Antibiotics are produced to fight bacterial infection. The drugs may be bactericidal – where bacteria are killed – or bacteriostatic – where the treatment prevents the germs from multiplying. There are many antibacterial compounds in nature, garlic, ginger and honey being three very common ones. Manufactured antibiotics come about through the fabled tale of Sir Alexander Fleming and his accidental discovery of penicillin at St Mary’s Hospital, London. This simple drug collected from mould has undoubtedly been the forerunner of a group of medicines that have saved lives and relieved discomfort beyond all imagination. Sadly, their misuse has now led to far greater dangers.

The problem lies in the fact that bacteria, like any organism on the planet, will fight tenaciously to hold on to life. Bacteria multiply at an astounding speed and through this process create slight changes as their genes copy themselves. As one bacteria splits into two, minor changes occur in the genetic make-up and because of the billions of these divisions occurring every minute there eventually comes along a bacteria whose genetic make-up is resistant to the antibiotic that kills the rest of its colony.

In the presence of an antibiotic this resistant strain finds that it has more food to eat because of the loss of its brothers and sisters. It is unaffected by the antibiotic, multiplies more quickly and within a short space of time the colony is made up predominantly of this resistant strain. As new antibiotics are developed to kill this new strain it too mutates and once again develops resistance. We are now faced with strains of bacteria that are resistant to most antibiotics, and in the case of some strains of tuberculosis and the so-called ‘flesh-eating’ staphylococcal infections we have no antibiotic to kill them.

This state of affairs has come about because of the injudicious choice of antibiotics made by doctors who ‘best guess’ without taking a sample of the infection for analysis, and because of the distribution of antibiotics to Third World, and some First World, countries that allow them to be bought over the counter without a doctor’s prescription. All doctors are beseeched at medical school by their professors of microbiology never to prescribe an antibiotic unless a sample of the bacteria has been sent to a laboratory, grown or cultured and tested against a range of antibiotics. On an individual basis the use of an antibiotic in a patient who has a strain of bacteria that is even partially resistant will lead to a resistant strain developing and possibly a more difficult infection to treat

Despite my comments above, do not hesitate to use an antibiotic in a condition that your doctor considers serious. Ensure that your physician is as certain as he can be, clinically, that the infection is bacterial. You can request a culture and antibiotic sensitivity test before using an antibiotic and then, having established with your doctor whether or not delaying the start of the antibiotics is dangerous, consult a complementary practitioner for the use of an alternative. Bromelain has been shown to increase the absorption of antibiotics but should be prescribed by a complementary practitioner.

A second misunderstanding about antibiotics is the assumption that even if they are ineffective they are not harmful. This is simply not true. An antibiotic is indiscriminate. It does not focus its attention on the ‘bad’ bugs. It will have a go at all bacteria. Our bodies are entirely dependent upon our own bacteria for survival. Skin bacteria are essential to defend against unwanted invaders, as well as being essential for the maintenance and integrity of the skin. Our ears, eyes, mouth, nasal passages, bronchial tree and lungs are all coated and protected by our own ‘commensal’ bacteria. Our alimentary tract, from our lips to our anus, is covered with bacteria , which collectively have a vital role to play in our well-being.

These bacteria compete with unwanted bugs for food and prevent their multiplication, they kill many other bacteria and also viruses, they break down food to allow proper absorption and produce chemicals that are both protective and nutritious to our systems.

Without them we die. Most people who use antibiotics will feel some side effects, ranging from tiredness and lethargy to diarrhoea and thrush. These symptoms are all due to the unwanted destruction of our own body flora.

A course of antibiotics can have a profound effect on the bowel bacteria. The effect on large numbers of bacteria can lead to the loss of the protective effect and can prevent nutrients being absorbed . This can lead to a mild malnutrition which in turn enhances the depressed immune system that allowed the infection into the body for which the antibiotic was being used. A vicious circle is started up with recurrent infections occurring, leading to more antibiotics ad infinitum.

Remember to focus on the fact that an infection represents a breakdown in the body’s immune system and is not the fault of the germ. If an antibiotic is taken, protect the bowel flora by using high doses of Lactobacillus acidophilus. Loss of bowel bacteria allows fungal growth such as Candida and an anti-Candida treatment should be followed whilst taking the antibiotics. Assume that your bowel flora have been affected and that you are not absorbing as well as you should. Take a high dose of a multivitamin/mineral supplement.