There have been some pretty scary headlines in the news this week. Stuff like:
Drug-Resistant Bacteria Are Common Killers
Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Lead to 23,000 Deaths a Year, C.D.C. Finds
‘We Will Soon Be in a Post-Antibiotic Era’
Yes, Agricultural Antibiotics Play a Role in Drug Resistance
While antibiotic resistance has been a concern for some time, I can’t recall it ever receiving this type of press or this degree of validation from the CDC. And if the issue is old news to some, it’s no less urgent for that. So, what’s to be done?
According to the New York Times, “The report said that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” It also said that about half of antibiotic use in people is inappropriate.” Will lawmakers and regulatory agencies regulate this from the top down? Will large livestock farmers stop using antibiotics excessively? I don’t know. But we can influence this from the bottom up, by refusing to buy meat raised on farms that regularly dose their animals with antibiotics. (Talk to your farmer, your butcher, and/or your grocery store manager to learn more about how your meat was raised.) We can also talk to our doctors and figure out if we really need to take antibiotics for a given issue. These are a couple of basic steps we can take, by deciding what goes into our bodies, and what practices we want to support.
Having made those decisions, it’s important to have tools to prevent the need for antibiotics – as well as alternatives/complements to pharmaceutical antibiotics should the need arise.
On this subject, I can’t recommend any book more highly than Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Herbal Antibiotics. While this book provides great tools for fighting bacterial infections in general, it focuses on resistant strains. Buhner also gives a comprehensive overview of the issue of antibiotic resistance, and describes in fascinating and alarming detail the ways in which bacteria are able to adapt and how they work in the body. This book is readable for laypeople, though Buhner’s suggestions are well-documented enough to impress your M.D. In addition to scads of scientific studies, Buhner draws on his own experience, as well as traditional and current uses among herbal practitioners. A companion volume, Herbal Antivirals, is due out later this month. (You can read Buhner’s response to the CDC’s report here, at Inside Storey.”
For common ailments, I find Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health to be invaluable. It contains recipes to help you fight off all sorts of issues, from earaches to UTIs. My go-to recipe from this book is Fire Cider. I always have some on hand, and I find it can help me fight off just about anything if I catch it quick enough.
As good as these books are, it’s of course far better not to get sick in the first place. In addition to basic practices like getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising, taking adaptogens can help build a strong, responsive immune system. My prime reference here is the aptly titled Adaptogens, by David Winston. Adaptogens fall under a wider category of herbs referred to as tonics. Tonics are safe to take regularly, and they build good health in general (though they often address one system especially). Guido Masé’s Wild Medicine Solution includes a wonderful discussion of tonic herbs, and specifically addresses immunity. The whole book is a great introduction to using herbs for better overall health.
I grew up believing that bacteria were no longer a threat, having been all but vanquished by pharmaceutical antibiotics. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned from Buhner’s book on the subject is that bacteria are far more complex and adaptable than I imagined. I no longer believe that we possess any “silver bullets” in this battle – and I think we’ll lose if we continue believing that we have the capacity to wipe out bacterial infections wholesale. Instead, I think it’s time to take an honest look at our vulnerabilities and our strengths, at how it’s possible to support the immune system and give it a competitive edge, and at the rich and varied resources we have in the form of whole plant medicines.
Click any of the covers to order from your local indie bookstore.