Antibiotics, the common cold and resistance

Published Tuesday 2 February 2016

So you’ve woken up with a really sore throat or possibly suffering from a really bad cold. What are you going to do about it?

Do you consider visiting your GP and requesting antibiotics hoping to knock it on the head and shift it faster?

By seeing your GP you can allow him or her make a diagnosis and discuss the best strategy for you, but be warned they may not prescribe you antibiotics.

Antibiotics work for bacteria, not for virus’s, so if your symptoms are caused by a virus and you take antibiotics, you could potentially cause more issues.

If your GP says that you are suffering from a viral infection (virus), it does not mean that your nose is less runny or your throat is less sore. The best you can do is support your immune system to fight against the virus.

Our body is normally well equipped to do this and in fact is dealing with lots of ‘intruders’ all the time without you really noticing.

There is no quick fix for a viral infection, you will get over it faster if you allow your body to rest, have healthy nutrition and avoid bombarding your body with anything toxic. When I say toxic I mean things like alcohol, many heavy over the counter drugs and fast foods.

There are some simple home remedies and some herbal medicines that can alleviate the symptoms, discuss these with your doctor.

So, what’s so bad with taking a simple course of antibiotics? You've noticed your neighbour has been prescribed some for the same cold you have, why haven't you been prescribed some too?

There are actually a couple of good reasons not to take them.

Antibiotics can cause all sorts of side effects from an upset stomach and diarrhea to thrush. Your liver and kidneys need to work extra hard to metabolise and excrete them again. During this process they are likely reducing your good healthy bowel bacteria we need to actually fight off infections.

The knock on consequences of this means you spend more money treating the resulting ailments. Money and time you could have spent better initially to adequately let your body do its job.

When we take antibiotics more for ‘peace of mind’ instead of when we actually need them over and over again, bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotic. This means the antibiotic no longer works when we really need them. When the antibiotic stops working, heavier antibiotics are used which come with more severe side effects, resulting in possible hospital admissions.

Other factors contribute to antibiotic resistance; a big contributor is the way our food is produced.

Animals often receive lots of antibiotics to avoid cross infection in crammed animal factories, we then consume the animal. Being vegetarian doesn’t remove you from this risk, antibiotic resistance is expressed in the poo of the animals, which is then used as fertiliser on crops and vegetables.

Another more practical obstacle from my perspective is that antibiotics are actually so wrongfully cheap. They come on a heavily funded prescription, whereas no herbal remedy does. Logically, less educated and critical patients will demand an antibiotic shortsightedly as it appears to be a lot cheaper. The price we pay is actually disturbingly high.

So what's the take home message?

Antibiotics are one of the best inventions and we need to reserve them for very special well defined occasions.

We can all do our small contribution to improve our own health and the global situation by being mindful and resourceful.

Go and see your GP with any concerning symptoms and be open for advice, even if it doesn't come on a script.