During the Winter months we are likely to pick up some bug, and occasionally it is so severe it may require an appointment with the GP. One of the biggest problems GP face right now is antibiotic resistance – bacteria are becoming resistant to the various antibiotics. There are only a limited number of antibiotics available so what happens if none of them work?
Antibiotics save lives, preventing infections in patients who are receiving chemotherapy, in chronic diseases such as diabetes, during organ transplants, joint replacements and in cardiac surgery. Antibiotics also have a pivotal role in extending life expectancy – we’re all living a lot longer now.
Bacteria can develop a resistance to antibiotics when some of their cells are not affected by the antibiotic and they go on to reproduce and produce more bacteria which are resistant to the antibiotic. One example is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) which is a strain of bacteria which is resistant to most antibiotics.
How resistance occurs
- There are various ways antibiotic resistance occurs. Many studies have identified increasing bacteria resistance with antibiotic consumption – the more antibiotics are being used, the more the bacteria are able to adapt. Antibiotic overuse is a leading cause of antibiotic resistance.
- Unfortunately in many countries antibiotics are unregulated without prescription, and even in countries where antibiotics are regulated people are still able to purchase them online over the internet.
- Inappropriate prescribing is also a large reason for resistant bacteria. Studies have shown treatment indication, choice of agent or duration of treatment was incorrect in 20-50% of all cases! 30-60% of antibiotics prescribed in intensive care units were found to be unnecessary, inappropriate or suboptimal.[i]
- Misuse of antibiotics by stopping taking the antibiotics before the recommended duration. Finishing the course early may allow bacteria to change and become resistant next time around.
- Antibiotics are also widely used in growth supplements given to livestock in both the developed and developing word. It is estimated 80% of antibiotics sold in the US are used in animal food to prevent infection and promote growth. These antibiotics are ingested by us when we consume food.
How you can help
- Your GP should be able to tell you if they think you have a bacterial or viral infection. The common cold or flu is a virus – virus don’t respond to antibiotics. GPs should only prescribe antibiotics when absolutely necessary.
- Make sure you take the correct dose and for the full duration the antibiotics are prescribed for.
- If you eat meat and it is financially possible try to choose organic meat.
If you are feeling under the weather and have checked your condition with your GP and they have decided not to prescribe antibiotics then here are some things you can try to help boost your immunity:
- Vitamin C – there’s lots of science acknowledging vitamin C helps to reduce the duration and severity of colds, but did you know we don’t store vitamin C. We need to consume it regularly to keep our levels topped up. But did you also know an orange isn’t the best source of vitamin C – ½ cup of raw red pepper has 141mg, ½ cup cooked broccoli has 58mg, ½ cup orange juice has 50mg, and ½ cup strawberries has 41mg. The recommended amount per day is 40-80mg.
- Vitamin D – we make most of our vitamin D from the sun UVB rays. In the UK between October to April there are insufficient UVB rays for the body to manufacture vitamin D, and therefore Government guidelines are to supplement 10mcg (200IU) per day for everyone over 1 year old . You can also top it up through food – oily fish and eggs are the best food sources. Worth also remembering we cannot make vitamin D from the sun through clothing or sun screen (also many moisturisers which contain SPF factor) even in the Summer months. Exposure of forearms and face are recommended for short durations, and darker skin requires more sun exposure time to make vitamin D. Caution of course during 11am-3pm when the sun rays are at their most powerful.
- Zinc – zinc is involved in the growth of immune cells. There is mixed evidence with zinc supplementation in reducing colds – some studies suggest it is beneficial in improving childrens immunity. Excessive zinc supplementation can however affect level of other minerals e.g. copper, so we suggest a diet rich in zinc rather than supplementation. The following food sources with serving size approximate to a deck of cards contain the following amount of zinc: beef 5.8mg, turkey, 3.5mg, chicken 2.4mg, baked beans (1/2 cup) 1.8mg, 1oz cashews 1.6mg, 1oz almonds 1,0mg.
- Echinacea – there are some studies suggesting Echinacea can reduce the likelihood of getting a cold but much of the information is based on different parts of the plant (root, flower, herb or whole plant) and it can be difficult to draw conclusions as some parts may be more beneficial than others. Some studies have however shown Echinacea can reduce recovery time following a cold.
- Elderberry – was used historically for influenza, colds and sinusitis. In one study 15mls Elderberry syrup given four times day for 5 days relieved on average four days earlier and used less additional rescue medication . It has also been shown to reduce the duration and severity of colds in air travellers.
- Garlic – this is an underutilised vegetable which has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. It contains something called allicin which has antiviral properties and may stimulate immunity. The key to getting the most beneficial benefits from garlic is to crush it and add it to food just before serving – this activates the allicin. Heating/cooking it reduces the potency of allicin. Research suggests ideally 1 clove per day may prove beneficial.
- Honey – there is some evidence suggesting a night time dose of raw (unheated or pasteurised) honey can have a small effect on coughs in children who are over 1 year old (honey should not be given to children under 1 year old). Some suggest local honey is more beneficial.
Anjanette Fraser is a Director of The Natural Alternative Health & Wellbeing Ltd educating companies and their employees on the importance of nutrition in health – both corporate and personal. Since the company inception over 10 years ago its national coverage has been hugely beneficial working with large and small organisations over multiple locations. Anjanette is currently studying a MSc in Nutritional Medicine ensuring the information clients receive is scientific, current, and user friendly. For more information please visit www.natural-alternative.co.uk
[i] C Lee Ventola 2015 The antibiotic resistance crisis Part 1: causes and threats. Pharmacy and Therapeutics Apr;40(4): 277-283 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4378521/
Disclaimer – this is a sponsored post in which a commission was received. All opinions are that of the author.