An Antibiotic Dilemma

Here’s a question for you, how many times in your life have you been prescribed antibiotics? Now, I’m not a betting man, but I’d put the farm on “a lot.” Personally, when I was a kid I remember getting antibiotics for everything, especially recurrent ear infections, which according to Dr. Fuhrman isn’t exactly the wisest course of action. From Disease-Proof Your Child:
Studies also point to the fact that most ear infections early in life are viral, not bacterial.1 The vast majority of ear infections resolve nicely on their own, whether bacterial or viral, without an antibiotic. It is a common practice in this country to treat all ear infections with an antibiotic. Whether bacterial or not, our children get a routine prescription for an antibiotic at every minor illness. This cycle often is repeated many times, which may beget other medical problems in adulthood.
“The vast majority of ear infections resolve nicely on their own.” Sounds a little weird, right? I mean, try telling a member of our heavily medicated society that an EAR INFECTION can go away by itself—they’d probably have to pop a Prozac before they could even consider it! But hold on a minute, there’s proof in the pudding. Check out this study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, it seems something know as the "wait-and-see prescription" does a good job treating Acute Otitis Media, otherwise known as middle ear infections:
Results: Overall, 283 patients were randomized either to the WASP [wait-and-see prescription] group (n = 138) or the SP group (n = 145). Substantially more parents in the WASP group did not fill the antibiotic prescription (62% vs 13%; P<.001). There was no statistically significant difference between the groups in the frequency of subsequent fever, otalgia, or unscheduled visits for medical care. Within the WASP group, both fever (relative risk [RR], 2.95; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.75 - 4.99; P<.001) and otalgia (RR, 1.62; 95% CI, 1.26 - 2.03; P<.001) were associated with filling the prescription.

Conclusion: The WASP approach substantially reduced unnecessary use of antibiotics in children with AOM [Acute Otitis Media] seen in an emergency department and may be an alternative to routine use of antimicrobials for treatment of such children.
So then, if we don’t need antibiotics for every ailment that ails us, why are we getting them? Well that’s a tough one to answer. I know I can’t, but if I had to guess, I’m sure there’s a whole stewpot full of reasons why. Dr. Fuhrman talks about this in January 2004 edition of Healthy Times:
Drug companies are a big part of this problem. They promote the use of their products through widespread advertising and the practice of giving free samples of the more potent, broad-spectrum antibiotics to doctors. The more widely these newer (and often ten times more expensive) antibiotics are used, the greater the chances that the bacteria will develop resistance…

…Many patients don't think a doctor is doing his job if he doesn't prescribe antibiotics or other medication. If he doesn't prescribe the medication they want, some patients actually will look for another doctor who will…

…Most doctors perpetuate this problem because they give in to the pressure to prescribe antibiotics. They like to appear that they are offering an important and necessary service by writing prescriptions.
Okay, so it’s very clear that our love affair with antibiotics is far and wide, but how dangerous is it? What are the repercussions of having a society so saturated in antibiotics? For starters, according to Dr. Fuhrman our “good bacteria” is at stake. More from Disease-Proof Your Child:
Antibiotics can cause diarrhea, digestive disturbances, yeast overgrowth, bone marrow suppression, seizures, kidney damage, colitis, and life-threatening allergic reactions. The unnecessary over prescription of antibiotics during past decades has been blamed for the recent emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of deadly bacteria. Besides these potential risks, in every single person who takes an antibiotic, the drug kills a broad assortment of helpful bacteria that live in the digestive tract and aid digestion. It kills the “bad” bacteria, such as those that can complicate and infection, but it also kills these helpful “good” bacteria lining your digestive tract that have properties that protect from future illness.
And in Antibiotics for Colds, Bronchitis, and Sinusitis Dr. Fuhrman explains excessive antibiotics also put us at risk for certain health problems later in life:
Whether bacterial or not, our children get a routine prescription for an antibiotic at every minor illness. This cycle often is repeated many times, which may beget other medical problems in adulthood. This use of antibiotics early in life is likely a contributor to the increasing incidence of allergies and asthma and other problems later in life. Medical studies have linked a significant increased incidence of asthma, hay fever, and eczema to those who received multiple antibiotic prescriptions early in childhood, especially in the first year of life.2
Is that it? I’m afraid not. Take a look at this video report from ABC News. It seems that the habit of prescribing all these antibiotics is leading to more and more antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Here's a quote from the report:
A new study offers the most conclusive proof yet that overuse of antibiotics is contributing to the resistance problem. Researchers took healthy volunteers and gave them one of two different kinds of antibiotics. After just one course of treatment, the volunteers showed increase in bacteria in their mouth that were resistant to the specific drugs they’d been treated with. In some cases drug resistant bacteria stayed in the mouth for more than half a year. This means that every time we take antibiotics we are potentially adding to the resistance problem and weakening the drug’s overall effectiveness.
Now, all this brings up a very good question, when is it okay to use antibiotics? Okay, back to Antibiotics for Colds, Bronchitis, and Sinusitis:
Antibiotics are the appropriate treatment for severe bacterial infections. These infections include cellulitis, Lyme disease, pneumonia, joint infections, cat bites, meningitis, and bronchitis in a long-term smoker. Bronchitis in a non-smoker is just a bad cold. Almost every viral syndrome involves the bronchial tree and sinuses. The presence of yellow, brown, or green mucus does not indicate the need for an antibiotic. Likewise, sinusitis is not an appropriate diagnosis for the routine use of an antibiotic. Antibiotics should be reserved for the more serious sinus infections that show evidence of persistent symptoms lasting more than a week, such as continual fever and headache that accompanies facial pain and facial tenderness.
The important thing to remember is if you’re following Dr. Fuhrman’s recommendation of a nutrient-dense biologically-diverse vegetable-based diet, you’re already doing an exceptional job of helping your body ward off many of the common maladies that pack doctor’s offices every day, and apparently, help fuel our antibiotic addiction. For more on this, check out Six Steps to Protect Your Family from Avian Flu:
If you are deficient in virtually any known vitamin and mineral, research has shown these host defense functions can be negatively affected.
It has also been demonstrated that when diets are low in consumption of green and yellow vegetables, (rich in carotenoids) viral illnesses take a more serious form.

Multiple micronutrients including lutein, lycopene, folic acid, bioflavoinoids, riboflavin, zinc, selenium, and many others have immunomodulating functions. That means they influence the susceptibility of a host to infectious diseases and the course and outcome of such diseases. These micronutrients also possess antioxidant functions that not only up-regulate immune function of the host, but also alter the genome of the microbes that can result in more prolonged and serious infection, particularly in viruses. Viruses are able to assume a more virulent form and new more severe infections are more likely to emerge when nutritional deficiencies are present in the host. A healthy immune system adequately armed with a symphonic assortment of plant-derived phytochemicals inhibits DNA variation in the virus that could allow it to better evade host defenses.
Works for me, I haven't had a cold in well over a year, and I used to get them all the time. How's it working for you?
1. Leiva PB, Inzunza BN, Perez TH, et al. The impact of malnutrition on brain development, intelligence and school work performance. Arch Latinoam Nutr 2001;1(1):64-71.

2. McKeever TM, Lewis SA, Smith C, et al. Early exposure to infections and antibiotics and the incidence of allergic disease: a birth cohort study with the West Midlands General Practice Research Database. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2002; 109(1):43-50. Wickens K, Pearce N, Crane J, Beasley R. Antibiotic use in early childhood and the development of asthma. Clin Exp Allergy 1999; 29(6):766-771. Droste JH, Wieringa MH, Weyler JJ, et al. Does the use of antibiotics in early childhood increase the risk of asthma and allergic disease? Clin Exp Allergy 2000;30(11):1547-1553. Nelen VJ, Vermeire PA, Van Bever HP. Puzzling associations between childhood infections and the later occurrence of asthma and atopy. Ann Med 2000;32(6):397-400.
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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Teresa - February 12, 2007 7:14 PM
You will find this study referenced on Medpage interesting as it relates to antibiotics and bacterial resistance.

Lena - February 12, 2007 7:20 PM

It's funny, my father is a doctor so I was almost never on antibiotics. I think I may have taken them twice, if that. He's very aware of antibiotic overuse, and has passed that onto me. He said, though, that many patients expected medication when they came in, even if they didn't truly need it. If only they could see how wrong they are!

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