"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” - Thomas A. Edison
It is hard to imagine a doctor not being able to give antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. While difficult to imagine, in 2014 the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report suggesting that conventional medicine in North America is entering a crisis period “in which common infections and minor injuries can kill,”[i] as antibiotics become increasingly ineffective.
Maybe the future that Edison envisioned has arrived.
Before coming to this conclusion, it is important to understand how ineffective antibiotics have become. One WHO report shows “alarming rates of resistance – exceeding 50% – in some patient groups” [ii] when carbapenem, “one of the antibiotics of last resort for many bacterial infections,”[iii] is used to control K. pneumoniae, a common bacteria causing lung infections, wound infections, and urinary tract infections. What this suggests is that when “a last resort antibiotic,” is given to treat a K. pneumoniae infection, it is only about 50% effective; on a good day.
The WHO report also states that antimicrobial resistance is a problem “so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine”[iv]. This is no exaggeration. The threat of antibiotic resistance puts at risk numerous other facets of conventional medicine that are dependent. For instance, “cancer treatment would be virtually non-existent and most elective surgeries and some essential ones could no longer be performed in the absence of antibiotics”[v].
How did we get ourselves into this mess? Perhaps part of the problem is our overreliance on antibiotics since their discovery in 1928. Not only are we quick to ask for prescriptions, but unless we eat only organic, there is a good chance that the majority of our daily meat intake includes a large amount of the antibiotics. All of this coincides with research that strongly suggests serious long-term consequences from antibiotic overuse.
In his article, “Antibiotic Overuse: Stop the Killing of Beneficial Bacteria,” Martin Blaser argues that changes in our micro flora – damage to the good bacteria in our bodies – may be promoting the transmission of disease by weakening our immune system. In short, antibiotics are indiscriminate. They kill all the bacteria in our system leaving us more susceptible to future infection.
Considering this, it should follow that there must be a paradigm shift in terms of how we approach health and wellness. We need to ask ourselves some tough questions such as, “can taking a pill solve my health issues or would I be better off making lifestyle choices that address the underlying causes?” Until recently, antibiotics have been an effective method to achieve a seemingly immediate response. This quick solution, however, has resulted in a generation with compromised immune systems which has created a growing need – a dependency – for more antibiotics. To be sure, our current reality of increasing antibiotic resistance was born out of this cycle.
If the current pattern continues, the most common antibiotics will be rendered completely ineffective in the near future. As doctors begin to understand the implications of this, rather than prescribing an antibiotic, they are beginning to address the underlying causes of an illness as a means to strengthen the patient’s immune system.
An example of this is recurrent ear infections in small children. In the past, antibiotics were often prescribed and tubes were inserted into children’s ears, but the root cause was rarely addressed. Now, rather than dispensing antibiotics, many doctors are working with these patients to address underlying issues such as possible food allergies or nutritional deficiencies.
In many parts of the world, such as India and China, the shift to a more holistic concept of wellness is growing. It is in these countries that healthy lifestyles promote holistic nutrition, regular exercise, and nutritional supplements. This is very different than the current North American model where the dispensing of pharmaceuticals has prevailed. Despite Americans spending “an estimated 2.9 trillion dollars in 2013 on healthcare” we are facing a situation where, “for the first time in human history, this generation will live a shorter time than their parents.”[vi]
Facing the reality of imminent widespread antibiotic resistance, it is evident that antibiotics as effective tools for healing have served their purpose. If we have learned nothing else, hopefully we can accept the looming antibiotic resistance crisis as proof that the discovery of new antibiotics will not deliver long-term solutions. This realization does not have to be apocalyptic. Although they have been a backbone of conventional medicine, antibiotics are not the only tools we have.
It is time for something new. It is time to embrace a new perspective of health and healing in North America.
As acceptance of alternative medical systems grows, practices such as Homeopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine – the two most practiced forms of medicine worldwide – will help to usher in a new perspective of healing which does not solely rest on the dispensing of pharmaceuticals. The foundation of healing systems such as TCM and Homeopathy are built upon the implicit understanding that the true path to healing requires addressing the root cause of an illness. The paradigm shift is this: It is the body that does the healing, not the medication. When considered in this light, it is the responsibility of health practitioners to invoke and support healing responses from the body. The healers of the future will offer solutions that nurture, protect and celebrate the defenses that nature has provided.
Erin Douglas is a registered yoga instructor and a classically trained homeopath. Her life-long passion for healing has taken her all over the world from learning yogic philosophy and healing in India to studying Vipassana meditation in Northern Thailand with the Buddhist monks. She received her formal training in classical homeopathy at the renowned Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine in Toronto, Ontario, the first province in Canada to regulate homeopathy. She operates a complementary medicine healing clinic and every month, organizes seven and fourteen day spiritual yoga retreats and adventures in Waikiki, Hawaii. For more information on joining an upcoming Hawaiian Adventure Yoga Retreat or to book a homeopathic or nutritional consultation, feel free to check out her website or send an email.
[i] World Health Organization, Antimicrobial Resistance: Global Report on Surveillance, April 2014, pg. 9
[ii] World Health Organization, Antimicrobial Resistance: Global Report on Surveillance, April 2014, pg. 19
[iii] Wikipedia, Carbapenem, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbapenem
[iv] World Health Organization, Antimicrobial Resistance: Global Report on Surveillance, April 2014, pg. 9
[v] “New Antibiotic Holds Promise Against Antibiotic- Resistant Infections” http://phys.org/news/2015-02-antibiotic-antibiotic-resistant-infections.html
[vi] Effortless Healing, Dr. Joseph Mercola, pg. 9