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Let's get smart about antibiotics

We’re deep into the season of nose, throat and chest infections, and according to a recent study, our doctors are responding by prescribing antibiotics at four to nine times the recommended rate.

The study, published in The Medical Journal of Australia, warns that we need to change tack to stem the growth of drug-resistant superbugs.

It’s predicted that by 2050 antimicrobial resistance will be responsible for around 10 million deaths world-wide. So this is serious.

While doctors need to alter their behaviour, so do we. Even when we realise that most respiratory infections are caused by viruses rather than bacteria, a lot of us still push for a prescription. Of course, it’s not just coughs and the like that we use them for; we also rely on antibiotics for cuts, urinary infections, and so on.

It’s normal to want to get well as fast as possible, but we need to stop automatically looking to antibiotics as the answer.

Most of us know they have a negative effect on our gut bacteria, which can lead to a broad range of problems that includes inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune issues and weight gain.

American psychiatrist Kelly Brogan says that antibiotic use can also affect our mental health, with responses ranging from irritability and confusion to mania and psychosis. Apparently too, the higher the antibiotic exposure, the greater the risk of depression.

How many of us would even make that link? Given the way antibiotics are routinely prescribed to some older people, there’s cause to be concerned about what they’re doing to those patients’ brains.

Sometimes we can’t avoid antibiotics. But what can we do to at least minimise our use of them?

First, keep your immune system as strong as possible so you’re not easy pickings for every bug that comes along. Since your immune system is in your gut, eat well.

As you know, that means fresh, whole foods. Skip the sugar, flour and trans fats. Add some fermented food such as sauerkraut, kim chee or kefir, or failing that, use a good quality probiotic from time to time.

Good sleep, stress reduction and an all-round exercise program (that includes weight training, stretching, core work and cardio-vascular exercise) also top up your immunity.

Second, some food and supplements can help. Garlic has potent antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties so it’s smart to include it in your meals as often as you can. Coconut oil has those same properties.

Optimal vitamin D levels are believed to help keep infections at bay too, so make sure your doctor keeps an eye on yours. And supplements such as olive leaf extract can prevent some bacteria from spreading.

Of course, when there are extra bugs about, there’s a lot to be said for regularly washing your hands with plain old soap and water.

Third, when it comes to wound healing, Manuka honey or tea tree oil can be suitable substitutes for antibiotic treatment.

If you do need to take antibiotics, bone broth and collagenous slow-cooking meats contain an amino acid called glycine which can help to heal your gut. 

You’ll also want to put back some healthy bacteria. Again, that means eating well and adding fermented foods. (Yoghurt is often suggested but commercial yoghurt doesn’t contain much.)

While you won’t know what strains were knocked out by the antibiotic, it’s a good start. Then look for a practitioner who can give you more specific support if you need it. 

Photo Source: Bigstock

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Sunday, July 30, 2017 | Rhonda Anderson