, 73% of patients with bronchitis receive an antibiotic.
The original intent of antibiotics was good. They were created to kill harmful bacteria that make us sick. While doing so, however, they also unfortunately kill millions of good bacteria or probiotics in the intestinal tract that perform vital functions like producing B complex vitamins such as biotin, riboflavin, thiamine, and pantothenic acid. These are the exclusive producers of vitamin B12, which is crucial for a healthy nervous system. Probiotics are essential for helping us break down our food and absorb nutrients, as well as proper elimination. They also make up about 80% of the immune system that fights off harmful microbes.
As doctors continue to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics, the population of probiotics in people’s guts are drastically declining. The result is things like poor digestion, constipation, malabsorption of nutrients, recurrent yeast infections in women, candida overgrowth, lowered immunity, and frequent illnesses.
With increasingly fewer probiotics for protection, harmful bacteria begin to proliferate. This can lead to inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis caused by Clostridium difficile and Crohn’s disease. Over the last decade, the US has experienced a huge increase in children being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease (59%) as well as ulcerative colitis (71%). In the UK, the BBC reported that The Health and Social Care Centre has announced a 300% increase in young people ages 16-29 being admitted to the hospital with Crohn’s disease when compared to 2004.
The best defense we have against cancer is our own immune system, but as probiotic populations dwindle, the risk rises. A six-year study of three million people in Finland who had no cancer history and were screened for risk factors found that those who had two to five antibiotic prescriptions in that time period experienced a 27% increase in cancer occurrence, and those who had six or more prescriptions showed a 37% increase in cancer diagnosis than people who’d taken no antibiotics. Similarly, a study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute found that breast cancer risk doubled for women who took more than 25 antibiotic prescriptions or those who took antibiotics for 500 total days over a 17-year period. Of course, all this says nothing about the development of many super pathogens like MRSA that have evolved to become antibiotic resistant because of over-prescription.
Fear & Facts
Contrary to popular belief, antibiotics aren’t responsible for saving human civilization from being wiped out by infectious diseases. Data shows that between 1860 and 1965, human deaths from infectious diseases like typhoid, pneumonia, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and others were already in steep decline long before antibiotics or vaccines were invented because the body was evolving to eradicate them naturally. In fact, researchers at Boston University found that medicine could only be credited with 3.5% of the total decline in deaths from these diseases since 1900. The dramatic decline in deaths was also due to improvements in civil sanitation systems, hygiene, and nutrition.
A Good Offense
The best strategy against pathogens is a strong immune system, which prevents them from taking hold in the first place. The best time to start rebuilding your immunity is before you get sick.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to help you cultivate healthy gut flora and boost your immunity….
1 | Eliminate sugar and simple carbs from your diet —
This can be difficult, but do the best you can. Bad bacteria in the gut that attack good bacteria thrive on sugar and simple carbs provided by junk foods. If you deny them their food source, many of them start to die and give the good guys a chance to repopulate the intestinal terrain.
2 | Take a daily probiotic supplement —
There are many great brands available. Anyone who has had even one round of antibiotics in their life, which is almost everyone, should be taking a probiotic daily. Get a supplement that offers at least 20 billion organisms if not more. If you absolutely must take an antibiotic, alternate it with your probiotic, taking them at least four hours away from each other. Otherwise, the antibiotic will kill all the probiotics in the supplement you’ve just taken. This will help continually restore the probiotics you lose while taking the course of antibiotics.
3 | Add fermented foods to your diet —
Lacto-fermentation was used to preserve foods long before refrigeration was available. This natural preservation process allows healthy bacteria to colonize within a food product and protect it from the bad bacteria that would seek to putrefy and spoil it. Some lacto-fermented foods include sauerkraut, kim chi (a Korean form of sauerkraut using other vegetables besides cabbage), yogurt, kefir, and kombucha (a fermented tea).
4 | Take the highest quality food-based vitamin you can find —
Nutritional deficiency is directly linked to lowered immunity. Be sure you’re giving your body all the nutrients it needs in the most absorbable form possible to operate and rebuild your immune system.
5 | Remove toxins from your environment —
The body was not meant to live in the toxic world we have created. Because of that, the detoxification channels of the body can get overwhelmed and we begin to accumulate harmful substances. Toxins from household cleaner fumes, cigarette smoke, auto exhaust, off-gassing from computer equipment, and preservatives and pesticides in non-organic food are just a few of the harmful exposures that lower our immunity. The more you can eliminate, the stronger your immunity will be.
6 | Eat foods that fight microbes —
Foods like garlic, coconut oil, oregano oil, lemon, and Manuka honey have been known to have powerful anti-microbial and detoxification properties. In fact, nurses in the UK are using Manuka honey to disinfect wounds instead of antibiotics. Honey has been used as a natural antiseptic since the ancient Egyptians. Manuka honey contains a powerful antioxidant called pinocembrin that’s been shown to kill MRSA in scientific trials. Interestingly, the high sugar content in honey renders the water within it chemically inert, making it unavailable for the growth of bad bacteria or fungus.
Stress suppresses immune function. Do everything you can to eliminate stress from your life. When we place ourselves unnecessarily in the fight-or-flight mode of stress, we hit the pause button on our immune system. During those times, bad bacteria can enter the body while the door is wide open and our soldiers are asleep.
I want to be clear that I’m not anti-antibiotics, but I do think doctors grossly over-prescribe them. I’ve prescribed antibiotics for patients, but only after other treatments have failed and as a last resort. If we can focus more on boosting our natural immunity, everyone will use fewer antibiotics and be much healthier for it.
For more information on Dr. Sadeghi’s services and public presentations please visit him at Be Hive of Healing Integrative Medical Center. You can also sign up for his monthly holistic health newsletter or get a copy of his yearly wellness journal, MegaZEN. Dr. Sadeghi is also the author of two books, Within: A spiritual awakening to love and weight loss, and The Clarity Cleanse: 12 steps to finding renewed energy, spiritual fulfillment, and emotional healing.