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Is your medicine killing you? The unlikely truth about antibiotic resistance

Find out how you how you can avoid antibiotic resistance and bring your gut back to life.

By As told to Take 5

There are big long-term risks with the most common drugs we've come to rely upon.

The invention of antibiotics completely transformed modern medicine.
Before that, diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis and diphtheria were rampant and unable to be treated.
As a result, people were only expected to live on average until their late 40s.
Today, it's difficult to imagine a world without them.
Countless lives have been saved as a result and they're relatively easy to get.
But sometimes, antibiotics can have a negative effect on our bodies.
And prolonged long-term use could have serious – potentially even fatal – consequences in years to come.
The invention of antibiotics completely transformed modern medicine.

So, is your medicine killing you?

When we get sick, our white blood cells attack any harmful bacteria that enter our system.
Most of the time, they do the job even if it can take a couple of days for you to feel well again.
But sometimes, there's too much bacteria for your immune system to fight off.
In these cases, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic.
Antibiotics are medicines that either stop harmful bacteria by destroying it or by stopping the bacteria from reproducing.
The first ever antibiotic discovered was penicillin, and it has become the base of hundreds of antibiotics.
Today, antibiotics are common and chances are you've had them at least once in your lifetime for things like strep throat, ear infections and urinary tract infections.
Sometimes, there's too much bacteria for your immune system to fight off.

What is antibiotic resistance?

When we first use an antibiotic that we've never taken before, it is very successful at killing the harmful bacteria.
But if you need to take the same antibiotic multiple times, the bacteria starts to become resistant to the antibiotic's effect.
This is starting to become a worldwide issue.
Last year, the World Health Organization recognised antibiotic resistance as a problem which would lead to longer hospital stays and higher medical costs.
An antibiotic that we've never taken before, it is very successful at killing the harmful bacteria.

What can I do to prevent it?

Although this might sound scary, it's important to always follow your doctor's instructions.
Make sure to only take antibiotics when your doctor prescribes them and follow the instructions on how to take them correctly.
You can reduce your own need for antibiotics by making sure that you are vaccinated against infectious diseases and practicing simple hygiene. If you're worried about becoming resistant to antibiotics, have a chat to your doctor.
It's important to always follow your doctor's instructions.

Long-term use of antibiotics

Our gut is home to trillions of bacteria.
Most of these microbes are good for your body and play a crucial role in digestion, preventing sickness and keeping your metabolism running.
Your gut is also home to 90 per cent of your neurotransmitters; the chemicals that signal and regulate your mood.
Your gut health has a direct connection to your mental health.
Antibiotics don't differentiate, killing any bacteria in its path.
As the good bacteria in your gut decreases, other opportunistic organisms like yeast, otherwise known as candida, can grow.
Antibiotics don't differentiate, killing any bacteria in its path.
Create a healthy gut balance to prevent a candida overgrowth.

How to prevent candida

To create a healthy gut balance and prevent a candida overgrowth, make sure you do the following:
Remove its food
Candida thrives on a diet high in sugar. If your diet is high in sugars, refined carbohydrates and alcohol, and you've been on antibiotics, you have a high chance of a candida overgrowth. To prevent it, switch your diet to low-sugar whole foods. At least just for a couple of weeks!
Bring healthy bacteria back
Add a multi-strain probiotic supplement to your diet or eat fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha.
Fibre full
Prebiotics help to grow the good bacteria in your gut by giving them a healthy food source. You can either get these in supplement form or add some garlic, leeks, onions and white potatoes into your meals. Yum!
There are a few different medications to be wary about.
Other meds to be wary about...
Using some medications for too long can potentially cause other health problems and even lead to life-threatening conditions including heart attack and stroke.
It's especially important to be wary about even everyday, over-the-counter drugs that have been designed for short-term use.
Here are some to be mindful of and to discuss with your doctor if you're concerned.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including ibruprofen.
    The general advice is to use the lowest effective amount for the shortest possible time, but talk to your GP before you stop taking them, or feel you need to take them for longer than the directions advise.
  • Sleep aids and some antidepressants and bladder-control medications.
    Some studies have found that drugs classified as anticholinergics may increase the risk of dementia by more than 50 per cent, especially among older people. Anyone who has been taking these meds for more than a few years should check with their doctor about whether it's needed and possible alternatives.
  • Heartburn medications.
    These may seem harmless but check with your doctor if you need to take them for more than two weeks. The active ingredients in some may be harmful if used long-term, and they may be masking other symptoms that need investigating.
HEALTH ALERT
Around 1600 Australians suffer directly from antibiotic resistance every year.
If doctors don't stop over-prescribing them, the Medical Journal of Australia warns deaths from currently treatable infections will overtake all cancer deaths by 2050.

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