Antibiotics: Too Much of a Good Thing? -- By Dr. Neela Sandal
When it comes to antibiotics, there's pros and cons. Antibiotics are incredibly powerful and amazing, and they've completely changed our interaction with disease and illness. But while they're miraculous, they also have the potential to cause harm. On the other hand, we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater like someone I met in med school, who was injured by the effects of an antibiotic, and didn't want to treated with antibiotics ever again. We need to look at the whole picture.
When we take a tour of how antibiotics work with our body's ecology, the first thing we see is how indiscriminate they care be. Many antibiotics are broad-spectrum, meaning they knock down a large amount of bacteria, including the one that's causing you a problem at the moment. If someone is having a life-threatening illness, you don't want to miss the bacteria that's causing the illness and putting you at extreme risk. On the other side of things, if it's not a life-threatening illness or potential disability, doesn't it behoove us to be more careful? We don't want to broadly burn our fields when there are just a few weeds to pick in the garden to restore the garden to health.
There was a recent study that provided preliminary indications that antibiotics effect and slow mitochondria. In one sense, this is an enormous surprise, but in another sense, the mitochondria are still bacteria, and slowing down our mitochondria storehouse can lead to chronic fatigue and other issues. So being conservative is wise when considering antibiotics.
Also, antibiotic use begets antibiotic use. When we apply a broad spectrum antibiotic, we fight the infection. An example is a sinus infection in which we destroy the bacteria that used to be a first-line defense against sinus infections. Enough antibiotics, and we've battered down our ship to such a point that we've got so many holes in it, and now all we can do is bale out water. It's a difficult place to be because of course we want relief, but to change this cycle, we have to consider other approaches. Instead of relying mostly antibiotics, we can create barriers to infection by using a neti pot regularly, and restore and correct our body's ecology through probiotics, supplements, diet, and reducing inflammation, all which allows us to heal. This is a process, yet there are also times when we need to consider antibiotics, but look toward using them minimally, and in a targeted way.
There's a whole other issue -- antibiotic resistance -- and that's a really important issue. Some reasons this is happening is that we are over-using antibiotics. Additionally, the way we factory farm animals require that we use an enormous amount of antibiotics on them, and these antibiotics are administered widely and indiscriminately. One reason a large, mechanized corporate farm uses antibiotics so much on their animals is that they know that giving an antibiotic to a cow will make the cow fatter. What this translates into for humans is more of a propensity for antibiotic resistance.
It behooves us, in moving toward integrated and long-term health, to take greater care in when we use antibiotics, and also look toward ways to bolster our overall health, and make more conscious choices about foods that may bring us into encounters with harmful antibiotics. This whole-circle approach can help us get out of the antibiotic cycle while also avoiding antibiotic resistance.
Dr. Neela Sandal, in addition to extensive medical training, studied and practiced at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine. If you’d like to experience The Atma Approach for yourself, contact us at 785/760-0695.