As if there were still some question about it, a pair of recent news items confirms the great American love affair with antibiotics.
First came a new study which found that despite all warnings and guidance, children continue to be given antibiotics, whether or not their condition warrants it.
They found that although only 27.4 percent of the infections were caused by bacteria and could therefore be treated with an antibiotic, a whopping 57 percent of them were actually treated with antibiotics.
That amounts to 11.4 million unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics per year, researchers say. Antibiotics are no good against viral infections and have only been shown to work against bacterial infections.
Of course, as we’ve noted before, most antibiotics aren’t consumed directly by people. They’re fed to industrially-raised livestock. According to new FDA data, between 2009 and 2012, the amount of “medically important antibiotics” bought by livestock farms rose by 16%. Almost all of the drugs – 97% – “were sold over the counter without a prescription.”
Most troubling, health advocates say, was a rise in the sale of cephalosporins, a class of drug that is important in human health, despite new restrictions the F.D.A. put into place in early 2012. The report showed an 8 percent increase in the sale of those drugs in 2012, confirming advocates’ fears that the agency’s efforts may not be having the desired effect. Sales of those drugs rose by 37 percent from 2009 to 2012.
New rules passed last year may bring numbers like these down – the operative word being “may.” Only time will tell.
While conventional medicine’s main concerns are mainly with antibiotic resistance and the rise of superbugs – where antibiotics fail, there are few, if any, other weapons in the proverbial arsenal – antibiotic overuse has other troubling implications.
For instance, research published in JAMA Pediatrics found that kids who are given multiple rounds of antibiotics as infants are at higher risk of being overweight by the time they reach school age. Earlier this year, research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences even found that some antibiotics may trigger an autoimmune response.
One point that’s become less clear, though, is whether antibiotics, as long suspected, might contribute to asthma. In a recent newsletter, Dr. Frank Shallenberger shared his thoughts on yet another recent study – one which called into question whether it’s actually the antibiotics that are causing asthma. It may be that asthma-prone children have weakened immune systems already, leading them to develop conditions for which antibiotics are prescribed. This, he says, wouldn’t be any big surprise.
Obviously there are going to be some people who are born with bomb proof immune systems and who will never get asthma. And there are going to be others whose immune systems are not nearly as good. This is completely predictable. The point is this. Instead of giving kids who get infections a never-ending stream of antibiotics, why not attack the real problem and give them help for their immune systems? That’s not going to make Big Pharm happy, but it sure makes sense.
How to do this? It’s pretty much gospel to those of us who take a holistic, biological approach to our health and well-being: Eat a healthful, whole foods-based diet. Test for food allergies and eliminate problem foods. Supplement for immune system support.
We’d all do well to follow that advice as a routine. A robust immune system and healthy biological terrain are the foundation for optimal health.
That last line is worth repeating. In bold.
Image by samantha celara, via Flickr