World Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2020 is between 18 – 24 November. Its slogan this year is – Antimicrobials: handle with care!
Antibiotics – what are they?
Antimicrobials, and specifically antibiotics, were introduced to society in the early 1940s and significantly raised our life expectancy in the years that followed. The Microbiology Society defines antibiotics as “Any substance that inhibits the growth and replication of a bacterium or kills it outright”.
When should we take them?
Antibiotics are used to target bacterial infections in or on the body. However, not all infections in the body are of a bacterial nature. As humans, we often come down with viral infections, for which antibiotics are completely ineffective. when it comes to viral infections we rely on the body’s immune system to fight them off. In those circumstances prescribing antibiotics can have a negative effect. You see, taking antibiotics too regularly can cause our bodies to become resistant to them. So, when we do pick up a nasty infection that calls for the intervention of antibiotics; they will no longer work for us. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that antibiotic resistance is “one of the world’s most pressing public health problems”.
So, if they are being overprescribed, how do we know when it is appropriate to reach for a course of antibiotics? The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises to only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional, and never demand antibiotics if your health worker says you don’t need them. Also, WHO advises on a few other points that help prevent and control the spread of antibiotic resistance:
- Never share or use leftover antibiotics.
- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people and practicing safer sex.
- Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials) and choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals.
Prevention is better than a cure
By building up immunity in our body, we can potentially avoid contracting bacteria that require the use of antibiotics in the first place. Harvard Health Publishing suggests the following strategies for building a strong immune system:
- Don’t smoke
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
- Get adequate sleep
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats
- Try to minimise stress.
Restoring our gut health after a course of antibiotics
In killing bacteria, antibiotics can often take good bacteria with them. This can cause a host of other issues, particularly in relation to gut health. According to the National Prescribing Service, up to 10 in every 100 people taking antibiotics will experience common short term side effects. Including stomach problems like diarrhea and vomiting. While research is now confirming long-term consequences on future health in situations where the makeup of the gut bacteria is altered following antibiotic therapy. This is why many GPs now recommend that you take probiotics after a course of antibiotics to help restore a balance of good bacteria into your body. And as most Naturopaths would advise a great way to assist the good bacteria in your gut is to include fermented foods in your diet, such as Kimchi, Yoghurt, Tempeh, Miso, Sauerkraut, and incorporating Apple Cider Vinegar into your salads and dressings.
At Wellement our role is to assist you with your health and wellness goals, so please don’t hesitate to discuss them with us. In these uncertain times all we really have control over is our own bodies, so let’s eat healthily, keep exercising and maintain a strong immune system.
Raising my glass of Kombucha and wishing you good health!