Some time ago, a lady visited my clinic having been referred to me by her gastroenterologist for a colon hydrotherapy procedure. She was very badly constipated; she had tried different laxatives, stool softeners, motility drugs and enemas, but nothing was helping to empty her bowel and relieve her of the pain. She was slowly being poisoned to death by her bowel wastes, and was at risk of developing a bowel rupture and sepsis.
To cut a long story short, this particular patient was antibiotic-resistant; she was stuck between a rock and a hard place – if the stool couldn’t be removed, she could die from sepsis; if she underwent manual bowel evacuation under anaesthetic in hospital, she could again die from sepsis due to the high risk of infection and the fact that antibiotics no longer worked for her. And so she was referred to me for colon hydrotherapy. The colonic treatment was very successful and gave her great relief.
However, I was intrigued as to why she had become antibiotic-resistant. When I asked her, she explained that for many years, decades in fact, she had suffered with UTIs, and each time she’d had a UTI, she had been prescribed a course of antibiotics. Those multiple courses of antibiotics had caused the antibiotic-resistance.
Now, I’m the first person to recognise that antibiotics, designed to fight infections, have been one of the greatest medical advances of the past 100 years. But it has become more important than ever to evaluate our behaviour around how we use antibiotics.
When this particular lady came to me, I couldn’t let the issue go. I had already developed my Just For Tummies range of supplements for digestive and gut health, but I felt a strong pull to add a ‘women-specific’ product to the line. So much to the surprise of my family, friends and business colleagues, I decided to develop my own ‘For Women’ probiotic capsules. The formula contains Lactobacillus Reuteri that, in studies, has been found to help reduce the risk of UTIs, and therefore help reduce the need for antibiotic treatment. However, I didn’t stop there with my For Women capsules, I also added a couple of strains of beneficial bacteria known to help maintain a healthy digestive system and gut, so you could say that my For Women capsules are a ‘2-In-1’ probiotic. If you want to check out my For Women probiotic capsules, you can do so by clicking on the image below.
So, how serious is antibiotic resistance?
According to the World Health Organisation:
- Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today
- Antibiotic resistance can affect anyone, of any age, in any country
- Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process
- A growing number of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis – are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective
- Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality
Antibiotics often are seen as wonder drugs. And in many ways they are. They have revolutionised medicine and saved countless lives over the past century. Unfortunately, many healthcare providers now rely too heavily on antibiotics and prescribe them when they aren’t necessary. Patients also have come to expect – and even demand – antibiotics every time they get sick.
One in 16 people in Britain are prescribed antibiotics every year. Yet, Government research suggests that 80% of the drugs prescribed are to treat coughs, colds and sore throats. I find this staggering! Since when did we become so dependent on antibiotics to deal with these ‘run of the mill’ conditions? What happened to all the knowledge passed down from generation to generation, about how to treat such simple ailments with honey and lemon, poultices, liniment rubs, herbs and the rest. We’re losing our healing heritage, it’s being brushed out of history,
Additionally, and unknown to many, half the antibiotics in the world – yes, half – are given to poultry, fish and cattle to speed up their growth rates, meaning that most of us are ingesting antibiotics when we tuck into what we think are ‘healthy, home-cooked’ meals. It’s truly distressing.
What will happen if antibiotics become completely resistant?
Antibiotics are lifesavers. Sadly, high (and unnecessary) usage increases chances of bacteria becoming resistant, fuelling a breed of superbugs such as MRSA and making more illnesses more difficult to treat in the long term.
Bacteria are smart. They evolve in order to survive future antibiotic attacks. The more often an antibiotic is used, the more bacteria develop antibiotic resistance, rendering the drug less effective. This is true even when an antibiotic is used to treat a viral infection. The antibiotic won’t cure the viral infection, but it will attack bacteria that weren’t causing you harm – and the bacteria will adapt to avoid being targeted next time.
As bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, patients may need stronger antibiotics or may need to take them longer. Oral antibiotics may even stop working, and patients will need to switch to IV medications. Or, there may come a point where no antibiotic will work on a particular strain of bacteria.
We are now faced with a scenario where many life-threatening superbugs are becoming antibiotic-resistant simply because we have decimated the ‘ancestral’ bacteria in our gut. Consequently, more virulent strains of bacteria are able to run amok in our bodies, culminating in life-threatening conditions like septicaemia. Transplant patients rely heavily on antibiotics to prevent the body rejecting the donor organ. Cancer patients also rely on antibiotics since they are more at risk from infections following chemotherapy.
We may end up in the situation where we can no longer perform life-saving organ transplants and cancer patients don’t die from cancer, they die from infections because we don’t have the antibiotics to kill off the superbugs.
We have a ticking time bomb and the danger posed by growing resistance to antibiotics is a real global threat.
What can we do to combat this issue?
To me, it makes perfect sense that when a person has to take antibiotics for an infection and when that course of antibiotics has been completed, they are then advised to take a course of probiotics to re-colonise and re-populate their intestines with ‘friendly’ strains. To do this, after you have finished the course of antibiotics, take one of my Live Bacteria probiotic capsules twice daily, before meals for a minimum of three months.
However, what is also of crucial importance is understanding the role our immune system plays in terms of being the gate-keeper and preventing any ‘bug’ or virus from entering the body and making us sick in the first place. Our gut manufactures around 70% of our immune system’s cells. It can’t do this job properly, if the gut is working sub-optimally. The immune system can determine if it is a friend or foe trying to enter the body, but if your immune system is not working properly, it may let in a foe, or it may think a foe is a friend, and let in the wrong guest, if you see what I mean. The immune system can get confused and it can attack us, instead of trying to defend us. If you want to learn more on how to get a healthy and balanced immune system and why this is so important, have a read of my blog here.
We know how important it is to ensure that our intestines have a good balance of bacteria. After all, these bacteria assist in digesting our food, absorbing nutrients from our food, regulating our immune system, controlling our weight, manufacturing important vitamins and hormones, and reducing our risk of life-threatening bowel infections, including clostridium difficile and blood poisoning septicaemia. There is also evidence to suggest that certain beneficial bacteria in the gut reduce our risk of getting bowel cancer.
Do not ever under-estimate how powerful bacteria are, both in their capacity to make us very ill, indeed dangerously ill, but also in their capacity for healing and improving our health and wellbeing.
I simply cannot understand why when we know that antibiotics will kill off very large numbers of our ‘friendly’ gut bacteria – and we know this is detrimental to good health – that patients are not given probiotics to take afterwards to re-colonise the gut.
The WHO offers further advice on how we can prevent and control the spread of antibiotic resistance:
- Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional
- Never demand antibiotics if your doctor says you don’t need them.
- Always follow your doctor’s advice when using antibiotics.
- Never share or use leftover antibiotics.
- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practicing safer sex, and keeping vaccinations up to date
- Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials) and choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals
The agriculture sector can also play an important role in controlling the spread of antibiotic resistance:
- Only give antibiotics to animals under veterinary supervision
- Not use antibiotics for growth promotion or to prevent diseases in healthy animals
- Vaccinate animals to reduce the need for antibiotics and use alternatives to antibiotics when available
- Promote and apply good practices at all steps of production and processing of foods from animal and plant sources
- Improve biosecurity on farms and prevent infections through improved hygiene and animal welfare
I hope my two blog posts all about antibiotics have given you some insights into not only how powerful and life-changing antibiotics can be, but also how dangerous they can be if not treated with respect.