Most of us are familiar with antibiotics in some capacity, because we have either had them prescribed, or know people for whom they were. Despite the prevalence, and ironically so, of these medications, there seems to be only a rudimentary understanding of how they work and what happens when we use or abuse them.
Antibiotics throughout history
Antibiotics have been around for hundreds of years, and were initially used to treat bacterial infections such as malaria and syphilis. Over time, the creation of more sophisticated and broad range antibiotics was refined. Modern day antibiotics, albeit in different forms than we are used to now, appeared in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, and were made for public consumption in 1940. The advent of penicillin and its use with soldiers in World War II proved their efficacy, necessity, and began to stave off and treat illnesses that could once only be described as fatal.
Why is there so much concern about their usage?
Seen in large measure as a sort of “wonder drug,” antibiotic use actually started to teeter totter on the verge of overuse within a few years after they started to be mass produced. And while how much is too much is not fully agreed upon within the medical community, there does seem to be an overwhelming consensus that too many antibiotics are used for too many things, far too often.
What Happens When Antibiotics are Overused?
Not using antibiotics when you do not feel well may seem counterintuitive. Realistically, if there is a drug on the market that can make you feel more like a person and less like a tired, fevered, lump of germs, than you should have full access to it, right? Well, it is not that simple.
For starters, antibiotics are only indicated in the treatment of bacterial infections. Viral infections such as various forms of the flu, stomach ailments, and some sinus infections are simply not helped by antibiotics. Essentially, taking antibiotics for a viral condition is much like taking a placebo or frankly, nothing at all.
But taking a medication that does nothing for whatever ails you is the least of your problems, should you take antibiotics for nonbacterial infections for long and repeated periods of time. Far more significant and with potential to be dangerous, is the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.
According to the World Health Organization, or the WHO, antibiotic resistance is a threat to the public health, welfare, and safety of the worldwide community. While resistance to antibiotics can occur on its own, it is most often a result of the overuse of antibiotics. Some bacteria are more resistant to certain drugs, while others are simply unrelenting even in the face of powerful antibiotics. That leaves people all over the world fighting harder and taking stronger antibiotics to make the same dent as lower doses might have accomplished years ago. In essence, bacteria have learned how to defeat the chemicals in antibiotics by mutating and becoming even harder to destroy.
In addition to sometimes destroying the good bacteria our gastrointestinal system requires in order to function optimally, illnesses that were once treated quickly and with near certainty, have developed into bacterial infections that are harder to fight, and as such, allow individuals to be sicker for longer periods of time. The bitter irony is that the pursuit of feeling better faster, has in fact lead to prolonged illnesses that require frequent hospitalizations and more expensive treatments than the original problem would have ever required, in the absence of antibiotic resistance.
When Antibiotics are the Wrong Choice
Clearly there is a need for antibiotics that are prescribed responsibly. Distributing them without care and concern is not only reckless, but belies the conviction to do no harm, as stated within the doctors’ code of conduct, known as the Hippocratic Oath.
There are in fact other, tried and true ways to restore your energy and begin the process of feeling better. These methods are based on science, as well as the care and concern of mothers of every ethnicity. Getting enough rest, drinking fluids, taking pain medication and fever reducers as needed, and using a humidifier to clear congestion, are just a few of the ways to treat a virus. It is important to note that patients experiencing difficulty breathing or sinus problems will not feel better if they smoke or drink alcohol.
Anecdotal Antidotes- Fact or Fiction?
In addition to the treatment methods described above, homemade chicken soup has been touted as its own sort of drug for centuries. While there is evidence that supports the medicinal qualities inherent in a hearty bowl of the stuff, there seem to be other, more practical shall we say, reasons that chicken soup helps.
Chicken soup, often prepared with vegetables, packs a nutrient rich wallop. The vitamins and minerals in the chicken, as well as the onions, carrots, and celery that frequently accompany this dish, contain powerful antioxidants. Additionally, hot liquid is soothing for the throat and its steam can help relieve congestion. Beyond that, knowing that someone has taken the time and energy to provide you with a whole lot of tender loving care, goes a long way in making anyone feel better. Knowing that you are well cared for makes letting the illness run its course a lot less of a bitter pill to swallow.
Dr. Shahen Kurestian, DC of Body Systems Wellness and Integrated Medicine, located in Glendale, California appreciates the importance and regulation required when using antibiotics. We encourage our patients to take antibiotics as prescribed, but to exercise caution all the same. Sometimes you need medicine, even strong medicine, to treat what ails you. Other times, well, a good night’s sleep is exactly what the doctor ordered.