What happens when too much of a good thing becomes too much of a good thing?  While antibiotics can be an effective option for physicians to prescribe to help patients manage a wide range of illnesses, they have become so overused that certain bacteria have evolved that are nearly impossible to combat with current medicine, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH) “…Sadly, the way we’ve been using antibiotics is helping to create new drug-resistant superbugs.” 

The NIH writes in their February 2014 newsletter that superbugs are literally strains of bacteria resistant to different types of antibiotics.  This superbug is no hyperbole – the NIH reports that each year it infects over two million people and kills about 23,000 per year, according to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The NIH writes that “…one common superbug increasingly seen outside hospitals is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). These bacteria don’t respond to methicillin and related antibiotics. MRSA can cause skin infections and, in more serious cases, pneumonia or bloodstream infections.”

So why is this happening?  The NIH says that antibiotics are the mostly commonly prescribed medication in the country.  Antibiotics are also given to livestock to prevent disease.  The NIH says that many times antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily creating drug-resistant bacteria.  Many viruses such as colds and flus cannot be healed with antibiotics – but many patients will ask their doctors for prescriptions and take the medications without understanding the ramifications.

The NIH says there are serious consequences for taking antibiotics when they are not needed and the results can be harmful to yourself and others.  “…If you take an antibiotic when you have a viral infection like the flu, the drug won’t affect the viruses making you sick. Instead, it’ll destroy a wide variety of bacteria in your body, including some of the ‘good’ bacteria that help you digest food, fight infection, and stay healthy. Bacteria that are tough enough to survive the drug will have a chance to grow and quickly multiply. These drug-resistant strains may even spread to other people,” reports the NIH.

So what can we do not to avoid dependence on antibiotics and use prescription medicines more responsibly?

  • Take antibiotics ONLY when you need them – not as a precaution. “You can help slow the spread of drug-resistant bacteria by taking antibiotics properly and only when needed. Don’t insist on an antibiotic if your health care provider advises otherwise,” warns the NIH.
  • Another way to reduce the risk of infections is to wash your hands often with soap and water as well as use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Eat smarter – if beef and chicken are part of your diet, try substituting with organic and grass fed meat that are sustainably raised and free of hormones, additives and antibiotics.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle – get lots of rest, exercise regularly, and take care of your body.

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