A GLOBAL THREAT
How Did It Happen and What Can Be Done?
Disclaimer: I am not a qualified health practitioner. You should always consult a qualified health practitioner if you are sick. Opinions expressed on this website are my own or come from my own experience or research
There is no question that the use of antibiotics has saved and extended millions of lives. However, the overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics has led to antibiotic resistance to the point that it is now a global threat.
Currently, at least 700,000 people die each year due to drug-resistant diseases. More and more common diseases, including respiratory tract infections, sexually transmitted infections and urinary tract infections, are untreatable; lifesaving medical procedures are becoming much riskier, and our food systems are increasingly precarious.
In 2019, the UN, International agencies and experts released a ground-breaking report warning that drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050 and damage as catastrophic as the 2008-2009 global financial crisis (the report was clearly released before Covid 19 hit the world!). By 2030, antimicrobial resistance could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, UK Special Envoy on Antimicrobial Resistance (formerly Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Adviser to UK) , says..
“Antibiotic resistance is as large a threat to human health as climate change. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, it would spell the end of modern medicine.”
The Rise and Fall of Antibiotics: A Roller Coaster Ride
What is Antibiotic Resistance?
Antibiotic resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. That means the germs are not killed and continue to grow.
Some antibiotic resistant germs can also give their resistance directly to other germs.
Once antibiotic resistance emerges, it can spread into new settings and between countries.
Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Tuberculosis (TB).
TB is the ninth leading cause of death worldwide and the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent, exceeding even HIV/AIDS.
In fact, 230,000 people a year die from multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.
The First Signs of Antibiotic Resistance
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Discovered by accident in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, Penicillin was named ‘The Wonder Drug’ due to the sheer number of lives the drug saved during the 2nd World War.
However, shortly after the 2nd World War, penicillin resistance became a substantial clinical problem, so that, by the 1950s, many of the advances of the prior decade were threatened.
In response, new antibiotics were discovered. The Nobel prize winning Ukrainian-American inventor and microbiologist Selman Waksman, discovered over 20 antibiotics during the course of his lifetime (July 22, 1888 – August 16, 1973) including streptomycin (1943) and neomycin (1948). These 2 alone found extensive application in the treatment of numerous infectious diseases of men, animals and plants.
Confidence was restored and scientists believed that we would have the ability to continue to develop new antibiotics to outwit and outrun the ever-evolving germs.
But once again, hopes and expectations crashed as the first case of MRSA was identified in the same decade.
It was identified in the UK in 1962 and in the US in 1968.
What Has Caused Antibiotic Resistance?
There are 6 main factors that are recognised as contributing to antibiotic resistance:-
Over prescription of antibiotic drugs
Overuse due to ‘over the counter’ availability of antibiotics in 3rd world countries
Not finishing a course of antibiotics - germs are not killed off and develop immunity
Overuse of antibiotics in livestock and fish
High population density/lack of hygiene and sanitation = more pathogens = more infections. Difficult to identify, isolate, treat and hence curb the spread of pathogens.
6. Lack of antibiotics being developed. This is mainly due to a lack of return in investment – ie low profits, because:-
a) There’s more profit in drugs that are taken for a long time for chronic diseases than for antibiotics that cure quickly eg drugs for arthritis, heart conditions etc.
b) Antibiotics are cheap compared with, for example, the high cost of drugs for cancer.
c) Physicians have been told to restrict the use of antibiotics due to drug resistance. New antibiotics are only used for the worst cases as a last line of defence.
d) When new antibiotics are developed, drug resistance is almost inevitable. Money invested in the development of a new drug can be lost as profits plummet when drug resistance develops quickly.
e) First and 2nd world countries with health systems have seen years of budget cuts and 3rd world countries have large sectors of the population who cannot afford expensive new medicines.
Most antibiotics are now off patent and supplied by manufacturers of generic drugs. This means they are relatively cheap. And expectations are that new drugs, even those that target multi drug resistant pathogens, should also be cheap.
What Can Be Done About Antibiotic and Antimicrobial Resistance?
There are 2 approaches to be made: International/Governmental and Individual
1. A Coordinated, Cooperative International Approach
On 29th April, 2019, the UN, international agencies and experts released a ground breaking report demanding immediate, coordinated and ambitious action to avert a potentially disastrous drug-resistance crisis.
“The world is already feeling the economic and health consequences as crucial medicines become ineffective. Without investment from countries in all income brackets, future generations will face the disastrous impacts of uncontrolled antimicrobial resistance.
Recognizing that human, animal, food and environmental health are closely interconnected, the report calls for a coordinated, multisectoral “One Health” approach.
In response, on 24th January, 2019, the UK government published 2 papers:-
UK 20 Year Vision for Antimicrobial Resistance
UK 5 Year Action Plan for Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) from 2019 to 2024 to support the 20 year vision.
Other countries such as the US are implementing similar programmes and countries are co-operating and collaborating.
But these are policies and they take time to implement. And finding new drugs/approaches to infection takes years of expensive investment, painstaking research, testing and approval. Meanwhile, we are running out of options for treating the simplest as well more complicated infections.
2. What Can Be Done by the Individual
Firstly, whilst it is recognised that doctors need to restrict the use of antibiotics as much as possible to slow down the speed of antibiotic resistance, they do not generally suggest alternative treatments to antibiotics.
However, in my experience, there are many natural approaches that can be just as effective, and sometimes more so, for a range of health issues. And remember, every medicine, whether prescribed or off the shelf carries a long list of possible side effects:-
In the US, properly prescribed drugs cause hospitalisation for 1.9 million people per year.
In the US, about 128,000 people die every year from drugs prescribed for them
In Europe, the European Commission estimates that 200,000 people die every year from prescribed drugs
Natural approaches to illness can support the immune system and fight infection. I have used natural approaches for many years to deal both with simple and some more challenging health issues.
Secondly, there is a lot an individual can do to strengthen the body’s ability to resist and fight infection:-
A healthy diet, low in processed food, chemicals, additives, sugar and alcohol, is key to obtaining all the nutrients your body needs to function at its best and prevent your body having to deal with a toxic load.
A healthy gut with diverse good bacteria is essential to your immune system, mental health, hormone health as well as the digestion and absorption of nutrients from food.
Did you realise that the gut is responsible for 80% of the immune system?
Exercise - impacts so many aspects of health such as improving mood, energy, strengthens muscles and bones, helps weight loss, prevention of chronic disease eg diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hypertension
Managing Stress supports the immune system, mental health, hormone health, gut health, protects the heart and keeps you young....
Sleep... the whole body needs to recharge, restore and detoxify.
Sufficient sleep supports brain function, weight loss, emotional well being, heart health, proper insulin function and immunity.
Improving any of these areas will contribute to your general health, your immunity and hence your ability to fight infection. The more areas you can improve, the stronger you can become.
If your body has the right nutrients, a healthy gut, is well rested, fit and strong, the chances are that you will not get sick very often and when you do, with a little natural help, you may be able to recover quickly without any further intervention.
In this way, antibiotics can be avoided for many infections and viruses so contributing to the slowing down of antibiotic resistance. This means that effective antibiotics can be available for when they are really needed and buys governments and scientists the time they desperately need to overcome this urgent global problem.
So Where Do You Start and What Do You Do?
This website, Zest For Life, includes articles on how to improve your general health such as diet, the importance of the gut and how to heal it and how I treat a number of health issues with natural solutions. There is also a section of recipes to inspire you on a healthier path.
I hope the information on this website is both interesting and beneficial and results in more consistent health using a more natural approach where possible and results in an increased Zest for Life!
World Health Organization. Global tuberculosis report 2018. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018.
The Root of All Disease by Elmer E Heinrich
Lecture on Minerals by Ileana Nguyen, Naturopath