Antibiotics-Not the magic medicine? 

“It is ironic that this humble fungus, hailed as a benefactor of mankind, may by its very success prove to be a deciding factor in the decline of the present civilization.”

        -Dr. John I. Pitt, The Genus Penicillium, Academic Press, 1979

As a medical doctor, it is with mixed emotions that I write this article about antibiotics. It may seem that I have almost nothing good to say about antibiotics but I acknowledge that antibiotics have saved lives in the past when the bacterial resistance was not the big problem that it is now.  Many antibiotics that I have used in the past are almost useless now because of bacterial resistance and alarming  infectious states have developed because of this bacterial resistance .

Antibiotics are not the only way to treat infections as the following case might illustrate:

I saw a child of 5 years with multiple boils which were recurrent. For the past months, the child had been having crops of boils.  She had seen the local general practitioner for every episode and each time was given antibiotics for the boils. Usually,  week after a full course of antibiotics, the boils came back. This repeated itself again and again. Before coming to see me, she had gone to see the General practitioner again and this time was given three bottles of 3 types of antibiotics.  For her mum, this was the last straw and she decided that antibiotics were not solving the problem.  I took the case carefully and decided to give Arnica which is one of the remedy for crops of boils in homeopathic prescribing.  On follow up several months later, the mother described the following: “After the first dose of Arnica, more boils came out but they were generally smaller and caused very little discomfort, broke open and dried up soon after.  Before this, the boils would come back a short distance from the old ones but this time, there were no new boils and she had remained boil free!”

Antibiotics do kill bacteria and for boils, the culprit is certainly a bacteria. The antibiotic kills the bacteria and the patient gets better and then, the patient gets re-infected because the problem here is  that the body’s immune system could not deal with the bacteria which are actually present all the time and will cause boils in susceptible people.   Antibiotics are like mercenary soldiers sent in to kill the invaders when the real culprit is a poor defense mechanism.   Antibiotics are usually broad spectrum which means they do not choose which bacteria to kill or inactivate, instead they kill all within the spectrum. What this means is that they can kill the commensals which inhabit our intestinal tract and are contributing to our immune system defenses.  This means antibiotics may compromise the immune system and weaken it further.

We do need antibiotics in serious bacterial infections but what has happened over the years is that the antibiotics are not effectively killing the pathogenic bacteria anymore and, the bacteria are now getting resistant to antibiotics.  Recurrent or frequent use of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance as well as proliferation of the bacteria which are not susceptible to the antibiotics used. The balance of bacteria to fungus in the gut is upset when antibiotics are used and this results in gut dysbiosis which in turn affects the immune system.

A recent report states that the last frontier of a broad spectrum antibiotic Carbapenems [i] which was the treatment of choice in hospital acquired infections is now no longer as effective since the hospital infections are now resistant even to this antibiotic.

This report has a personal meaning for me since I lost two relatives to hospital infections. An uncle who was admitted for bleeding in his gastrointestinal tract developed intermittent low grade fever after he was discharged. A few months later he was readmitted for sudden paralysis.  There was an abscess in his spinal bone near his neck that had burst open. He died a few days later from septic shock. The infection that caused the abscess was acquired from the hospital when he was admitted for the gastrointestinal bleed. He had been put on antibiotics several times when he was having the low grade fever but it did not wipe out the infection.

An aunt who was diabetic had a coronary artery bypass operation and the operation was a success. She never came out of the hospital alive. The leg the vein was removed from became infected and subsequently and it was amputated.  The other leg, which was perfectly good then became gangrenous and was also amputated. A week later she died of septic shock in spite of masses of antibiotics.  The infection that came on after the bypass operation was a hospital acquired infection.

An adult human has three to four pounds of beneficial bacteria and yeast living within the intestines. These microbes compete for nutrients from the food eaten. The strength in numbers of beneficial bacteria keeps the ever-present yeasts in check and causes them to produce nutrients such as the B vitamins.

The use of antibiotics indiscriminately and repeatedly also causes a proliferation of yeasts in the gut. While yeasts are normal organisms in the gut, broad spectrum antibiotics kills off the beneficial bacteria and this imbalance causes the yeast to grow too much.  Yeasts that grow beyond the normal balance become opportunistic organisms. As the intestinal bacteria die, yeasts thrive, especially when their dietary needs are met and yeasts thrive on sugar. They can use their hyphae  to pierce holes through the lining of  the intestinal wall. This results in leaky gut syndrome.  Given their ability kill beneficial bacteria and upset the flora and fauna balance in the gut, antibiotics are also likely contribute to leaky gut syndrome.

It may also be that parasitic yeasts can also cause change in food likes and cravings and it may make a person want to binge on carbohydrates including pasta, bread, sugar, potatoes. This would indeed cause weight gain and all the health complications than come along with it.

The leaky gut also causes food allergies since the partly digested food can pass straight to the blood stream via the ‘holes’ in the gut. When these particles circulate in the blood, the body’s immune system identifies them as foreign bodies and hence attacks them causing food allergies and all its related reactions.

Even if we did not take antibiotics for any infections that we have, we are still faced with the fact that the animals we consume are routinely given antibiotics in their feeds and antibiotics are present in their meat!  A solution to this would be to take organic meats and to buy meats which are certified antibiotic residue free.

I would not be fair to the reader if I did not offer my solutions to the problems resulting from antibiotics.  I list below some of my suggestions.

1.       Build up the body’s immunity by making sure we take prebiotics daily to feed our healthy gut bacteria and avoid taking processed foods which contain a lot of sugars. Sugar feeds the fungus, cellulose feeds the bad bacteria and insoluble sugars feed the good bacteria. Some good insoluble fibres are gum Arabic, lactulose and pectin. Making sure we have a balance of complex carbohydrates and adequate protein in the diet adds to our defenses and it would not hurt to exercise a little too!

2.       Take probiotics after every course of antibiotics to build the body’s bacteria level back up and maybe even take some natural probiotic foods like kimchi and yoghurt.

3.       Ask your doctor to prescribe nystatin to take along with your course of antibiotics since they keep the fungal population under control.

4.       Go for natural treatments like Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Cellular resonance treatments, Magnetic pulse therapies rather than use antibiotics. These methods act through the body’s own defense mechanism to over the infection.