When the first transition of Fall started a few weeks ago not uncommon to see students on campus sneezing and sniffling. I was not alone in when my throat stated hurting and I joined the ranks of the sickly. This was not the first time I had strep, or Streptococcus pyogenes and I recognized my symptoms immediately. What was more upsetting was knowing what the treatment was for this ailment- antibiotics.
Antibiotics are regarded as the height of accomplishments in modern medicine. If we break down the etymology of the name we get biotic meaning “pertaining to life” and anti, meaning “against”. Antibiotics kill any infections bacteria that make you sick, but it kills blindly. This violent act of medicine causes a cascade of health problems and environmental degradation.
Where do antibiotics come from? The active components in antibiotics originated from the natural world, many times from plants. Scientists identified the bacteria-resistant chemicals in herbal plants, isolated those chemicals, artificially reproduced them in a lab, and increased their strength 100s of times. Why is this bad? Let’s compare this method with analogist practice- monoculture farming. When farmers plant only one type of crop, they lose the many benefits of diversity. One of these benefits is how the crops genetic diversity protected them from bugs and disease. Today we practice monomedicine. When we borrow a single chemical from nature, we lose hundreds of other diverse helpful chemical components already included by Mother Nature. Using just one compound opens the door for bacteria to become immune to the antibiotic, creating something stronger and untreatable.
Penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic, originated from a mold. It was adopted commercially for treatment of infection in 1939. Ten years earlier, Alexander Fleming, the father of penicillin’s discovery, had already expressed his concerns. He reported that numerous bacteria strands were already becoming resistant to the drug. As use of penicillin became more widespread, this trend continued until penicillin was hardly effective. Because bacteria create a new generation every 20 minutes, it can rapidly evolve to become completely immune to any antibiotic drug.
The use of antibiotics is bigger than human health. The largest percent by mass of antibiotics used goes into the business of agriculture, fisheries and factory farms. The conditions that our food is produced under, which demand this high amount of antibacterial support, is a much longer topic for a different day. Instead, I want to focus on where the antibiotics go as waste. The antibiotic ridden waste of farms combines with our pharmaceutical waste, washes into waterways, and causing detrimental effects on ecosystems far and wide. Drug resistant super-bacteria are found in most riparian areas and oceans today. In addition to the spread of new disease, the anti-life drugs kill beneficial microbes and bacteria in soils, disturbing a delicate balance that supports all life.
Consuming antibiotics, as a byproduct in your hamburger or in prescribed pill compromises your health. Like the soil, our bodies are filled with beneficial bacteria that help us stay healthy. As I read about my step throat infection, I was interested to learn that the Streptococcus bacteria live in our throats usually. This strand of strep wards off the colonization of the harmful Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria which makes us sick.
In an effort to reduce my environmental impact, and to keep myself healthy, I looked for alternatives cures for strep throat. I found in Stephan Buhner’s Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug Resistant Bacteria a mired of natural treatments to try. I choose a tincture of Echinacea angustifolia, which I took every hour for 2 days until I was happily cured!
~ Melanie Weber-Sauer