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Immunity

Antibiotics - destroyers of immunity

Jan'14

I’m so lucky in what I do – I spend a huge chunk of my time talking with people about their horses, and it’s lovely for me to get to know them and their horses, especially when I hear back that their horses are improving :-)

Yesterday I had one such email, and a line in the text struck at one of many thorns in my side. The writer explained that they’d noticed scabby eruptions (on the horse’s belly), vet was consulted and prescribed antibiotics, these did not work, so he examined her and said it was possibly sweat.’

My heart sank when I read this, then it sank even more because I wasn’t surprised to hear about her vet’s recommended treatment. Was this really the best this vet could offer? A simple skin condition, yet this vet went straight in with antibiotics, which - surprise, surprise - didn't work.

Never mind looking at what might actually be happening to cause this skin issue, i.e. overall poor skin tone and quality possibly due to poor diet, weak immunity, overburdened blood, poorly performing liver function - nothing that a good cleanse, detox and immunity boost wouldn’t help for starters. Instead, the owner had to fork out for a costly script for a product that we all know is wildly overprescribed, while her horse was dosed up with a hefty measure of inappropriate chemical medicine into its already compromised system, which would do nothing but harm its immunity system even more.

Meanwhile, the pharma company to whom this vet is in alliance was no doubt super-pleased that their expensive meds were being handed out, so more profit for them, and probably a nice fat lunch for the vet to say thanks. And as for horse and its compromised system further damaged by the antibiotics? Forgotten about.

Well, that is until the owner had to call the vet out again because – those antibiotics didn’t work, did they. And all he could come up with was . . . possibly sweat?! Oh, and a second big fat bill.

So what's so bad about antibiotics?
The simple truth is that antibiotics destroy immunity. The immune system is constantly on a seek-and-destroy mission – it’s permanently on the lookout for foreign invaders and mutant cells to exterminate, before they take hold in the form of illness and disease.

Over 80% percent of the body’s immunity is built in the intestinal tract by the friendly bacteria that lives there. This gut flora starts building from infancy, starting with the colostrum milk - the gut begins to populate with bacteria while the immune system starts an inventory of good and bad cells in the body. This inventory is a life-long process and the immune system is a bit like an elephant - it never forgets an invader.

Where the problem begins
Antibiotics indiscriminately kill the gut bacteria, both good and bad. A single course of antibiotics will permanently change an immune system, especially that of a youngster, and because a majority of neuro-chemicals are also made in the gut, the body’s neurology is also altered. What was once heralded as the saviour of all disease is now costing us in degenerative, chronic diseases.

When antibiotics are administered, the bacteria in the gut is wiped out and the immune system’s ability to manufacture new immune cells is permanently altered. Bad bacteria in the gut is now unobstructed and begins to proliferate, unchecked by the now diminished friendly bacteria. Parasites and pathogens now move in to share the bounty of nutrition and minerals meant to feed the body. This is the first step for chronic disease - everything changes.

Worse still, this is not new news either – the medical industry as a whole has known for yonks that antibiotics don’t work anymore. The bugs out there are now resistant to our antibiotics, and the term ‘superbug’ is now a household name – think MRSA and so on.

The inflammatory double-whammy
Once the bad bacteria sets up shop, the intestinal wall becomes leaky, allowing partially digested foodstuff, bacterium and allergens to cross through into the blood. The already weakened immune system now has twice the work to perform, trying to clean up the gut while tracking down these new threats to the body.

And so begins an inflammatory response. The leakage of particles into the blood crossing the now-compromised gut barrier causes inflammation throughout the body – i.e. laminitis. Chronic digestive and immunity stress weakens the major organs, which prevents them from functioning properly and so makes the body more susceptible to disease, as these now chronically inflamed organs become targets of heavy metals, viruses, bacterium and pathogens. It’s worse still if we’re feeding our horses chemically-treated, processed, sugary junk-food from shiny bags that they shouldn’t be eating anyway.

Is the post-antibiotic era here already?
It’s now happened - a New Zealand man has apparently recently died from a new bacterial strain that is fully resistant to every known antibiotic. This is really concerning, and we should all be really concerned.

We know that drug-resistant bacteria is nothing new – just like the majority of worms and parasites now resistant to chemical wormers, pathogens are continually adapting and developing resistance to the very substances originally designed to kill them! However, the fact that there are simply not enough new antibiotics being developed to tackle all these new and virulent superbugs seems to have reached a major turning point - bacteria is now outsmarting the best that modern medicine has to offer.

And would you believe it - reports are saying that one of main reasons responsible for antibiotic resistance is the widespread use of antibiotics in factory farm animals, which apparently accounts for a staggering 80%-plus (!!!) of antibiotic use. And who do you think is authorising, and administering, these meds?! Urrgghh . . . !

Administering antibiotics to perfectly healthy livestock for the purpose of bulking them up faster (WTF???), which for the record is a practice that has been taking place since the 1950's, represents just one of the many ways in which antibiotics have been widely overprescribed (the poultry industry is renowned for administering ‘growth hormone’ to their stock, which we then ingest when we sit down for our Sunday roast – another reason to avoid factory farmed oven-ready chicken and buy organic). Is it any wonder that we’re now staring at the superbug epidemic we are facing today?!

Alexander Fleming himself, the creator of penicillin, knew this would happen. To quote him back in 1945 when he received his Nobel Prize for medicine: 'It is not difficult to make microbes resistant to penicillin in the laboratory by exposing them to concentrations not sufficient to kill them. There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself, and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug, make them resistant.' Back in 1945. One year short of 60-years ago. Plainly our pharmaceutical companies haven't learned, or at the very least weren't listening . . .

Once upon a time the solution was simple - develop new antibiotics to replace the old ones. However, this approach is no longer working, and is further exacerbated by the drug industry's refusal to develop new antibiotics, because . . . you've guessed it - they’re not nearly as profitable as other areas of drug research. Who’d have guessed? It’s that dirty word ‘profit’ again – after all, there’s no money in curing, is there. Keep ‘em sick, keep us rich.

What else is there?
Before you sink your head in your hands with despair, the good news is that there’s a range of natural remedies out there for the open-minded. Some essential plant oils possess unique antimicrobial properties that naturally fight and eliminate harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Essential oil of oregano and sea salts are just two names which apparently have the capabilities to destroy harmful pathogens, even resistant ones, with oregano oil in particular being touted as the most potent and effective antimicrobial in the essential oil family.

Apparently it hits microbes where it really matters, blocking their ability to breathe, while antibiotics, on the other hand, aren't doing the job they were designed for - instead of killing off the microbes, they're simply obstructing the normal life cycle of the bacteria, which leaves room for them to mutate and develop resistance.

The book Beyond Antibiotics: Healthier Options for Families, says: ‘One of the advantages of essential oils have over antibiotics is that bacteria do not develop resistance to essential oils . . . another advantage of essential oils is that some actually stimulate immune function.’ Fabulous!

Oil of oregano 26 times stronger than conventional antiseptics
Dr. Cass Ingram, one of the world's leading experts on the subject, claims that oregano oil is the ‘Rolls Royce of natural antiseptics’ – not a bad accolade by any stretch. Apparently it’s not only one of the most effective antimicrobial agents in existence, but it’s also one of the safest, producing no negative side effects and targeting only harmful pathogens while leaving beneficial ones alone.

Tests have also shown that oregano oil thrashes conventional antiseptics, commonly used in commercial antimicrobial products, by a factor of 26 to one. This means that oregano oil could be 26 times more effective at targeting and destroying harmful pathogens than even the most powerful conventional products.

Other thumbs up for oregano oil are:

  • M. Belaiche, a French GP, considered oregano oil as ‘the best of the best’, who in 1977 released his official oregano index, using oregano oil as the base reference for comparing the bactericidal action of other substances, setting it as the standard for comparison. 1977 – astonishing – this is over 30 years ago!
  • Bee Wilder for Healing Naturally by Bee‘The essential oil of oregano has always provided me with amazing results in treating infectious diseases. Besides oregano oil's bactericidal action, it also prevents spasms, convulsions and nervous disorders.’
  • A group of Portuguese researchers found that oregano oil was effective against 41 strains of the food pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.
  • A team of British and Indian researchers reported that oregano oil has strong antibacterial properties that can even kill the hospital superbug MRSA. Professor Vyv Salisbury, who was part of the research, said ‘We have done a few preliminary tests and have found that the essential oil from the oregano kills MRSA at a dilution 1 to 1,000. The tests show that the oil kills MRSA both as a liquid and as a vapor and its antimicrobial activity is not diminished by heating in boiling water.’

Needless to say, I’m swatting everything I can find on essential oil of oregano, but as with all things it's important to note that further study results are necessary to confirm these claims. Just because it’s natural doesn’t yet mean it’s safe – we still need to look at potential contraindications.

So what do we do if we have to take antibiotics?
While having to take antibiotics is never ideal, and while it’s certainly really important to avoid unnecessary antibiotic use, there no doubt will be times where it’s going to be necessary, for us and our horses. Fortunately there are things we can do both during and after a course of antibiotics to minimise the damage and encourage regrowth and diversification of the gut flora.

  • Probiotics – after everything I’ve said earlier, this might seem a bit nuts because surely won’t the antibiotics just kill all of the probiotics anyways? Well, yes, but – this is where the saying ‘a little bit of something is better than b****r-all of nothing’ comes in. Probiotics don’t need to actually colonise the gut to be beneficial – regular administration can have a very useful therapeutic effect. There are quite a few randomised, placebo-controlled trials that have demonstrated the effectiveness of probiotic use during a course of antibiotics for reducing side effects and helping prevent gut infection.
  • Prebiotics – an incredibly important part of any regime to protect or rebuild a healthy micro-organism community, prebiotics are the stuff that feed the probiotics, so really effective alongside probiotics at promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • Feed before, during and after – where possible, introduce any prebiotic and probiotic supplements before beginning the course of antibiotics so the body can get used to them.

Also:

  • Support for the gut – it’s not just the gut flora that’s thrown into turmoil with a course of antibiotics - the gut lining and digestive function take a hit too. To soothe the digestive system, it’s worth considering a gut- cleanser before, during and after the course, to promote healing.
  • Support for the liver – antibiotics take a particular hefty toll on the liver, particularly if they’re prescribed for an extended period of time. Not only is the liver responsible for processing and detoxifying medications, and having to work extra-hard to metabolise chemical treatments - it also has to deal with extra-circulating bacterial death and the intestinal leakage. Milk thistle is probably the best treatment on the planet, even compared to its pharmaceutical alternatives, for treating a compromised liver.