“The danger posed by growing resistance to antibiotics should be ranked along with terrorism on a list of threats to the nation, the government’s chief medical officer for England has said. Professor Dame Sally Davies described it as a “ticking time bomb”. She warned that routine operations could become deadly in just 20 years if we lose the ability to fight infection.”
If you are not fully aware, the dangers of increasing antibiotic resistant bacteria strains are all too real and growing. Worldwide overuse and misuse of antibiotics is endemic, so what can we do to help?
In this article we explore what is causing this problem, how you can become an ‘Antibiotics Guardian’, how you can boost your immune system naturally to help ward off viruses and bacteria, and what you can do if you have a nasty cold or flu like symptoms.
Antibiotic related stories are hardly out of the news, and commonly the focus is on the worldwide issue of potentially deadly bacterial strains that are resistant to antibiotics. The appreciable health alarm is that as more time passes, and bacteria become more anti-biotic resistant, we arrive at a situation where all antibiotic products are ineffective in combating bacterial infections.
This is no alarmist scenario – as the recent comments from England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Professor Dame Sally Davies highlight; they were reported by BSAC (The British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy) as follows:
“She issues stark warnings about the catastrophe we face if we do not immediately address the threat of antimicrobial resistance. The CMO said we could routinely see deaths from minor surgery within 20 years if new antibiotics are not discovered – highlighting the immediate and imminent threats that antimicrobial resistance poses. She has called for politicians to act now, and for global action to be taken.
Her report mirrors calls made by Antibiotic Action- a UK led global initiative funded by BSAC – insisting the “discovery void” is addressed – few new antibiotics have been developed in the past two decades despite a new infectious disease being discovered every year for the past 30 years. The report highlights how our armoury of antibiotics is nearly empty at a time when diseases are evolving and becoming more resistance to existing drugs. In speaking of her report Professor Dame Sally Davies said:
“Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics. And routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection.””
An impossible outcome some people say, without antibiotics the health system would be on the verge of collapse, post operative infections for example would return to pre-antibiotic levels etc. Even those of us who are opposed to the use of pharmaceuticals except in essential circumstances, preferring the ‘natural’ treatments as a first line option, will accept that antibiotics are sometimes essential for certain health procedures. (A sad situation and one we attribute to increasing widespread immune system dysfunction – addressed further on in this article).
There is no dispute that antibiotics have saved countless millions of lives over decades. What now needs to be considered is (firstly) the worldwide overuse of antibiotics that is rapidly leading to an increased number of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains. Secondly, what can we do ‘naturally’ to help strengthen our immune system, as it is only our immune system that can protect us from the risk of viral and bacterial threats, so a healthy immune system is essential. And thirdly, where we have to take antibiotics, we can explore ways to minimise the common side effects such as diarrhoea.
This article is pertinent for the time of year here in the UK too. With the winter months cases of cold and flu infections soar. Many such sufferers end up going to their doctor expecting antibiotics to resolve their symptoms, when indeed this medication in many cases will not help. But often the pressure is on the doctor to prescribe antibiotics as the public perception is that they will be a ‘cure all’ with no risks or harm.
What are Antibiotics?
The NHS website has the summary thus: “Antibiotics are medications used to treat, and in some cases prevent, bacterial infections. They can be used to treat relatively mild conditions such as acne as well as potentially life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia. However, antibiotics often have no benefit for many other types of infection and using them unnecessarily would only increase the risk of antibiotic resistance, so they are not routinely used.” (Link to their webpage below).
And it is the wording in this second sentence that is the key point for us all to understand when we think our doctor should prescribe antibiotics for our nasty cold, and the primary reason antibiotic usage and resistance is growing at an alarming rate. Whilst antibiotics cannot treat viruses, they are used to treat secondary bacterial infections that can occur post flu or cold viral infection. Antibiotics do not treat colds and flu – ONLY the secondary bacterial infections that can sometimes arise.
Occasionally there is a secondary bacterial infection which arises in tissue damaged by a virus, which can lead to infections that require antibiotics. But it is important to emphasize that this is unusual, and most often occurs in people who have low immune function for other reasons. For instance smokers with COPD,( chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), are far more likely to get a further chest infection concomitant to a virus than non smokers . Most upper respiratory tract infections remain in the upper respiratory tract, and do not cause a lower respiratory tract infection requiring antibiotics.
Overuse and Misuse?
The very real risk of wide spread (i.e. worldwide) antibiotic resistance is due to the shocking overuse of antibiotics fuelled by massive demand and misuse. In America people frequently insist on antibiotics for a wide range of ailments where the drug is indeed not suitable. In many parts of Europe antibiotics are available over the counter. And in China and India antibiotics are similarly misused massively.
With such wide scale antibiotic misuse, particularly in countries with such huge populations, surely it is not speculation that the threat of arriving at the situation where all antibiotic products are ineffective in combating bacterial infections may reach reality sooner rather than later, as many eminent scientists and medics predict.
It is alarming to consider that presently there are only a very small number of antibiotics that do not have antibiotic resistant strains! Bacteria constantly change (evolve) in their bid for survival. The genes which make a bacterium resistant to antibiotics are known to have existed in some cases even before the widespread use of antibiotics, which gives even more reason to be vigilant with their use.
Antibiotics have saved countless lives but overuse has created not only resistant strains but host resistance too. It is far better (in our opinion) to work on encouraging people to build up their immune system – as at the end of the day ONLY our immune system can overcome the threat – antibiotics augment the host immune response when needed (when the immune system cannot respond fast enough itself to overcome an infection). Antibiotics do not kill bacteria but work to damage the bacteria/virus so that the immune system is prompted to phagocytose (engulf and destroys) the damaged cells.
Colds and Flu
So what should you do if you come down with a nasty cold or flu like symptoms. Naturally if you are concerned or in an ‘at risk’ group then you can ring NHS 111, or consult your doctor or a health professional immediately. However the typical advice will be to rest, make sure you have plenty of fluids, avoid fatty foods, alcohol and tobacco and eat healthily. You can search NHS Choices online for more information on this specific topic for advice too.
We would always advocate a healthy dietary regime (throughout life) rich in fruit and vegetables both high in phyto-nutrients, flavonoids, bioflavonoids, carotenoids and other antioxidants. This will help your general health and pertinently immune health to minimise viral and bacterial threats, and fight them more effectively if you fall prey. A healthy digestion is essential too.
We cover a number of ways you can naturally strengthen your immune system later in this article. But maintaining excellent levels of certain vitamins and minerals at all times, and particularly when you are suffering from viral or bacterial attack is important as your body will be more rapidly depleted at such times. We provide an overview of appropriate nutrients later.
To date research has shown that for most people regularly taking Vitamin C supplements will not prevent them from catching a cold – however such a course of action can expect to shorten the amount of time that they are ill and/or lessen their symptoms. We covered some of this research in an earlier blog and a link to this article is provided further below (‘vitamin c research on fighting common colds’).
Antibiotics – Common Side Effects
A course of antibiotics can often have some side effects, and these are well documented. Antibiotics most commonly disrupt the digestive system with commensurate health effects such as diarrhoea. If you are unfortunate enough to have antibiotics prescribed you will know that often they can disrupt your digestive system leading to diarrhoea and generalised gastric discomfort. For example erythromycin, an antibiotic that has few resistant strains, is used to treat certain infections and for skin problems (such as acne and rosacea) is documented on the NHS website of having the common side effects of feeling and being sick, diarrhoea, bloating and indigestion, abdominal (tummy) pain, and loss of appetite.
Antibiotics have been of invaluable support worldwide in recent decades. Unfortunately whilst carrying out their job they do wipe out a lot of the natural good bacterial strains resident in our GI tract. Our digestive health is very dependent on a healthy balance of native “friendly” bacteria which not only help our digestion, but also support our immune system, produce B vitamins and Vitamin K2, lactase and other enzymes. Antibiotics create an imbalance allowing pathogenic bacteria to colonise in higher than normal numbers and diarrhoea and digestive upsets frequently occur.
We have written previously in detail on natural supplements that may support you against diarrhoea and other digestive upsets if you have to go on a course of antibiotics. This includes the recent Cochrane Collaboration publication of their review on live native bacteria supplements (formerly termed ‘probiotics’) and antibiotics. “Scientists at the Cochrane Collaboration say taking the supplements (probiotics) could prevent diarrhoea – a common side-effect of many antibiotics”. (link to our full article further below).
You can also read the information on this topic supplied by the NHS. Which comments:
“Probiotics are thought to help restore the natural balance of your gut bacteria when it has been disrupted. However, there is little evidence to support most health claims made for them. The strongest of this evidence surrounds the use of probiotics in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (AAD).” (link to web page below).
Our Immune System
We commented earlier that it is only our immune system that can minimise the risk of viral and bacterial threats – so a healthy immune system is essential. Accordingly what can we do naturally to improve our immune health? There are of course many prevailing factors that can inhibit , impair or reduce healthy immune function.
At Cytoplan we would also argue that for many of us our immune systems are ‘sluggish’ and less well primed than our ancestors. And much of this is due to a modern western lifestyle typified by poor diet, stress, pollutants, sedentary existence, and poor physical health. Indeed such a comparison of our modern immune system health and those of bygone days will provide many of the ‘health clues’ for optimising immune health.
A recent article on this blog titled ‘Cytoplan & The Nutrition Gap’ goes into more detail in regards to modern nutritional shortfalls and how they, and other ‘nutrition gap’ factors impact on our health. The link to this blog is to be found further below. Below is a list of factors influencing immune health; it is not intended to be an exhaustive list, nor a detailed explanation of how one might go about addressing each point. But hopefully it will get some of you interesting in exploring these topics further.
- Dietary deficiency of ‘Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan’
- A shortage of immune supporting nutrients
- A sedentary lifestyle
- ‘Over santitised environments’
- Genetic Polymorphisms
- Widespread dysbiosis
- Methylation errors
Immune System Priming
In general our immune systems are less rapid to react to threat than in bygone days. Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan deficiency is a factor in this as its priming capacity enables the immune system to be activated immediately in the face of threat . If the immune system responds very quickly it can generally resolve virus and bacterial invaders before the pathogen has multiplied, after which time it is more difficult to control.
Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan is present in the cell walls of moulds and yeast and has been identified by extensive research as an ‘immuno-primer’ compound. It is a compound that has been present in our foods for centuries and as such has been part of the evolution of our innate immune system. There are specialised receptors within our innate immune system that depend on the presence and daily replenishment of Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan molecules for healthy function.
There are however currently no EFSA permitted health claims for this nutrient. In bygone days Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan would be found in many of the foods commonly found in the average diet. Ancestral diet contained in excess of 500mg/day Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan. Today most diets contain less than 100mg .A link to a detailed article on this topic is to be found below.
In terms of immune supporting nutrients the recent pioneering work by biochemist Professor Bruce Ames opened up a whole new understanding of how the body uses nutrients. It is now apparent the first call on nutrients by our body will be for immediate and acute needs. So for example ‘flight and fright’, illnesses, energy needs – however this is at the expense of protective nutrient levels for future needs.
So, it is only if nutrients are ingested in excess of immediate needs that there will be sufficient nutritive levels left for protection and to be put into store for future times of extra need. So, even if you feel okay, you might not have nutrient reserves to deal with illness, accident, trauma, and other emergency situations that can arise at any time unexpectedly – and all of which have high nutrient demands to effect resolution and require a healthy immune system. More details on this research are to be found in our ‘Cytoplan & The Nutrition Gap’ article – link further below.
Many of you may take issue that you have a sedentary lifestyles, however in the main this would be the case when compared to our highly active hunter-gatherer ancestors. Our physiology evolved in paleolithic times when man was highly active, and it remains unchanged. Hence humans are designed to be active beings, our physiology needs exercise for optimum health. Our antioxidant enzyme systems detoxification pathways and immune system are all ‘up-regulated’ through activity.
Stress is a term familiar to us all , and the chronic stress of modern day living creates a situation where frequently many of us experience high cortisol levels (witness the explosive incidence of metabolic syndrome). Cortisol suppresses immune system activity. A link to an article on metabolic syndrome can be found further below.
In our modern western world we frequently live in a ‘sanitised’ environment with an array of cleaning and ‘germ killing’ materials. Our innate immune system is designed to be on the alert to defend us from multiple threats all the time, and thereby grow stronger. But our modern lifestyles and sanitised environment reduce the need for such constant high alert and from this situation auto immunity and inappropriate immune activity has been born. A result is reduced appropriate immune activity in many people.
We have noted earlier that antibiotics can cause digestive disruption as a side effect. Widespread digestive issues are frequently at the ‘heart’ of immune system health. Why? The functions of gut and immune are intimately linked and if one is negatively affected it will impact on the other, and the overall health of the individual. Native live bacteria in our gut and Gut Associated Lymph Tissue (GALT) support the healthy function of the immune system. If depleted or upset by antibiotic therapy and other assaults, will impact on immune health.
‘Nutrigenomics’ or nutritional genomics and epigenetics is the final topic where we look at immune system health. Polymorphisms (genetic mutations) carried in our younger generations, where gene pools have begun to adapt to the modern sanitised environments (we described above), means overall less active immunity, as our general environment does not carry the threats of bygone days.
And errors in the critical methylation cycle can inhibit immune function in many ways. It is estimated that genetic errors of methylation are carried by around 48% of the population, whilst others errors are exacerbated by poor nutrition, illness and medication. Previous articles we have written on nutrigenomics and methylation are available from the links below.
One can see just from the content of these past few paragraphs that the factors impinging on a healthy immune system are many and varied.
Become an Antibiotic Guardian
If you are concerned about the increasing risks of antibiotic resistance then take a look at the antibioticguardian.com website (link below) developed by Public Health England (PHE). This platform provides the “UK Support for European Antibiotic Awareness Day. “Protect yourself, your family and friends against the spread of antibiotic resistance. Become an ‘Antibiotic Guardian.’”
European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) is a Europe-wide initiative that takes place annually on 18th November. Public Health England (PHE) is leading the co-ordination of EAAD. As the website notes:
“Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats facing us today.
Why it is relevant to you: Without effective antibiotics many routine treatments will become increasingly dangerous. Setting broken bones, basic operations, even chemotherapy all rely on access to antibiotics that work.
What we want you to do: To slow resistance we need to cut the use of unnecessary antibiotics. November 18th is European Antibiotic Awareness Day. As part of that we’re asking everyone in the UK, the public and the medical community to become Antibiotic Guardians.
Call to action: Choose one simple pledge about how you’ll make better use of antibiotics and help save this vital medicine from becoming obsolete.”
Nutrition & Immune Health
Here are some dietary and supplemental suggestions to help optimise your immune health:
- Eat more than ‘5 a day’ – Ideally 10 portions of brightly coloured fruit and dark green veg. Organic if you can. (For their antioxidant, flavonoid, carotenoid and bioflavonoid content)
- Bridge your ‘Nutrition Gap’ – Any of the Cytoplan multi-formulae for example are designed to bridge the Nutrition Gap present in most people; at safe and effective levels of nutrients that are also in a wholly bioeffective form. (Read our blog for more, link below).
Consider the following if indicated:
- Purified Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan supplement during winter months, or ongoing if you are immune compromised
- Live native bacteria supplements and Aloe Vera inner leaf juice for digestive support
- Extra Vitamin C, Zinc & Selenium
- Extra Vitamin D3
Our previous article ‘Help avoid antibiotic associated diarrhoea and digestive disorder’ provides more details on natural nutritional support and lifestyle suggestions for digestive health (link below).
With thanks to Doctor Mandy Sharpe from Sheffield for her contribution to aspects of this article and raising awareness of Antibiotics Guardian. If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.
Amanda Williams, Cytoplan Ltd
[email protected], 01684 310099
Cytoplan Blog: Antibiotics, Diarrhoea & Probiotics
Cytoplan Blog: Help avoid antibiotic associated diarrhoea
Cytoplan Blog: The Nutrition Gap
Cytoplan Blog: Beta Glucans
Cytoplan Blog: Metabolic Syndrome
Cytoplan Blog: Vitamin C Research and Colds
Cytoplan Blog: Nutrigenomics
Cytoplan Blog: Methylation
Gov UK: Antibiotic Guardian Website
NHS Website: Probiotics Introduction
NHS Website: Antibiotics Introduction