Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Antibiotic Dilemma

There's a lot of awareness coming out these days about the fact that antibiotics--though they often save our lives and perform ridiculous feats of battle--may not be the best long term solution for illness. People are reporting feeling lowered immunity, digestive disorders, chronic yeast infections, allergies and all sorts of other things surfacing after taking strong doses of antibiotics. The truth is, bacteria are our friends, and it takes a lot of time and work to develop the complex community of them we have in our GI tract. It's basically a party in there, and antibiotics are the police that make everyone dash. No fun whatsover.

I admit they can be great. I have more than once had serious infections that had no other solution (that I knew about then), and have been very thankful to have such powerful technology. However, the new paradigm of medicine is upon us, and it's time we started to take antibiotics and their alternatives more seriously.

What are antibiotics?

When I say "antibiotics" I refer to a group of drugs intended to kill organisms in human beings. The most well known of these is penicillin, which is a defensive chemical made by a mold. This chemical is synthesized and concentrated and put into pill form. This is the basic platform for all antibiotics. Stronger antibiotics have been developed over time to make up for antibiotics resistance (when bacteria have figured out how to outsmart the chemical). The reason germs create resistance to them so easily is that there is only one chemical mechanism working, and so it only takes one bacteria that evolves (which happens quickly) to resist that chemical.

What do I do when I'm taking antibiotics to retain my vibrant health and well-being?

Antibiotics kill the beneficial bacteria that is everywhere in our body. Primarily, this effects digestion and absorption.  They are also incredibly taxing to the liver. Here are some things you can do to support your system:

1. Take strong, high quality probiotic supplements with antibiotics and a month after. After this, supplement your diet with probiotic foods. (Saurkraut, kefir, kimchee, kombucha, miso, yogurt etc. Beer does not count.) I recommend these probiotics, as I have taken them and know them to be effective. 50 billion organisms a day is the goal.

2. Support your liver. Herbs that are good for this are dandelion root and leaf (juice, tea, tincture), milk thistle (ground seed, tincture), oregon grape root (tincture or tea). Green vegetables are good also, especially arugula. Avoid alcohol (they mean it when they say it in the directions, so follow it), get adequate sleep, avoid other pharmaceutical drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen and skip the hamburger for now.

3. Take the whole round of antibiotics so that they are fully effective. Otherwise, you may end up with an antibiotic resistant infection, and need  a stronger dose. Taking two rounds is way worse than taking one- so make the one count.

Are there really alternatives?

Yes! It is a sensitive subject to give non-specific advice on, but my experience shows that herbs are incredibly effective against all types of infection. Infections are a great thing to visit an herbalist with. Again, the life-threatening ones should be treated by a doctor for safety reasons.

Quick response, keeping things clean (inside and out), supporting your body so it can fight the infection, taking antimicrobial herbs specific to your infection, keeping blood and lymph moving, avoid heavy excercise and other energy intensive activities.

When should antibiotics be used?

Take antibiotics only when they are really needed. Doctors can prescribe them for minor infections that can easily be treated in some other way. My rule of thumb for myself is that if it's going to kill me quickly, I go for the antibiotics. Otherwise, I treat it myself. However, I am an herbalist and have knowledge and resources available at a moment's notice. Measure your comfort level and resources, and see what's realistic. Understand the effect that they are having you and learn how to make informed decisions. From my experience, most medical doctors push antibiotics without offering alternatives, or explaining what is going on and why they are prescribing them. You must be assertive to get that information from them.

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