greener production of antibiotics

Antibiotic vs Probiotic

It’s really frightening when your child has a fever and infection, especially so when they’re very young. The first port of call for parents who have a sick child is usually the GP and in urgent situations, the hospital. The most common medication prescribed in these instances are antibiotics, which in most cases bring about relief within 24 hours.

Antibiotics are life-saving medicines however they do have undesirable side effects. This article aims to discuss the pros and cons, natural alternatives and how to use them sensibly and effectively.

History of antibiotics
Antibiotics destroy dangerous pathogens, they do this by filling bacteria with holes, poison or by disabling their ability to reproduce, they have no effect on viruses whatsoever.

Antibiotics first came on the scene in the late 18th century with the discovery of bacterial resistant mould, which lead to the development of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928.

Antibiotics weren’t widely available to the general public until after the war in 1945. These “magic bullets” contributed to the near eradication of diseases such as tuberculosis, however, within ten years penicillin resistance became a significant problem, so many of the advances of the prior decade were under threat.

Due to their effectiveness and availability, antibiotics today are largely over-prescribed. The problem of antibiotic resistance has grown exponentially since the 1950’s, with the World Health Organisation classifying it as one of the biggest threats to current global health, food security, and development today.

Benefits of Antibiotics
Antibiotics save lives, you may have had personal experience of this with a loved one, they’ve also played a pivotal role in advancing medicine and surgery, by making procedures such as organ transplants, joint replacements, cardiac surgery and cesarean section possible. Antibiotics have also helped to extend life expectancy and have decreased the likelihood of mortality due to food-borne and other poverty related infections in developing countries.

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Common reasons for antibiotic usage
Bacterial infections
Parasitic infection
Appendicitis (as a way to avoid surgery)
As a preventive measure (prophylactic)
Used in surgery to help prevent infection
Skin conditions

Common side effects
Diarrhea, which is the bodies way of excreting dead bacteria.
Overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in the gut, such as clostridium difficile and candida.
Antibiotics can affect the vaginal flora and may lead to an overgrowth of yeast.

Antibiotic resistance
As already mentioned, we’re experiencing a global issue with antibiotic resistance due to over prescription. It’s the bacteria itself that’s becoming resistant to antibiotics, not humans or animals.

Antibiotics rarely kill all bacteria and the ones that remain are the strongest and become difficult to control with antibiotics. A growing list of infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning and gonorrhea are becoming harder, and sometimes impossible to treat, as a result of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

This problem has been well researched and documented in the case of ear infections, which do not respond well to antibiotics, and may be the reason why a child’s infection simply doesn’t resolve despite several rounds of antibiotics. The very diseases that antibiotics so successfully treated less than a hundred years ago are now re-emerging and are multi-drug resistant.

The more antibiotics you take, the less likely they are to work when you really need them.

Antibiotics in agriculture
The problem of antibiotic resistance is not limited to humans. Livestock are steadily fed low doses of antibiotics to prevent and treat disease, the resistant strains of bacteria are being transferred to humans via the food supply, causing infections and adverse health consequences.

The agricultural use of antibiotics also affects the environment, with up to 90% of antibiotics given to livestock being excreted in the urine and stool, which is then dispersed through fertilizer to grow vegetables and into our waterways.

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Fruits and vegetables are not screened for the presence of antibiotics, you can reduce your exposure by washing produce thoroughly. Milk, eggs and meat are screened for antibiotics, in order to maintain certain limits considered safe for human consumption.

Australia currently has one of the worlds safest practices when it comes to the administration of antibiotics to animals, whilst other countries such as India and Spain have little or no regulation. Buying organic meat is the safest option if you are concerned about contamination.

Antibiotics and the microbiome
The word microbiome is a collective term for a diverse range of beneficial micro-organisms that co-exist in our bodies, 70% of this microbiome is found in the gut and is made up of as many as 36,000 species of bacteria, all of which play a pivotal role in our health and well-being, both mentally, emotionally and physically.

Having good bacteria in the gut helps defend against harmful bacteria by preventing them from taking up residence. They produce their own small amounts of antibiotic and make the gut generally less habitable for unhealthy bacteria by robbing them of their food source.

Beneficial gut bacteria assist the body in some of the following ways:

  • Immunity
  • Absorption of nutrients
  • Reduction of harmful toxins
  • Discourage the growth of unhealthy bacteria and yeast
  • Vitamin production
  • Aid digestion
  • Protection from pathogens

Dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) of the microbiome has been associated with a large number of health problems such as metabolic, immunological, and developmental disorders, as well as susceptibility to infectious diseases.

Antibiotics alter our gut flora considerably, as they destroy beneficial bacteria along with harmful pathogens. Our microbiome can become lass diverse as a result and the ability of the remaining bacteria can change, for example the ability to produce vitamins and substances that help us digest.

Antibiotics can be particularly problematic for children and the elderly due to the gut flora being less stable and slower to recover after antibiotic treatment. A small research study in Sweden has shown that the gut bacteria of children were significantly altered two months after taking antibiotics, their guts contained more potentially harmful bacteria and fewer beneficial types, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.

Another study identified that a five-day antibiotic course significantly decreased the richness and diversity of the gut bacterial community of patients. Recovery of the bacteria to pre-antibiotic levels, was seen in only one patient four weeks after antibiotic treatment, others did not recover until six months after antibiotics.

The only long-term studies on the effects of antibiotics on the microbiome, show that as long as two years after taking antibiotics, unhealthy bacteria, was still present in the gut.

The future of antibiotics
The issue or antibiotic resistance is so severe, in 2015 the World Health Organisation began a global campaign to help bring attention to antibiotic resistance and the appropriate use of antibiotics. Antibiotic Awareness Week takes place in November of each year.

Patients and Doctors are being encouraged to limit the amount of antibiotics used, to choose appropriate and targeted drugs given at the right dosage and not for conditions that are known not to respond well or conditions that will most likely resolve on their own. The advise is to avoid giving them to children if at all possible.

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There is little interest in research and future antibiotic development by the pharmaceutical companies for several reasons, the primary one being, it’s not an economically wise investment. Antibiotics are used for relatively short periods of time and often cure, therefore they are not as profitable as drugs that treat chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and psychiatric disorders or vaccines.

A cost–benefit analysis by the Office of Health Economics in London calculated that the net present value (NPV) of a new antibiotic is only about $50 million, compared to approximately $1 billion for a drug used to treat a neuro-muscular disease.

Suggestions for appropriate antibiotic use
1. Only take antibiotics when really necessary and for the appropriate time. Scientists now feel that it’s preferable to stop treatment as soon as symptoms have resolved.

2. Ask your Dr to take a swab to determine the cause of the illness, so that a narrow spectrum antibiotic can be chosen as opposed to broad spectrum, which creates more damage to beneficial bacteria. Having a swab taken can also identify whether the infection is viral in origin, which antibiotics can not treat.

3. Ask your GP if a watch and wait is appropriate for your child.

4. Include natural anti-microbials alongside antibiotic therapy to support the immune system.

5. Give probiotics during and after antibiotic therapy.

6. Individuals with Down syndrome show signs of high sulfur levels due to over-expression, therefore it has been suggested that asking for sulfur free antibiotics is preferable.

7. If gut problems persist a month after antibiotics, consider a comprehensive stool analysis to determine whether remaining pathogens need to be dealt with and certain strains of probiotics required to rebalance the gut flora.

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Natural antimicrobials
Natural antimicrobials (antibiotics) inhibit overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria without destroying beneficial bacteria or creating resistance. Some natural antibiotics have the ability to treat bacteria as well as viruses and are particular effective if used during early onset of symptoms.

  • Unsweetened cranberry juice is an effective agent against UTI’s (urinary tract infections)
  • Garlic is antimicrobial and in studies has shown to be effective against staph, clostridia, chronic and resistant infections. It also helps break down biofilm the slimy substance secreted by bacteria to protect itself. Fresh garlic is effective alone or as an adjunct to antibiotics.
  • Honey is a natural antibiotic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. Manuka honey has been proven to have the highest levels of antioxidants and curative properties.
  • Elderberry syrup prevents proliferation of  the influenza virus. A teaspoon ever day for kids. helps deactivate bronchial viruses and acts against methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA). It reduces inflammation in the brain, improves mood and tastes great!
  • Echinacea stimulates the immune system and has antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral actions. It’s most effective used at the first signs of illness or as a preventative.
  • Colloidal silver is a mixture of silver particles suspended in fluid. Since too much silver, a heavy metal, can be toxic it should only be used short term and some believe it’s not suitable for children with Down syndrome for this reason. Colloidal silver disables the enzyme that single-cell bacteria require to multiply, it’s effective against viruses as well as bacteria.
  • Grapefruit seed extract. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a study that found grapefruit seed extract effective against more than 800 forms of viruses and bacteria, more than a hundred strains of fungus, and many parasites.
  • AntiBioBotanic by Panaxea is a practitioner only product made from Chinese herbs. It’s indicated for use when you would consider an antibiotic. It’s also safe to take alongside antibiotics.

These are just a selection of antimicrobials available from the natural world and work best when accompanied by nourishing nutrient rich foods, plenty of rest, fresh water and probiotics. Seeking out an experienced naturopath to assist you in treating infections is highly recommended.

Natural antimicrobials are not the solution for serious illness, that’s when antibiotics come into there own. Although we as parents ideally want to minimise the amount of antibiotics our children take, it’s important to be sensible and choose them when advised and needed.

Probiotics
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts found in fermented foods and dietary supplements. These healthful microorganisms assist in maintaining beneficial bacteria in digestive tract and treating specific conditions.

Research identifying individual probiotics that help to treat pathogens is gaining traction. L. salivarius  for example has shown to be effective against Listeria infection and Lactobacillus probiotics are replacing antibiotics as a method of treating UTI’s.

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Evidence that probiotics can work alongside antibiotics to reduce adverse effects, improve antibiotic function and enhance overall immunity is mounting.

It was previously thought that probiotics should be taken after antibiotics and not during, however this point of view has since changed. Certainly some of the strains of beneficial bacteria in the probiotic will be destroyed, however when taken six hours apart, they may assist in protecting the intestinal flora.

Probiotics won’t regrow lost gut bacteria, this is an area of research that’s currently in development. Prebiotic foods and amino acids will, however only if the strains of bacteria you are wanting to grow still exist in the gut. Once you stop taking a probiotic, the beneficial strains of bacteria will quickly be excreted.

The following product recommendations are all available from most health food shops, pharmacies and online.

Qiara probiotics are beneficial for children born via c section or whose gut bacteria has been compromised since birth.

BabyBiotic is suitable for babies and contains both probiotic bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, which are often significantly destroyed during antibiotic therapy.

SB Floractiv (Saccharomyces boulardi) may protect against the development of unhealthy yeasts and candida so common after taking antibiotics. It’s also useful as a treatment for antibiotic-related diarrhea and discourages the growth of unfriendly micro-organisms and reduces digestive inflammation.

UltraBiotic 500 super strength is recommend as a short term recovery product to be taken during and after antibiotic therapy. It may help to maintain intestinal microbiota when taken during and after antibiotic therapy. This product is not available for children under the age of two.

Conclusion
Researching this article has been fascinating and confronting. It was interesting to discover that the benefits of probiotic foods to health were realised shortly before the development of antibiotics.

These two approaches to health care couldn’t be more opposed, although both stem from the very same source, bacteria itself. Antibiotics certainly revolutionised healthcare and the treatment of serious infection, however that has come at a cost to the diversity of our microbiome and the development of superbugs that are becoming multi-drug resistant.

We certainly need to adjust our relationship with antibiotics and begin to use them more wisely in both agricultural settings and for personal treatment, if we’re to avoid a post antibiotic era.

The overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics must be quickly phased out in favor of more precise approaches and must be complemented by efficient methods to restore the microbiome after injury.

The central message is that taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can prevent them working when you do and that antibiotic resistance effects the whole, not just the individual.

Science has spent a long time studying ways to destroy bacteria, now it needs to turn it’s attention towards how to preserve and support the beneficial bacteria that essentially give us life.

Helen Goodwin
Naturopath

 

Garlic and biofilm https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24459829
Elderberry and influenza https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=22972323
Elderberry and MRSA https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=25395702
Elderberry reduces inflammation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=25744406
Drug resistant threat CDC https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/threat-report-2013/index.html
Post antibiotic era http://www.who.int/drugresistance/ documents/surveillancereport/en/
The antibiotic resistance crisis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4378521/
Antibiotics and the microbiome https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4892173/
GIT antibiotics and Clostridium dificilehttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4892173/
Antibiotics and IBS https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4114504/
The vaginal application of lactobacilli and urinary tract infection https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7863140
Probiotics to prevent the need for antibiotics https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2095085/
The microbiome and immune system https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16009137
Antibiotics and crohn’s disease https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26468751
Antibiotics, asthma and respiratory infection https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25865368
Neurodevelopmental disorders (gut microbiome brain) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24315484
Gut bacteria protect against food allergies https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25157157
Effect of antibiotics on the microbiome https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4831151/#CR11
Probiotic supplementation on microbiome http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19490976.2016.1138197
Effect of probiotics on the microbiome https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3539293/
Peadiatrics probiotics and the microbiome https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892890/

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