By Hwaa Irfan
Whether one receives antibiotics as a prescriptive drug or over the counter, all that one has on one’s mind is the hopeful result without thought of a way that is better for our health: pneumonia, strep throat, middle ear, urinary tract, respiratory tract infections etc, one just wants to be relieved, but in that relief, what are we doing to ourselves in return?
What are Antibiotics?
It’s quite amazing how antibiotics have become an intrinsic part of health recovery considering that as a man-made chemical albeit derivatives of bacteria and fungi, they have only been around since the late 1920s – in fact they have become the most frequently prescribed drug. When we have an infection, we are looking to get rid of that infection as we have become accustomed to the magic pill syndrome whereby a quick swallow will do the job, and we can get on with our busy lives. Basically, the antibiotic we have swallowed gets to work killing or slowing down the growth of unfriendly bacteria, or in the case of a pending surgery to prevent infection.
What Do Antibiotics Do?
Antibiotics are literal according to their name with “anti” from the Greek, meaning against, and “bios” meaning life – so there we have it “against life”. While we are ingesting an antibiotic over a period of time, they are not only killing or prohibiting the life of harmful bacteria. They target bacteria, but cannot distinguish between good and harmful bacteria, much like some humans. Depending on the type of bacteria that is causing harm, an antibiotic is designed to affect a limited amount of bacteria, or a wide ranging amount of bacteria, or airborne bacteria.
Side Effects of Antibiotics
When we overuse antibiotics, like anything in excess in Islam, it takes its toll somehow, somewhere. They can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, oral fungal infections, destroys the good bacteria, which protects us in the digestive tract and vagina. The lucky ones will have an allergy, like swelling of the face, a skin rash, or problems breathing, and will get immediate treatment. Others more unfortunate will get kidney stones from taking sulphonamides, have abnormal blood clots from taking cephalosporins, will be sensitive to the sun from taking tetracyclines, blood disorders from taking trimethoprim, and become deaf from taking trimethoprim to name a few.
For example, the diarrhea is caused because the antibiotic concerned has also killed the friendly bacteria in the intestines causing loose stools. The friendly bacteria in the gut are many and are referred to as flora, and make up 60% of feces along with certain fungi. The flora “trains” the immune system in the prevention of any harmful build-up pathogens. The flora also helps to regulate the gut, produce certain vitamins like vitamin K, stimulate cell growth, amongst other activities.
It was in 2004 that research from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health found that women who took antibiotics for over 500 days, or had taken 25 prescribed antibiotics within 17 years doubled the risk of breast cancer compared to those who had not. There have been many other studies since that support the founded evidence. Dr. Roberta Nessa involved in the research is reported to have said then to CNN that:
- “To put it into perspective, the risk for developing breast cancer from hormone replacement use is about a 30 [percent] to 40 percent increase in risk. And here we’re talking about a doubling in risk of those women who are using chronic antibiotics.”
Geneticist, Krista Crider in research funded by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. found a direct correlation between certain antibiotics (sulpha drugs Thiosulfil Forte, Bactrim, Furadantin and Macrobid) and birth defects amongst 13,000 mothers although in the general population cases are considered to be rare!
Resistance to Antibiotics
One of the challenges that modern hospitals have had to face is the infections that occur within hospitals due to resistance to antibiotics. For example, before antibiotics were introduced the mortality rate from staphylococcal bacteraemia was 70%, which dropped to 25% by 1944 with the introduction of penicillin. Ten years later, the mortality rate rose to 45% as the bacteria had developed a resistance to penicillin. Recently Professor Edlund of the National Public Health Institute in Turku, Finland has found that bacteria resistant to the antibiotic clindamycine can live in the human intestines for up to a year. Resistance also includes other types of antibiotics including penicillins, tetracyclines, and macrolides. All in all, those who fall prey to re-infection, will find it more difficult to recover, and those diseases are becoming more difficult to treat.
From Our Bodies to the Environment that Sustains Us
According to the Centers of Disease Control, in the U.S. alone 22,000 tons of antibiotics are produced annually. Of the 22, 00 tons:
• 50% is dispensed by humans
• 40% are given to animals
• 1% is used in aquaculture
The most detected antibiotics in the environment are:
• Erythromycin for pneumonias (human consumption)
• Lincomycin for strep throat (human consumption)
• Trimethoprim sulfamethoxazole (human consumption)
• Tylosin (used on beef cattle and pigs)
• tetracycline, chlortetracycline, oxytetracycline
• ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin
• sulfadimethoxine, sulfamethazine, sulfamethizole
We do not usually perceive the environment as being a part of us as the antibiotics we consume passes into the sewerage thus into our waterways, which in the U.S., for example contaminated 23 streams from 1999 – 2000 alone. The following antibiotics were found in American ground and surface water, which in turn permeates the water we swim in, play in, and feeds the food growing on the land with some antibiotics being biodegradable, and others persitent:
• CTC Chlortetracycline
• OTC Oxytetracycline
• TCC Tetra Cycline
• SDM Sulfadimethoxime
• SMT Sulfamethazine
• SMX Sulfamethoxazole
• STZ Sulfathiazole
Figures elsewhere show in the E.U. and Switzerland, the figure was 13,288 tons of antibiotics for 1999, with 65% of 13,288 use in human consumption, 29% veterinary, and 6% as growth promoters (now banned), with 16,,200 tons used in the U.S. for 2008 with 70% going towards livestock.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota have found as reported in a study funded by the United States Department of Agriculture that corn, lettuce and potatoes were grown in soil using pig manure, which contained an antibiotic used on animals Sulfamethazine.
What you can do to help yourself and the environment at the same time, to ascertain if the illness you have is bacterial or viral, because antibiotics are bacterial in nature, and can only be used for bacterial infections, and to seek expert advice as to alternative methods of treatment, which do not unnecessarily involve antibiotics!
Antibiotics in the Environment http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/publications/pubs-249/3020.ppt
Häivälä, H. Antibiotics Alter the Normal Bacterial Flora in Humans http://www.alphagalileo.org/
Kummerer, K. Significance of Antibiotics in the Environment. firstname.lastname@example.org
Nordqvist, C. “What are Antibiotics” http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/10278.php
Soil Science Society of America (2007, July 13). Routine Feeding Of Antibiotics To Livestock May Be Contaminating The Environment. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 15, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2007/07/070711134530.htm
Study Links Antibiotics to Breast Cancer http://articles.cnn.com/2004-02-17/health/antibiotics.cancer_1_breast-cancer-antibiotics-second-most-deadly-cancer?_s=PM:HEALTH
Study Ties Common Antibiotics With Birth Defects http://cbs2chicago.com/local/Study.links.some.2.1286921.html
The Effect of Antibiotics on Methicillin-Resistanthttp://jac.oxfordjournals.org/content/61/2/246.full
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