A is For Antibiotics
Tina Greco, Pharm.D.
You have a problem. Your ear hurts, or you have been coughing for a week with no end in sight. One of the the hardest things to hear when you finally schedule a doctor appointment and drag yourself (or your child) in is “No, I don’t think an antibiotic is necessary, let’s wait and see how
you do.” As a patient, it is frustrating because you would like the nagging problem solved quickly and most likely it has already altered your busy schedule or, worse yet, the kids are missing expensive activities. But the physician’s hesitancy, may be the best thing for your health, both now and in the future.
The CDC estimates that over 30% of antibiotic prescriptions in the US are unnecessary. You might not pause to think much of this number, as most people don’t think of antibiotic drugs as dangerous drugs…but let’s think through how taking a 7 or 10 day course alters our body’s natural delicate balance.
Antibiotics are categorized into different classes and are designed to kill bacteria in a variety of ways. Some target the unique cell wall structure of bacteria and disrupt it, others inhibit bacterial protein or DNA/RNA synthesis and effect the bacterial cells ability to survive and divide. While this sound impressive, and it is- the discovery of penicillin in 1928 changed the course of human health history- the drugs are not highly specific, they do not just kill the bacteria. Along with the destruction of the invading or out-of-control bacteria causing you trouble, commensal bacteria are altered leading to unknown health consequences. Commensal bacteria, or normal flora, live on your skin, and in your respiratory, gastrointestinal
and genital tracts. Estimates suggest that there are 10-100 trillion microbes (over 1000 species) in the human body, making us only 50% human by the most conservative estimates. These “friendly” bacteria are responsible for supplying us with essential nutrients like biotin, vitamin B12, and folic acid , aid in digestion, and promote immune system homeostasis .
Researchers are still trying to fully identify the numerous species and appreciate the range of functions these bacteria possess but there are clues that alterations can lead to disease. So in addition to the potential for rash, nausea, diarrhea, yeast infections and potentially contributing to the development of antibiotic resistance (i.e. bug can now outwit the drug), also consider the impact to your body’s natural defense system. You wouldn’t kill your friends to eliminate an enemy if you could help it right? That’s why treating your achy ear or sore throat is not as simple as writing a prescription. We need to get smart about when to use time and
natural solutions to heal us, and save the big weapons for when it really counts.
CDC. Appropriate Antibiotic Use.
Sender R. Aug 2016.