Antibiotics: The Dark Side To These Wonder Drugs
Antibiotics save millions of lives. Since penicillin was first discovered in 1928, diseases that used to kill large numbers of people have become mere nuisances. This monumental change in human fortunes earned antibiotics a reputation as wonder drugs. Yet, more than a half-century after antibiotics became a fixture of modern medicine, a darker side of these wonder drugs is emerging.
A study published earlier this year by the Yale School of Public Health found that children treated with antibiotics in their first 6 months of life were 52% more likely to develop childhood asthma and allergies than infants not treated with antibiotics . In 2008, Scandinavian researchers found that children treated with antibiotics for pneumonia in the first 5 years of life had significantly higher rates of Crohn’s disease (an autoimmune disease of the digestive tract) later in life . And, in 2004, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who took the most antibiotics had twice the risk of developing breast cancers women who took no antibiotics.
So, what does this all mean? There are times when antibiotics are clearly an appropriate treatment; however, antibiotics are grossly over-used. As noted in commentaries on the Yale study, most antibiotics prescribed to infants are for respiratory tract infections, most of which are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections, they can treat only bacterial infections.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to remedy this situation:
Be an informed patient: Ask your doctor if your illness is bacterial or viral and refuse antibiotics for viral infections. Do not demand antibiotics. Doctors will sometimes prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily to keep patients happy. Do not encourage this practice.
Consider alternative treatments: Herbal and homeopathic remedies treat viral illnesses more effectively than prescription or over-the-counter medicines. They are also effective in bacterial infections. Every time you successfully overcome an infection without antibiotics, you decrease the number of lifetime antibiotic courses used by you or your child. Imagine how dramatically you could decrease your exposure to antibiotics if you used alternative treatments on a regular basis?
Practice Prevention: Adequate sleep, a whole foods diet, regular exercise, good hygiene, and a proactive approach to managing stress can go a long way toward lowering your risk of getting sick.
Naturopathic doctors and other holistic providers are great resources for prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.
Risnes KR, Belanger K, Murk W, Bracken MB. Antibiotic Exposure by 6 Months and Asthma and Allergy at 6 Years: Findings in a Cohort of 1,401 US Children. Am J Epidemiol (2011) 173(11): 1343.
Hildebrand H, Malmborg P, Askling J, Ekbom A, Montgomery SM. Early-life exposures associated with antibiotic use and risk of subsequent Crohn’s disease. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2008 Aug;43(8):961-6.
Velicer CM, Heckbert SR, Lampe JW, Potter JD, Robertson CA, Taplin SH. Antibiotic Use in Relation to the Risk of Breast Cancer. Journal of the American Medical Association, Feb. 18, 2004;291(7):827-835.
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