Due to over-prescribing, many important antibiotics don’t work anymore. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are on the rise and have been for the last 20 years.
There’s no question that antibiotics have saved millions of lives from infections of all kinds. So how does antibiotic resistance occur? The problem with pharmaceutical antibiotics has been their inappropriate use, causing bacteria to adapt and evolve to resist their killer.
In addition, run-off from the drug manufacturing has polluted soil and municipal water supplies with antibiotics. This means that even if you don’t use antibiotics or consume conventional meat or hygiene products, these drugs are present in your drinking water.
The evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria has prompted the development of additional and more powerful antibiotics to overcome them. The stakes continue to rise and forms of bacteria have become what’s termed “superbugs” that are very difficult—if not, nearly impossible—to defeat.
A Long Predicted Problem
The discoverer of penicillin, Alexander Fleming, said this in 1945 after receiving the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: “The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.” (1)
Infections once eradicated with a cycle of antibiotics are becoming free to grow and thrive. It’s estimated that 700,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria and that number is increasing at an alarming rate. It takes only one person to carry these super bacteria for antibiotic resistant bugs to spread throughout hospitals and clinics.
“Superbugs are microorganisms, such as viruses and bacteria, which modern medicine is struggling to combat because they are becoming increasingly virulent and resistant to antibiotics or vaccines. At the same time, very few new drugs or vaccines are coming out of the pharmaceutical pipeline…We are talking about a crisis where people in ever-greater numbers are no longer responding to the available treatments and the problem is growing, with disastrous consequences. This is largely as a result of the abuse of antibiotics–both their incorrect prescription and over prescription,” explains Professor Duse, the Head of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Wits University.(2)
What’s Up With Meat?
Exacerbating the problem is the use of antibiotics in livestock—the meat that we eat.
A 2011 study into the use of antibiotics in animals led to the following conclusion:
“Substantial data show elevated antibiotic resistance in bacteria associated with animals fed NTAs [non-therapeutic antibiotics] and their food products. This resistance spreads to other animals and humans—directly by contact and indirectly via the food chain, water, air, and manured and sludge-fertilized soils…the substantial and expanding volume of evidence reporting animal-to-human spread of resistant bacteria, including that arising from use of NTAs, supports eliminating NTA use in order to reduce the growing environmental load of resistance genes.” (3)
We Are What We Eat
If you eat non-organic meat, chances are extremely high (93%) that it contains antibiotics that encourage animal growth and prevent disease. The animals absorb these drugs and they make their way into your body when you eat animal products. Eighty percent of the antibiotics humans use are also present in livestock. This compounds the problem of inappropriate antibiotic exposure.
In 2011 alone, livestock producers in the United States purchased almost thirty million pounds of antibiotics. The European Union prohibits the use of most of these antibiotics. In fact, the United States uses more antimicrobials used per pound of meat than any other developed country. (4)
As the upside, a 1997 study of vegetarians found no antibiotic residue in their blood. Meanwhile, twenty percent of those who ate meat did carry it.
Micro-organisms not killed by drugs survive in the harvested meat. A Consumer Report in 2014 found harmful bacteria in ninety-seven percent of the chicken breasts sampled. Cooking meat thoroughly becomes critical in order to kill the lingering superbugs.
As noted in the study above, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the drugs meant to kill them are prevalent in the animals’ environment: water, air, soil, and manure. This increases their contact with humans by impacting the environment, garden soil, and food.
Reversing Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria
Denmark imposed the strict use of antibiotics in livestock in the 1990s and banned those that are also used in humans. The existence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the animals dropped within two years. This has had a positive effect on production and the incidence of animal disease. Rather than injecting animals with chemical antibiotics, farmers are allowing babies to stay with their mothers longer to build up natural immunities. Cows are also free to roam the pasture, which slows the spread of antibiotic resistant infections common in tight spaces.
Antibiotics kill harmful and beneficial bacteria—they don’t know the difference. So in addition to promoting the genesis of superbugs, drugs destroy the bacteria necessary for a healthy immune system (in humans and all other animals). We are getting sick and making ourselves sicker, starting a vicious cycle of destruction.
“The health of humans is inextricably linked to the health of animals and the environment. Addressing the connections between health and the environment requires an urgent expansion of interdisciplinary collaborations and strong political and global will,” says Professor Adriano Duse, Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. (5)
The FDA is reducing the problem by cutting antibiotic ingredients from household soaps and cleaning products. To protect your family, use pharmaceutical antibiotics only in extreme situations and eat organic meat. Use natural antibiotics at home to cure common infections. Use all-natural soaps and clean your home with vinegar and lemon.