My column for Holistic Scotland Magazine last month focused on antibiotics (one of the best inventions of our time), their dwindling power, their effects on gut health and some natural options worth researching. The Chief Medical Officer in England has warned that our current antibiotics will only work for another five years, so it's a conversation that we should all be having now.
When the drugs don't work...
Antibiotics are one of the best inventions of our time, they save thousands of lives and have become some of the most commonly prescribed medications today, with almost all of us having taken them in our lifetime.
Having seen an over-prescription of antibiotics due to inadequate diagnostics, we’re now paying the price not only with the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but also in terms of our gut health. Cause for concern for us all – even if you’ve never needed antibiotics – antibiotic residue can be picked up through the food chain (from eating farmed meat, fish or dairy) or even absorbed through our water supply (from discarded medications).
The Effect of Antibiotics on Gut Health
Used correctly antibiotics can undoubtedly save lives, however, studies have shown that they also negatively affect the healthy bacteria in our gut, affecting not only our gut health but also creating a domino effect for our overall wellbeing. We all need a level of ‘good’ bacteria in our large intestine, where 80% of our immune system resides, however, antibiotics don’t differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, they just wipe out any bacteria they find, which can cause imbalances in the gut, affecting the rest of the body.
Interestingly, I heard recently that this is such a well-known fact in South Africa, that by law anyone prescribing antibiotics must then prescribe a course of ‘probiotics’, in order to repopulate the healthy bacteria after the original treatment.
With NHS advertising campaigns trying to discourage us from taking antibiotics unnecessarily, it would certainly appear that we’ve developed a bit of an antibiotic ‘habit’. However, many of us are unaware of how this over-use, both direct and indirect via the food chain, can affect us in the long run.
Reflecting on my own health journey, I now see that my overall wellbeing and mood changed quite drastically the year after I had been on a long-term course of antibiotics (for a number of months). What surprised me most in all my research afterwards was the gut/brain connection, and how the health of the large intestine can significantly affect the mind – in my case I was dealing with low mood, depression and anxiety.
Sadly my experience isn’t unique, I’m seeing more and more people who find themselves struggling with anxiety or depression and almost all of them, also have some kind of digestive issue, or gut health imbalance going on. Of course, I’m not pinning it all on antibiotics, these symptoms have a lot to do with diet and lifestyle factors, but we really need to start understanding and valuing our gut flora, what can destroy it and what can support it. In essence, the more we can save antibiotics for emergencies, the better.
The Ticking Clock
And it’s not just about gut health, we’re also hearing in the news that antibiotics are losing their power and in fact, the more they are prescribed, the more likely bacteria will begin to resist their effects. Multi-drug resistant bacteria like MRSA are becoming increasingly more common, and we’re being warned that our current antibiotics in the UK will only remain effective for another five years or so.
With time running out, we need to educate and arm ourselves with natural ways to boost our immunity, now more than ever. I’m sharing a few natural antibiotics that I’ve been researching and using, that you might be interested in having up your sleeve too.
1. Garlic – raw garlic is a powerful natural antibiotic with antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. You can throw a clove into a carrot based juice, make a garlic tea (!) or prepare yourself some extra garlicky guacamole.
2. Colloidal Silver – known as an effective antibiotic for centuries, this is one to research. It comes in a liquid form which can be applied topically or orally, and according to studies has shown apparent effectiveness against the likes of MRSA.
3. Echinacea – my Mum would always give us Echinacea whenever there was threat of a cold in the air, but it’s another one that’s been used for centuries for a wide variety of infections - definitely worthy of a place in the first aid kit.
As ever, prevention is better than cure, and with a little bit of research, we can arm ourselves with knowledge and natural methods to keep our immune system as strong as possible - hopefully saving antibiotics for emergencies only. Certainly, anyone who has taken antibiotics in the past would be worth looking into a course of probiotics and researching things like fermented foods, to ensure that the gut flora is fighting fit. We already know all the good things we can do to stay well, the key is making them a priority: washing our hands well, drinking plenty of water, eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, getting plenty of sunlight, moving our bodies and prioritising rest.
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