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Antibiotics…The Arms Race

Antibiotics…The Arms Race

All living things are engaged in a struggle for life.  Everything from the smallest bacteria, fungi and viruses to larger organisms such as plants, animals and Humans are constantly evolving and adapting in order to carve out a living.

Larger life forms evolve and reproduce more slowly, but smaller ones such as bacteria and viruses evolve and change far more quickly.  For example, Bacteria and Fungi can double their numbers every few minutes.  All the while they are changing and adapting to new threats and improving their odds of survival.

Larger species such as Humans have a good and bad relationship with these tiny inhabitants of our world. In part, our very existence depends on bacteria.  Our bodies inside and out are covered with bacteria some beneficial and some harmful.  We need them for basic functions such as digestion and immune response.  They inhabit our mucus membranes and help fight off other invaders like viruses. But as much as we need good bacteria to function in a healthy manner, bad bacteria can pose serious health risks.  This relationship is both symbiotic and adversarial.

A healthy body well cared for and nourished can keep the peace and nurture the healthy bacteria, while in turn keeping the pathogenic bad bacteria in check.  But when this balance is disrupted poor health can set in.  Perhaps the most notable disruption to this balance is through the use of Antibiotics.

Antibiotics, literally means anti-life and their main function is to kill bacteria– of which they do indiscriminately. Antibiotics are not a Human invention but rather a discovery. Antibiotics are produced by mold and because the mold and bacteria are both competing for the same food source the mold evolved to produce a means to kill the bacteria.  Around the 1940’s this means was harnessed in the form of the first Antibiotic (Penicillin) and used in Human and animal populations to help control bacterial infection.  But what we have ultimately created is an arms race against bad bacteria.

We are trying to control the bad bacteria and in so doing it is trying to survive and compete against the threat which in this case is Antibiotics.  The results of this arms race are significant and wide ranging and it would appear that the bacteria are winning.  At one time, Antibiotics were the go-to drug and for the most part they worked.  But since their introduction they have slowly become less and less effective and bacteria have rapidly evolved to outmaneuver their advisory.

Every single time Antibiotics are administered bacteria move one step closer at becoming resistant until finally they are just that, resistant.  Then we need other Antibiotics or stronger ones or more of them.   We have arrived at the point where in many cases Antibiotics of any strength and quantity simply cease to work and this trend is gaining momentum.

Simply stated, Antibiotics have been abused and overused and nowhere is this truer than here in this country. Antibiotics are prescribed for everything from the slightest sniffle, to a cold or flu of which are caused by viruses and not bacteria and Antibiotics have little to no affect.  When Antibiotics are administered they not only seek to kill bad bacteria but also good bacteria in and on the body. This weakens the entire body and immune system and is particularly disruptive to the healthy flora in the digestive tract which is the main component of the immune system.  It’s a viscous cycle really. Once a person becomes ill they are given Antibiotics which may or may not kill the offending invader. Then regardless of the success of the Antibiotic on the specific ailment, the whole body is compromised and thus setting the stage for further invasion and the use of more Antibiotics and a downward spiral of overall health.

Another concern is the ubiquitous use of Antibiotics in livestock. Except for Organically raised livestock, Antibiotics are routinely given to animals mainly in their feed regardless of whether they need them or not. This practice is done in part as a perceived prevention measure against illness but mostly to fatten up the animal for a higher payday.  In animals and Humans, Antibiotics change the delicate balance in the gut which in turn changes the metabolism and adds to weight gain.  Additionally, these animals are becoming breeding grounds for Antibiotic resistant bacteria and these bacteria can be passed along in the food chain to people.

As we grow nearer to the day when Antibiotics cease to be effective, all a person will have as a defense against harmful bacteria is his or her own immune system.  Just as bacteria can learn and adapt to overcome so can a well cared for immune system learn and adapt and ultimately protect its’ owner like no drug can.

Written by DMK of Seven Grains