“Antibiotics.” The very word itself has been used over the last decades as a scaremonger no less nightmarish than “vaccination,” “hormones,” and “cholesterol.” But are these meds as dangerous as the mass media would like us to believe? What are the short- and the long-term effects of antibiotics? Let’s find out!
The day that changed the human history
On September 3, 1928, when Sir Alexander Fleming had returned to his laboratory after a fabulous summer vacation on the Scotland shore, he had no idea that a full-scale global breakthrough was happening right in his dirty dishes.
In his dirty Petri dishes, which are a special type of cylindrical glasses used to grow bacteria for further studies. Fleming saw that his precious Staphylococcus aureus colonies were utterly contaminated by mold, preventing the little microbes from growing as big and mighty as they should.
But how was that even possible? Fast forward a couple of weeks, and it turned out that the mold was producing a special substance that became known as penicillin, named after the mold itself – Penicillium notatum.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the first antibiotic ever. The weapon that was meant to turn around the ancient war between humans and their microscopic enemies, the pathogenic bacteria.
Do we need antibiotics at all?
Short answer: yes, mankind is in dire need of antibiotics. BUT, in the long run, it is antibiotics that may lead to our ultimate extinction. Let’s develop a bit on both of the points.
First and foremost, consider this gobsmacking graph, originally published in the New England Journal of Medicine (I’ve put in a red box all bacterial infections):
The three leading causes of death in 1900 were:
– Pneumonia (somewhat less than 200 per 100 thousand deaths)
– Tuberculosis (194 per 100 thousand deaths)
– Gastrointestinal infections (142.7 per 100 thousand deaths)
Do you know what they all have in common? They are all caused by bacteria (excluding influenza, which is a viral infection) and can be relatively easily cured by antibiotics.
Ever since the discovery of penicillin, deaths from infections have gradually become a shame for any hospital. People shouldn’t die of that.
The three leading causes of death in 2010 were:
– Heart disease (192.9 per 100 thousand deaths)
– Cancer (185.9 per 100 thousand deaths)
– Noninfectious diseases of the airways (44.6 per 100 thousand deaths)
None of these are bacteria-related. Thanks to the wonderful power of antibiotics!
Now let’s move on to the terrible news.
Trouble in paradise: antibiotics are often deadlier than bacteria
As you might have already guessed, there must be a catch in the too-perfect-to-be-real matter of mankind defeating microbes with the help of antibiotics. And you’re absolutely right, as these medications are often much more dangerous than the tiny foes they are supposed to battle.
Of course, not all side effects mentioned in the following lists are lethal ones, but trust me when I say they are all exceptionally unpleasant.
Short-term side effects of antibiotics
Jarisch–Herxheimer reaction. The equation is simple: bacteria often have toxins inside them, the antibiotic destroys the bacteria -> the toxins that were inside the microbe are now inside your body. This effect is rarely deadly, but it still gives your kidneys and liver a hard time getting rid of the poison.
Dysbiosis, or antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Antibiotics are weapons of mass microscopic murder: they don’t care whom to kill, and destroy both the pathogenic bacteria that cause your disease AND the normal inhabitants of your guts, also referred to as “beneficial microflora.” In 5-35% of cases, this leads to a long and depressing period of diarrhea.
Pseudomembranous colitis, a severe inflammatory process of the large intestine.
Lyell’s syndrome, a rare disease which manifests with giant blisters and wounds on the skin. Mortality rates are as high as 50%.
Stevens–Johnson syndrome, a “mild version” of the previous side effect. Mortality rates range from 5 to 10%.
Anaphylactic shock, an immediate (and often lethal) allergic reaction.
Long-term side effects of antibiotics
Kidney and liver failure. Like all other substances that enter your body, antibiotics are metabolized and excreted mainly with the help of your liver and kidneys. This is alright in most of the cases, but sometimes may damage these organs up to the point of failure (especially after gentamicin and isoniazid).
Hearing loss and tinnitus. Certain antibiotics are ototoxic (meaning that they can damage the nervous structures in your ears), and can result in hearing loss and tinnitus. Aminoglycoside antibiotics (gentamicin, streptomycin, kanamycin, etc.) and macrolides (erythromycin) are especially dangerous in this matter.
Increased risk of obesity in children. Three or more courses of antibiotics administered throughout the first two years of life make children much more likely to develop obesity later, and this sad fact was proved scientifically.
Increased antibiotic resistance. If an antibiotic is administered either for the wrong bacteria (yes, they are quite variable in terms of antibiotic susceptibility), in the wrong dose, or for a shorter term than needed, it won’t kill all microbes. And the ones that survive will develop antibiotic resistance and mutate into resistant superbugs that are already a gigantic threat to the global medicine.
The solution: natural antibiotics with scientifically proven effects
The good news is that you can fight all sorts of bacterial infections using fairly safe and absolutely natural remedies that are quite cheap at that. Here goes a comprehensive list for you!
None of conventional antibiotics are effective against viruses and fungi. Oregano, on the other hand, can fight them all! Use it in the form of essential oils or just spice up your food to keep all kinds of diseaseful germs at bay.
Stress is never good for your health, and Echinacea is a well-known adaptogen which helps you to stay calm amid the storm. As a pleasant bonus, this herb inactivates a wide range of pathogenic bacteria.
This herb was used for centuries in traditional Eastern medicine to treat local infections, and now we know why it was so effective. Goldenseal has powerful antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiprotozoan properties thanks to Berberine, its main alkaloid.
Chances are you already know that garlic is fantastic for the treatment of ear infections, but its benefits don’t end just there. After all, as a natural antibiotic, garlic works great for any kind of bacterial threat!
By no means do we imply that antibiotics shouldn’t be used at all. We don’t think they are a threat by nature, and we surely acknowledge the absolute necessity of using them for the treatment of such life-threatening conditions like pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis, and peritonitis. Don’t even think of using garlic and ginger in such cases (if you want to live, of course).
But another point we DO want to make is that everything has a price, and the one related to the usage of antibiotics can be extremely high in certain cases. Whenever possible, opt for a natural treatment with zero side effects. Whenever possible, try to avoid catching an infection instead of treating it later.
Stay healthy, and share your newly-acquired knowledge on the matter of antibiotics with your family and friends!
If you have found this article helpful or have any questions or experiences with the long term side effects of antibiotics, please just leave a comment below.