The overuse of antibiotics is one thing I wish everyone would start paying attention to. It seems more and more that I’m dispensing prescriptions for ‘bronchitis’, ‘chest infections’, ‘colds’, or ‘sinus infections’. I hear a lot of misinformation out there in the general public. Even after explaining why someone doesn’t need antibiotics I can tell they don’t buy it. One of the most frequently encountered situations is one where someone comes to the pharmacy looking for a product for their cold and they go on to say they’re going to make a doctors appointment to get an antibiotic but just need something to tie them over until then. First of all, bacteria can cause bacterial infections and can be treated with antibiotics. Viral infections are caused by viruses and were never living organisms in the first place. Antibiotics will not work on viral infections. The main cause of bronchitis, sinus and chest infections are due to viruses. Expecting an antibiotic when going to the doctor for a cough is unreasonable. But, many people do just that. People are under the impression that getting a strong antibiotic will make them feel better. There is no doubt that a person who takes an antibiotic for a viral infection will eventually feel better. However, it’s not likely due to the antibiotic as much as it is due to time. As the expression goes, “Time heals all wounds”. Even without antibiotics you are going to start to feel better 5-7 days after the onset of symptoms. The overuse of antibiotics has already become deadly. The antibiotics that used to work well, no longer work at all. People are dying because doctors are running out of available options.
The development of antibiotics was a huge scientific breakthrough. The original discovery of antibiotics stems back to the 1930s and 40s. This is when penicillin was discovered and we finally had an option to treat infections ranging from skin to blood. Back in the early 1900s it wasn’t uncommon for people to die of skin infections. There just wasn’t anything to use to treat or prevent the infection from getting worse. One of the first people to be treated with penicillin had a skin infection due to a scratch from a rose bush. The supply of penicillin ran out before completely curing his skin infection and he eventually died. As you can tell, things have greatly improved since then. But I am afraid things could get as bad as those situations in the 1900s if we continue to overuse antibiotics.
Big drug companies are giving up on antibiotic drug discovery. There are just too many dead ends and not enough new molecules being produced or researched. We will soon be left with a handful of chemicals that are mildly effective against dangerous bacterial infections.
Most often when I turn on my television I cringe at what Dr. Oz and other tv shows out there are promoting. However, today when I turned on the television I saw an episode of Dr. Oz covering the overuse of antibiotics and what it means for all of us. I was pretty surprised at how accurate and clear the episode depicted the dangers of todays antibiotic usage. It explained things so well. It surprised me mainly because most often Dr. Oz is promoting some natural health product claiming to cure some health related problem. Which is usually unjustifiably based on scientific experiments conducted on lab animals.
In addition to the overuse of antibiotics in humans, we are feeding our livestock antibiotics as well. Although, they’re not the type of antibiotics that are used in humans… they’re still chemicals that kill bacteria. Antibiotics are used to increase size and weight of animals on the farm. More weight/animals = more money/animal. Scientists think that these low-dose antibiotics work a few different ways to increase size in livestock:
- Decreases certain gut bacteria that are preventing the animal from absorbing nutrients from food.
- Decrease bad bacteria leading to an increase in good bacteria that produce nutrients that are essential for growth.
- Prevent bacterial infections that produce toxins that may alter the intestines and thus decrease nutrient absorption.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food list current antibiotic medications that are approved for ‘growth improvement’ in livestock:
Only one (and questionably two) are used in humans today, that being penicillin. I don’t even recognize the majority of these antibiotics. So what’s that gotta say about having them in our food supply? We’re essentially consuming them through the foods we eat and the water we drink. Why aren’t they approved for human use?
Before antibiotics, arsenic and copper were used to increase growth in livestock. But due to health concerns over these two supplements, they’re no longer used. After reading that on the website of The Ministry Of Agriculture and Food’s website I thought that adding arsenic to livestock was so bizarre. Who would ever feed their livestock arsenic and then want to eat the livestock? We all know that arsenic is poisonous. But, it was used because it increased growth by reducing low-grade infections and, in poultry, caused the meat to look more pink. I think more of us have to start thinking that adding antibiotics to our food supply is just as crazy as adding arsenic. And maybe 10-20 years from now we will all be looking back and wonder, “what were we thinking”? I can only hope so… as buying all organic meat and free ranged eggs can get expensive. We have to start demanding better, healthier food sources. Eventually, the price will come down.
The overuse of antibiotics, whether it be by doctors over prescribing it to people who don’t need it or livestock being fed low doses to promote growth, is limiting our options in treating potentially life threatening infections. Increasing public awareness on the proper use of antibiotics is a good start to ensure we have treatment options for serious infections for another 20-30 years from now.