The recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report revealed that the prescribing rate of antibiotics for a person 14 years and younger has declined by approximately 24%, which is down from 300 antibiotic courses per 1,000 office visits in 1993–1994 to 229 antibiotic courses per 1,000 office visits in 2007–2008. Despite the decrease in the antibiotic prescription rate, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that many of these prescriptions are given to patients with acute respiratory infections such as otitis media, bronchitis, pharyngitis, and the common cold—in which antibiotics are not always necessary for treatment. The overuse of antibiotics has often raised concerns about increased bacteria resistance to antibiotics, but Martin Blaser in his recent article “Antibiotic Overuse: Stop the Killing of Beneficial Bacteria” expresses his concern that overuse of antibiotics can also lead to “permanent changes to our protective flora,” making antibiotic users more susceptible to infections and diseases.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this occurrence in GI Effects results that I’ve discussed with clinicians (primarily regarding lifelong users of antibiotics or colonics without re-inoculation of the gut). I remember the case of a 37 year-old mother and her 3 children, all with GI symptoms. Test results revealed that a parasite was detected in the mother and each child, along with suboptimal levels of beneficial bacteria. Upon further discussion, the mother seemed to believe that she had passed some superbug to her children during her pregnancies, possibly due to poor beneficial flora caused by years of using an acne antibiotic. So not only was the mother affected by low levels of beneficial bacteria, but her children appear to also have been affected as they were welcomed into the world. This is just one example of the effect that chronic antibiotic use has on predominant bacteria levels. In addition, it illustrates the validity of Blaser’s point that babies acquire their bacterial population from their mothers at birth. In this case, we see the effect of chronic antibiotic use, not only on the mother, but also her children.
The author offers a few suggestions as to how to combat the killing of beneficial bacteria caused by the overuse of antibiotics. Luckily, there are things that can be done now. In particular, more clinicians taking the time to re-evaluate their approach to prescribing antibiotics for common respiratory infections would be a good start. To determine whether prescribing an antibiotic is absolutely necessary, the following questions should be contemplated:
- Does the patient have gastrointestinal imbalances or a weak immune system that makes him or her more susceptible to frequent infections?
- Could these imbalances be addressed before (or rather than) starting the patient on a course of antibiotics which could make that individual feel worse off than they started?
If antibiotics are truly needed, then it should be just as important to suggest post-treatment with probiotics and prebiotics to replenish beneficial bacteria. After all, the lack of beneficial bacteria may actually lead to future infections and diseases, which defeats the very purpose of using antibiotics.
~ Christie Egeston