Most of the antibiotics we are being prescribed by health care providers are unnecessary and come with risks.
- Antibiotic abuse in the United States is widespread. We have 4.6% of the world’s population, but we have 46% of the world’s antibiotic market
- 1 in 10 doctors will write a prescription for an antibiotic even though they know it is not needed, just because a patient asks for it
- At least 10% of providers think that it doesn’t matter if antibiotics are given unnecessarily because they don’t cause any harm
- Almost half of all providers don’t counsel their patients against unnecessary antibiotic use
Antibiotics and Gut Damage
We talk quite a bit (maybe more than quite a bit) about the importance of the microbiome of the gut at our office . There continues to be more and more research into the exciting relationship between our lives and the world of the microorganisms that live in, on, and around us. What we already know is that a healthy gut flora helps to regulate everything from our weight and mental well-being to our immunity and hormones. The microbiome contributes to how many calories we take from our food and drive how well we detoxify from poor dietary choices and environmental exposures.
One of the most certain ways to do damage to your gut flora is taking antibiotics. Of course, an antibiotic is occasionally necessary and even life saving, but the fact is that most often they are unnecessary and even inappropriately prescribed.
In our practice, we see that many of the patients with chronic health problems, and especially digestive, allergy, hormonal, and autoimmune problems, share the common factor of having had a lot of antibiotics as babies, children, or young adults usually for ear infections, sinus infections, and bronchitis, and as young adults for acne.
We know that early antibiotic use (or frequent exposure at any time) can permanently damage the microbiome. There is strong evidence showing that even a single course of antibiotics in the first year of life increases our risk of developing gut problems and autoimmune conditions. Intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”, is a common reason for most food intolerances and many inflammatory conditions can also be triggered by damage as a result of antibiotics.
Antibiotic Resistance: What’s the Big Deal?
Antibiotic misuse is a problem for more than just to our gut flora. We are experiencing a major global health crisis due to antibiotic resistance — the antibiotics we rely on for serious and life-threatening diseases no longer work because we have used them so much that the bugs we are treating have outsmarted us and can withstand exposure to them. We now have antibiotic resistant super bugs and increasingly, no effective treatments for many of them! At least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, resulting in at least 23,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There are also immediate risks to taking antibiotics. They can cause allergic reactions, additional antibiotic resistant infections on top of whatever you are being treated for, and can cause a deadly diarrhea caused by the bacteria Clostridium difficile. Many antibiotics can cause additional serious consequences ranging from rupture of the tendons with common medications like ciprofloxacin used to treat urinary tract infections, to fatal cardiac arrhythmias. yet, we take them like they are no big deal.
Further, pharmaceutical companies are no longer developing new antibiotics because they “can’t break even.” The last new antibiotic class for gram-negative bacteria was the quinolones, developed 4 decades ago.
Why are they Over-prescribed?
There are many reasons that health care providers often over-prescribe antibiotics.The most common being uncomfortable not treating a possible bacterial infection (the fear of being wrong if they didn’t treat and it turned out the patient did have one), fear of malpractice, the patient requesting an antibiotic, and the patient not being able to miss work.
Ways to Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics
1. Let the Provider know your Preference to Avoid them
If you don’t want to be prescribed an antibiotic, let your health care provider know. She or he may be prescribing one under the false idea that it is what you want or expect. They may not want to have a conversation with you about why an antibiotic is not necessary. If your medical condition requires an antibiotic, then your provider should explain why. Then you can discuss which is safest and most appropriate.
2. Ask the Important Questions
If an antibiotic has been prescribed, ask your doctor how important it is for you to start taking it right away, or if a “watch and wait” observation period is appropriate. Ask how long you can watch and wait for and what signs of improvement or a worsening condition should be monitored for. Ask how long it should take for you to get better with or without the antibiotic. Also, ask if there are any alternatives. If an antibiotic is necessary, ask your provider about doing a short course, for example, 3-5 days instead of 10-14 days. Short courses of antibiotics are virtually always effective in well-controlled trials.
3. Be Smart!
Educate yourself about the common health conditions that would bring you in for treatment for yourself or your kids and that antibiotics are commonly misused for, so you can make wise decisions. A nice resource is called Get Smart, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the purpose of helping you and your provider avoid unnecessary antibiotics. You can visit this site before you visit the office and bring information with you to help you avoid unnecessary antibiotics.
4. Trust Your Body and Make the Time to Heal
Resting and staying hydrated are the most important things we could do when we are sick. Most of us do not (or feel that we can’t) take the time to get well. Many ask for antibiotics in hopes that their symptoms will resolve faster and sometimes this does happen. The problem is that if we take antibiotics to speed up healing now, we might pay the price with chronic problems later. When we get sick what we really need to do is eat simply and well and take some time for extra rest.
5. Learn About Symptom Management
Simply by changing your diet (drop the dairy, sugar, and flour products for a few days) and adding in a couple of natural supplements, you can reduce your symptoms, severity, and length of most common viral and many bacterial infections without having to use antibiotics.
6. Eat Antibiotic-Free
80% of the overall antibiotic use in the United States is for disease prevention in farm animals Eventually these antibiotics make their way to us via our fork. The practice of antibiotic use on farms has been discontinued in many European countries many years ago and this is beginning to happen in our country as well. We can protect our health and environment by pushing for farming changes with our dollars by purchasing only antibiotic-free meat.
If you really do need to use an antibiotic, it is not the end of the world. A healthy gut will easily repair itself if antibiotic use is not common. The addition of fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, and kombucha, as well as a quality probiotic can also help restore your gut’s natural health and flora.
If are in need of a health care provider or would like more information about staying well please call the office at 574-330-0464 to schedule an initial consult.