With the cold and flu season approaching, I thought this article from Dr. David Williams was particularly timely. He outlines some of the, sometimes life-threatening, problems with indiscriminate use of antibiotics, suggests strategies to make sure antibiotics are really needed and lists some common effective alternatives to antibiotics. I’m adding some suggestions of my own at the bottom of his article.
The development and widespread use of antibiotics has undoubtedly made one of the greatest impacts on our health this century. While targeted use of antibiotics has saved thousands of lives, their overuse and misuse has undermined the health of millions.
Numerous research studies and even congressional hearings have concluded that between 40 and 60 percent of all antibiotics prescribed in this country are unnecessary.
Your body ordinarily does an effective job of protecting you; the immune system produces natural antibodies to recognize and destroy foreign bacteria. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics, however, can both weaken your immune system and create the antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that have begun to surface over the last several decades.
The most common misuse of antibiotics probably occurs when they are prescribed for known viral infections such as the common cold or flu. Antibiotics are only effective against bacteria. Both the cold and flu are viral diseases. There’s no way antibiotics will speed up the healing process or stop viral infections. They can, however, make you more susceptible to the more virulent super-strains of bacteria such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant S. aureus) and VRE (vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus) now showing up in our hospitals.
Childhood ear infection (otitis media) is another area in which use of antibiotics should be questioned. Although 98 percent of the physicians surveyed in the US routinely prescribe antibiotics for the condition, recent studies show that drugs are no more effective than placebos. Even more shocking, using antibiotics increases the risk of recurrent ear infections as much as sixfold!
Despite what we’ve been conditioned to believe, the human body was designed to deal with foreign bacteria. Every time your immune system overcomes an infection it emerges stronger. Through the body’s production of natural antibodies, it becomes better able to deal with future assaults on your health.
If, however, antibiotics are given at the first sign of infection, several serious events can occur.
- The body’s own immune system becomes suppressed. Fewer natural antibodies are produced. And worse, studies have shown that the body’s white blood cells are less active in attacking bacteria that have been treated with antibiotics. This suppression of the immune system explains why many seemingly minor infections appear to recur over and over again, thus requiring multiple courses of treatment.
- As bacteria are repeatedly exposed to antibiotics, they begin to mutate. Through a series of mutations, they can quickly become immune to the drug’s effect. Our inability to stop the spreading infection of these mutant bacteria costs thousands of people their lives each year. Drug-resistant bacteria have become especially dangerous in the fertile breeding grounds of hospitals. Many times hospitals are the worst possible place a sick person should be.
- Hundreds of thousands of hospital patients die each year from infections caused by these drug-resistant bacteria. We all know someone who was admitted to the hospital for one condition, but while there, developed a near-fatal or fatal case of drug-resistant pneumonia.
- Estimates are that over 20 percent of those who enter hospitals leave sicker than when they entered, if they’re able to leave at all. About 2 million patients acquire what are called nosocomial infections (infections from microorganisms that reside in hospitals). In approximately 3 to 5 percent of these cases, the infection will be the cause of their death. Pneumonia is the most common hospital-acquired infection. It now appears to be responsible for as many as 15 percent of all hospital-associated deaths.
- Antibiotics destroy the beneficial bacteria that reside in the intestinal tract. In a healthy intestinal tract, trillions of beneficial organisms help form vitamins and enzymes, deactivate cancer-causing compounds, help regulate cholesterol and hormone levels, and protect against the overgrowth of disease-producing bacteria and fungi.
- Anyone who takes antibiotics without replenishing beneficial intestinal bacteria is subject to developing a long list of problems. Some of the more common ones include eczema, Candida infections, hyperactivity, parasitic infections, depression, fatigue, decreased mental abilities, food allergies (particularly to milk and milk products), recurrent vaginal or bladder infections, PMS, irritability, constipation, diarrhea, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and even cancer.
Before discussing any alternatives to antibiotic therapy, you should know of the safeguards that can be taken when antibiotics must be used.
First, make sure there’s really a need for antibiotics. Have your doctor take a culture of the area involved. This will establish if you actually have an infection. If so, it will identify the specific organisms involved, allowing the proper antibiotic to be prescribed.
Next, always supplement your diet with cultured foods like sauerkraut and live yogurt, and make sure to take a high quality probiotic regularly to keep your intestinal flora in balance and resistant to “bad” bacteria.
Several natural items that fight infections are so well known I won’t spend an excessive amount of time discussing them. I will mention them briefly, however, to provide the doses that are generally recommended and any synergistic factors and precautions.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that all of these items should be used simultaneously.
At the first sign of infection, it is recommended that 500 to 1,000 mg be taken every two hours. This can be continued until you reach what is called bowel tolerance—the beginning of diarrhea.
Vitamin C works effectively in both bacterial and viral infections.
Zinc gluconate lozenges also exhibit anti-viral properties and can lessen the duration of the common cold.
One study tested an over-the-counter zinc product called Cold-EEZE on 99 individuals. Half the group took a zinc lozenge (containing 13.3 mg of zinc gluconate) every two hours at the start of a cold, while the other half of the group took a placebo.
The colds of those who took zinc lasted about four-and-a-half days compared to seven-and-a-half days in the non-zinc takers. In addition, the zinc takers experienced fewer days of nasal congestion (four days vs. six days for those not taking zinc), nasal drainage (four days vs. seven days), headache (two days vs. three days), hoarseness (two days vs. three days), sore throat (one day vs. three days), and coughing (two days vs. four-and-a-half days).
You can find Cold-EEZE and other brands of zinc gluconate lozenges in most drug stores, as well as many of the larger health food stores.
This vitamin also has virus-killing abilities. Initial doses as high as 100,000 IU daily for the first couple of days of infection can be very beneficial. The dose is then dropped back to 10,000 to 25,000 IU daily to avoid problems with toxicity.
The general healing properties of aloe vera gel have been known and utilized for hundreds of years. Recently, however, scientists have discovered that a large number of aloe vera’s more potent healing compounds reside in the sap and rind of the plant’s leaf.
Several years ago, none of the commercially available aloe vera products contained the sap and rind portions of the plant. Most processors intentionally eliminated this portion because it contained a natural laxative called aloin and the FDA limits the aloin content of any non-pharmaceutical aloe product to only 50 parts per million. A process has recently been developed, however, in which the laxative aloin is converted to salicylic acid. This enables the entire leaf (gel, sap, and rind) to be used.
There are thousands of aloe vera products on the market. Most consist solely of the gel. We now know, however, that these lack most of the primary healing components. Look for a high quality whole leaf aloe vera juice product. My favorite is Aloe-Ace, made by Bio-Nutritional Formulas. You can find it online by searching on the product name and company.
Reserve Antibiotics for When You Really
There are probably a thousand other natural alternatives to antibiotics. Others include gargling with salt water, saunas, fasting, rest, et cetera. The items I’ve mentioned provide you with several natural alternatives to antibiotics. They shouldn’t, however, be used in place of antibiotics to treat serious infections. If there is any question consult your physician.
There is no question that the use of antibiotics has gotten totally out of control. Fortunately, in recent years as the news has gotten out, the public has been revisiting the previous assumptions that antibiotics have few, if any, adverse side effects and they should be used at the first sign of any infection. Of course, when used judiciously, antibiotics can be lifesavers. Indiscriminate use, however, weakens the immune system and creates dangerous new strains of microorganisms that can threaten your life.
Reserve the use of antibiotics for those times when either your own immune system can’t handle the problem or you are faced with more threatening infections. This caution may very well lengthen your life in the long run.
Dr. David Williams
Dr. Hogg’s comments
This excellent article should be read by everyone, especially parents of small children. The paragraph on using antibiotics for treating childhood otitis media is especially important and, thought it’s really not new information, very few people know about it.
In addition to Dr. Williams suggestions I’d add the following;
- Spirulina is a very nutritious algae. Numerous studies show that it boosts the immune function, increasing white blood cell (WBC) production and effectiveness in killing viruses and bacteria. It also helps increase antibody production. I suggest one 500mg tablet/waking hour at the start if any infection. Follow with at least two weeks at two tablets three times/day after you’re well.
- Vitamin D is a major factor in immune function. One of the reasons people have more infections in the Winter is because of the lack of exposure to sunlight needed for your body to make vitamin D. Vitamin also helps prevent autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and autoimmune thyroid disease as well as several types of cancer including skin cancer! The best way to get D is from moderate sun exposure, about 10-20 min four times/week with as much skin exposed as possible. Avoid burning because that will make you more prone to skin cancer, just as not getting enough sun exposure will. If you can’t get out in the sun or that’s not working well enough for you (as we get older our skin loses some of it’s D producing ability) an alternative is to take a good quality D3 supplement. For most people, taking up to 2000 IU/day during the Winter will be safe. Many people need more than this to get blood D levels up to the optimal range for best health. Unfortunately, you can also get too much vitamin D and it can become toxic. That’s why I run blood tests on my patients for higher doses. Ask me next time you’re in for an appointment if you’re someone who could benefit from a blood test to see how much vitamin D you need.
- I can’t emphasize enough how important adequate sleep is for your immune system. We need an absolute minimum of 6 hours of good quality sleep/night and most people need around 8 hours for best health.
- Oil of Oregano is a very potent substance that has been shown effective for a wide variety of bacteria. It is especially usefull for intestinal pathogens and a recent study demonstrated that a specially emulsified preparation of oil of oregano was very effective against several protozoal intestinal parasites! Herbal antimicorbials have an advantage over pharaceutical antibiotics in that they are several orders more chemically complex than a drug and therefore much harder for the bacteria to develop immunity to.
- Water is used by your immune system in a process called “hydrolysis” to kill germs. Most people don’t get enough water, especially in the Winter when we feel less thirsty. It needs to be pure water, by the way, not juice, tea, (green tea does help to fight infection but should not be used instead of water) milk, etc. Shoot for 6-9 cups/day based on your body weight and activity levels.
Most of the supplements in this email, both Dr. Williams suggestions and mine should only be used at these levels for the short period of time needed to get well. You can get too much zinc, causing imbalances in other vital minerals. Many immune system builders seem to become less effective if they are taken continuously so they don’t work as well when you really need them. Vitamin C, at 500-1000mg/day, spirulina at 3-6 tablets/day and Vitamin D at whatever dose indicated by blood work can be taken continuously for optimizing health.
Please let me know if you have any questions.