2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Avoiding The Antibiotic Doomsday Scenario

Does anyone remember the late director Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 movie “Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”? A deranged US Air Force officer manages to launch a nuclear attack against the Soviet Union (now Russia). When the president calls in the Russian ambassador to apologize for this embarrassment, the ambassador informs him that the attack will trigger the much-feared “doomsday machine” and the world will end in a mass of nuclear explosions. If you’ve not seen Dr. Strangelove, let me reassure you the movie is a comedy, albeit one of the darkest ever made.

I bring this up only because two days after watching Dr. Strangelove for the umpteenth time, I came across the phrase “doomsday scenario” in several articles from the UK about antibiotic resistance. You might remember that last month I wrote about the ubiquity of health warnings and how we’re being cautioned against everything from backyard charcoal grilling to overly enthusiastic yoga postures.

Listen up. This recent warning is deadly serious.

Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies, an MD, went on record stating that antibiotic resistance is a greater threat to the world than international terrorism and annually far more lethal. Later, apparently thinking terrorism an insufficiently intense comparison, she upped the ante and called antibiotic resistance a greater threat than global warming. With Pakistan reportedly building a nuclear bomb and the polar icecap melt drowning small islands in the Pacific, I think all three scenarios are pretty awful.

The final moments of Dr. Davies’ doomsday scenario play out with all bacteria becoming resistant to all antibiotics. Very Stephen King. Strep throat invariably progresses to fatal pneumonia, a minor scratch to terminal blood poisoning. Surgical incisions routinely infect despite all precautions.

It didn’t have to be this way. Antibiotics changed healthcare in the 20th century. It’s the sulfas, ‘cillins, and ‘mycins that are the principal reason we now enjoy a lifespan decades longer than our great grandparents. Right now, in 2013, every third baby born in the US will likely live to age 100. This, too, is possible courtesy of antibiotics.

But overusing antibiotics can kill us off, a real-life doomsday scenario.
Currently we’re encountering the result of antibiotic overuse primarily in hospitals, where multi-drug combinations are needed to deal with bacteria that have the ability to outsmart our drugs. How they do this is actually quite interesting. Apparently the bacteria have a sort of antibiotic pumping system in their cell walls which works so efficiently that as fast as a drug enters a cell, the pump activates and starts bailing the antibiotic out. And yes, to you scientifically minded, the latest research on antibiotic resistance focuses on discovering so-called bacterial pump inhibitors.

If your sensibilities trend more toward sci-fi, imagine the following real-life scenarios. Worldwide, the most resistant bacteria is tuberculosis, for which many antibiotics must  be administered simultaneously for successful treatment. Yet multi-drug-resistant TB is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. Hundreds of thousands.

Here in the US, the villain is MRSA (methicillin-resistant staph aureus), which kills about 25,000 hospital patients a year. We used to destroy MRSA with a second antibiotic, vancomycin, but as luck would have it VRSA (you can guess what the initials stand for) emerged.

In a primary-care setting like WholeHealth Chicago, we’ve seen little evidence so far of antibiotic resistance. I’m told penicillin-resistant gonorrhea is out there, but it’s NIMBY (not in my backyard) for us. I got the sense this year that the generally useful Z-Pak (azithromycin) wasn’t working as well as usual, but there have been no official warnings about this.

Remember: antibiotics work against bacteria and only bacteria.
The dire alerts about antibiotic overuse from the World Health Organization (WHO) are directed at two groups in charge of antibiotic distribution:

  • First and foremost, primary care physicians are urged to avoid overprescribing antibiotics for conditions that simply don’t require them and will never respond to them (mainly those caused by viruses).
  • Second, the agricultural industry, which pours broad-spectrum antibiotics into livestock, is being urged to stop. Animals raised this way for meat become infected with resistant bacteria that are then passed onto (and into) consumers.

Physicians and farmers alike offer up all sorts of excuses to justify their behavior, but the WHO is right. Everyone with access to antibiotics seems to be overusing them. For you, I recommend thinking twice before calling your physician or heading to a minute clinic for an antibiotic. Keep in mind…

  • Virtually all colds (sore throat, runny nose, nonproductive cough) are viral and definitely need no antibiotic. Just treat symptoms as they come and they’ll resolve on their own.
  • The vast majority of sinus infections and bronchitis are also caused by viruses and can be self-treated with steam inhalation, mucous-thinners like Mucaplex, decongestants like Soledum, immunity enhancers like Host Defense, neti pots, and/or asthma inhalers. If you get a respiratory infection and are slowly feeling a little better, though “not fast enough,” be patient. “Not fast enough” is not a call for antibiotics.

The rule-of-thumb about antibiotic need is this: if you have an infection and at first thought you were getting better but suddenly started getting worse (fever, deeper cough, copious sputum), then you really might need an antibiotic. Also, as a rule, you’ll need an antibiotic for many skin infections and virtually all kidney and bladder infections. You can try natural treatments, like cranberry for bladder infections, for a day or two, but if you’re not improving, contact your doctor.

What none of these doomsday articles on antibiotics mentions is that the very best way to prevent antibiotic overuse is for people to maintain a healthful lifestyle and simply not need antibiotics at all. Any physician will tell you that the worst infections occur in patients who have compromised their immunity through years of self-neglect. Cigarettes, excessive alcohol or recreational drugs, unchecked stress, lack of exercise, and dreadful eating habits can all lead to an increased susceptibility to infections.

In medical school, the term we learned was “host susceptibility.” This meant an infection occurred not because a species of bacteria was particularly vicious, but rather because the patient was especially vulnerable. For example, obesity can lead to diabetes and diabetics are more susceptible to infections than the rest of the population.

If you’d like to start eating antibiotic-free meats (and I recommend it), choose certified organic products at Whole Foods, yes, but also check out Chicago’s Butcher & Larder, which supports regional farmers who grow meat sustainably.

The central lesson (as always) is to take good care of yourself. If you’re not a susceptible host, you may never need an antibiotic and thus you’ll never contribute to the doomsday scenario of antibiotic resistance.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

 

Leave a Comment


  1. Mary Maxwell says:

    Dr. Edelberg,
    I liked this article. FYI, I have been taking VSC, by Nature Sunshine every year for years, when I am around people with viruses, and have not gotten sick, If I am getting symptoms I up the dose. Excellent product to fight viruses.
    Also, surprised you haven’t told me about Iadoral for thyroid. You have had me on thyroid medication for years,
    and know how I feel about medicine. My friend Lorraine, not a patient of yours emailed you about this. I am now on it. I got i from my herbalist. I am still taking my thyroid meds, won’t go off until we see a turn around. Reminder with me, Herbs First, be fore meds.
    Hope your having some great travels.
    Mary

  2. Mark Evans says:

    Check out the BBC drama Survivors if you like pathogenic apocalypses.

  3. ber says:

    What do u know about flurorquinolone toxicity syndrome?

  4. Dr E says:

    To Ber:
    Go into the Health Tips archives for the article I wrote on the subject called “Poisoned by an Antibiotic”

  5. Spiffy says:

    Sometimes even people who have had a healthy lifestyle run into problems. There are those that ate only organic wheat, milk, and eggs only to find out that they carry a celiac gene and have extreme gluten sensitivity and are allergic to dairy and eggs. Which if they do not figure out in time….and most of them do not because most docs ignore nutrition and what we eat…other autoimmune conditions kick in. Then there are all these people walking around with MTHFR mutations who do not even know it…even though we have known about this since the 1990’s. They are going around taking the government’s fake folic acid until the day they die. It is stored up in their systems and gunking up their methylation cycle. Yes, live a healthy lifestyle…whatever you think this is….don’t smoke….but rest assured you need to find a functional med doc willing to find out these things. You can exercise until the cows come home but you cannot escape genes without some help.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Upcoming Workshops

***WholeHealth for Winter Digestion
Saturday December 1, 2018, 10:30am-12:30pm
An Integrative Workshop with Yoga Therapist Renee Zambo, Dietitian Olivia Wagner, and Occupational Therapist Valarie McConville
Fee: $75.00 (includes take home materials and snacks)

Do you suffer from a sluggish digestive system, constipation, and/or bloating? Does it feel like those symptoms get worse as we head toward the holidays and winter season?  Are you looking for ways to optimize your digestion?  

Join us for two valuable hours of digestive health and cleansing!

Space is limited and registration is required.
Please register online.
Call the Center for additional information at (773) 296-6700
More>>

 

***Healing Touch for Focus, Creativity, and Stress Management
Thursday, December 6, 2018, 5:45-7:30
Katie Oberlin, HTCP/I
Healing Touch Certified Practitioner/Instructor
Fee: $55.00 (includes take-home materials)

Are you feeling overwhelmed and stressed at the end of the year? Want to find a way to feel less scattered and more focused? In this workshop, you will learn how to use energy healing to feel more centered and grounded so you can bring more clarity and creativity to your life and work.

Space is limited and registration is required.
Please register online.
Call the Center for additional information at (773) 296-6700
More>>

 

**Winter Solstice Celebration: Drumming Circle and Shamanic Healing
Wednesday, December 19, 2018, 5:45-7:30pm
Katie OberlinHTCP/I
Healing Touch Certified Practitioner/Instructor
Fee: $55.00

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to enter the stillpoint of the Winter Solstice, reflect on the lessons of 2018, and set intentions for the new year. This will be an evening of individual and group healing, ceremony, and celebration.

Space is limited and registration is required.
Please register online.
Call the Center for additional information at (773) 296-6700
More>>

Recent Health Tips

  • Getting Tough With Your Immune System

    No reasonable physician (I modestly include myself here) can refrain from crowing delightedly when a clinical study confirms the value of a treatment he or she had been using for years, even if that treatment had contradicted prevailing standards. Ever since I learned something about natural medicine, I’ve been reluctant to prescribe antibiotics for respiratory tract infections, such as colds, sore throats, and bronchitis. Many physicians had Read More

  • For A Longer Life…Stand Up Now!

    By far the most common answer to my question, “Exercising these days?” is “Not enough.” This is usually accompanied by the briefest flicker of melancholy regret, as if by such a confession my patient has permanently abandoned the hopes and dreams of both a svelte body and enviable longevity. “Don’t worry,” I say, “It’s just a temporary glitch. You’ll start up again.” (Nod, nod). I Read More

  • Getting Off Blood Pressure Meds Forever, Contaminated Or Not

    If you’re currently taking a blood pressure medication, the chances are pretty good that you’re on one of the ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers). You can recognize these because they end in -sartan, as in losartan and valsartan. You also may have heard that two of the most popular ARBs (valsartan and irbesartan) were abruptly withdrawn this year by the FDA and other agencies around the Read More

December Sale: 20% Off the UltraLux IV Light Box

Full Spectrum Solutions has been an industry leader for the past 20 years, offering therapeutic lighting that is made right here in the Midwest (Michigan). The UltraLux IV is the first and only LED light therapy unit on the market that is both fully adjustable. Unlike many of their competitors, they boast a high CRI rating (90+) and a lifetime warranty so you never have to purchase replacement bulbs again. Full spectrum light therapy is often recommended in cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) to help make up for the sunlight that is missing from these shorter, winter days.

To learn more about and purchase the UltraLux IV, click here.

To see past Health Tips on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Dr. Edelberg’s recommendations, including a full spectrum light box like the UltraLux IV, click here.