Before Alexander Fleming discovered that mould evolving in a Petri dish generated bacteria killing substance that he labelled penicillin the human race was vulnerable to even the most innocuous of microbes. Now, because these life-saving medications are deployed so liberally and often unnecessarily, the pendulum has swung back to that fateful era when we are once again at risk of developing lethal infections as resurgent bacteria have learned to outsmart even the most industrial strength antibiotics.
Part of the reason for this is our reliance on utilising antibiotics because they make us feel better and seem to work even though the wiles of bacteria are not really at play. When we get sick and have a cough or a cold with a runny or blocked nose, most often caused by a virus, not a bacterium, our immune system is activated to seek and destroy the invading microorganism. In the heat of battle immune combatants called neutrophils release salvos of toxic compounds that not only target the invading enemy they also heat us up, slow down our metabolism and cause reversible damage to battleground tissue leading to discomfort, lethargy and the discharge of unwanted mucous, all unpleasant features of the malaise we so desperately wish to abort.
What antibiotics do is corral the activity of unrestrained neutrophils which arrests all our unwanted suffering leading us to believe that this is exactly what we needed. Often times once the course of antibiotics ends symptoms recur suggesting that all we need is a top up of these magical medicines. Or next time we become ill we might seek a repeat of this wondrous pharmaceutical eraser.
Often times antibiotics work not because bacteria are present but because of their anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation or the body heating up to resist an invader might be uncomfortable but it’s how nature provides us with a shield to protect ourselves. Augmenting this natural fortress with immune boosting remedies outlined in ‘Immune Apocalypse’ might go some way to fortifying our forces and more importantly limit the alarming rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria looming as one of the biggest threats to our survival as a species.