What Broad Spectrum Antibiotics Are & Why to Avoid Them

If you live in Thailand long enough, you will at some point go to a doctor.

When you do, you will notice that no matter what your condition, odds are you will be prescribed numerous medications – in the neighborhood of 4 has been the average for my family.  It is critical that you understand what medications the doctor is advising to put into that designer “shopping bag” at the clinic or hospital, and that you actively participate in deciding whether you need them or not.  It can be trickierhere in the Thailand than in the West to understand why all these medications are being prescribed.  Thailand is a country where doctors are highly revered, and most Thai people simply do not question a doctor’s orders.  As a corollary, it will simply not occur to a lot of doctors here to offer much explanation of their thought-making process in prescribing medication.  To be sure, there are some doctors in Thailand who use a very interactive approach (with you, the patient/consumer) in conducting a medical investigation.  And, of course, there are also many old-school doctors in the West who do not think to involve you all that much in their decisions about your health.  The point is, no matter where in the world you are, you are the person who cares the most and so, like it or not, you need to get comfortable being your own advocate in the doctor’s office.

So, back to the that laundry list of medications you (or your loved one) will be prescribed, it is quite possible that among this assortment will be a broad spectrum antibiotic.  (Let’s forget about the other stuff for this post.)  If this is the case, immediately channel your inner judge and jury, and commit to yourself that you will not take them unless you are persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that they are necessary.

Here’s why…

WHAT BROAD SPECTRUM ANTIBIOTICS ARE

Broad spectrum antibiotics are a class of antibiotics that were developed in the late 1960’s and early 1970s that are capable of killing many strains of bacteria at once (as opposed to narrow-spectrum antibiotics which use a targeted approach).  Broad spectrum antibiotics are really good at saving lives from serious diseases such as pneumonia and septicemia, where multiple strains of bacteria may be causing the illness or the bacteria causing the illness is unknown, fast-acting and deadly (ie – no time for cultures to be developed).  The problem, as Dr Steven Gundry – who refers to these antibiotics as the first of seven Deadly Health Disrupters introduced to modern life – points out, is that

[w]e doctors were so impressed with these antibiotics that we used them, and sadly still do, even in situations where our best guess is that a virus, which isn’t even killed by antibiotics, is the culprit.  —The Plant Paradox.  2017.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) agrees, finding that up to 50% of all antibiotics prescribed in the US are either unnecessary or misused.  In Thailand and other countries where antibiotics can be purchased over-the-counter, the unnecessary use of antibiotics is likely much worse.

AND, THIS IS A PROBLEM BECAUSE…?

  1. The main reason why this is a problem for you and me personally is that a broad spectrum antibiotic behaves in your body like a nuclear bomb.  It does not discriminate between good and bad bacteria.  All are killed.  After a course of antibiotics, your gut must begin again at ground zero.  Given that your microbiome is like a mini rain forest, and when your good gut bugs are killed it can take several months to re-populate, this is a terrible thing to do unless absolutely necessary.  During the time your body is recovering from the course of antibiotics, you are susceptible to all kinds of illness because your defense system is down thanks to the antibiotics you took to solve a problem in the first place!  So ask questions.  Participate in the medical investigation of your condition.  If an antibiotic is prescribed before a culture is taken first to ensure its necessity, find out why.  Avoid so-called “preventative” antibiotics, which in my experience are quite commonly prescribed in Thailand.  I have found that when l poke around just a bit asking questions about the need for such a preventative measure, the doctor fairly easily agrees with me that it is not really necessary (!) – It can then be  crossed off the meds list, with relief.
  2. Globally, the main reason why the overuse of broad spectrum antibiotics is a problem is antibiotic resistance.  According to WHO, antibiotic resistance could lead to a “post-antibiotic” world where minor infections are deadly.  Currently, such infections as pneumonia, tuberculosis & gonorrhoea are already becoming frightfully resistant to antibiotics.  I can think of no reason to contribute to this growing global crisis.

STEAK IN A LOVELY ANTIBIOTIC SAUCE?

So the bad news is, you are not only what you eat.  You are also what you eat ate.  Especially when it comes to the use of antibiotics, a big target is animals in commercial meat production.  Chris Kresser explains that commercial farm operators are committed to the regular use of antibiotics not merely to prevent disease, but to make their animals bigger.  It turns out that when you consistently hit animals with antibiotics (and grain), it produces in them a chronic altered gut state, a dysbiosis, which makes them bigger.  (Btw, can you think of any reason the same thing would not occur to humans on grains and antibiotics?  If yes, let me know, because I cannot and this is one of the logical conclusions leading me to soon test the Plant Paradox way of eating.)  And, small amounts of antibiotic residue is found in these animals despite commercial meat producers following the government-mandated antibiotic tapering off period before slaughter.  Let’s just say this is another reason to eat mostly veggies and otherwise treat yourself to the good, antibiotic-free, pastured stuff.

CONCLUSION

Antibiotics are necessary sometimes, but the overuse and misuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics is devastating on our gut health and also contributes the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  Taking care of yourself and your loved ones’ health means asking questions about these meds when prescribed by a doctor and only agreeing to take them if you are convinced of their necessity beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

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