Last updated February 20, 2019 by Lisa Richards, CNC   Reviewed by Katie Stone, ND.

Stop Taking Antibiotics For The Common Cold

Antibiotics for the common cold: A bad idea

Most of us have taken antibiotics at some stage in our lives. In fact, we’re usually quite comfortable with popping a few pills given to us by our doctor. After all, it’s one of the steps in getting well again – right?

Not always! Outbreaks of ‘superbugs’ are evidence that many people are too eager to take anything a doctor prescribes, especially antibiotics. We sometimes forget about the potential harm in taking these seemingly ‘helpful’ medicines – especially when they’re not necessary.

Antibiotics can undermine the natural balance of your gut bacteria, allowing opportunistic pathogens like Candida to thrive. They can weaken your immune system, and leave you susceptible to repeated infections.

What Are Antibiotics?

The term ‘antibiotic’ literally means “against” and “life”. They are a pharmaceutical medicine designed to stop infections caused by bacteria. They work by killing the specific bacteria and/or preventing the bacteria from reproducing.

When it comes to serious infections, antibiotics are literally life-saving. Since becoming available in the 1940s, antibiotics have increased life expectancy around the globe. People are now able to survive what may have once been a minor but deadly infection.

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Why Antibiotics Often Aren’t Effective

Unfortunately, there’s now substantial evidence to suggest that antibiotics are being prescribed too often and too readily for people who don’t need them.

Worse, it’s been found that a huge proportion of the illnesses commonly prescribed antibiotics are caused by viruses, not bacteria – which means they cannot be treated with antibiotics. These include colds, sinus infections, ear infections, sore throats, and bronchitis. In fact, there are more than 200 known viruses that can cause the common cold, the most common being rhinovirus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has even stated that antibiotics cannot treat these viruses and cannot make you well against if you have a cold.

However, doctors keep prescribing antibiotics. More shocking research shows that doctors prescribe antibiotics to 71 percent of patients with bronchitis.

The Problem With Antibiotics

The issue of ‘antibiotic resistance’ is now causing serious concern around the world.  While antibiotics are indeed necessary to treat certain bacterial infections, it’s now clear that this is one form of medication that has been overprescribed for some time. Many countries are now trying to deal with new strains of bacteria that have mutated to the point where they are much less vulnerable to antibiotics. These strains of ‘resistant’ bacteria are able to survive and multiply, causing serious disease.

It’s also now known that resistance has developed to nearly every type of antibiotic that has been developed. The World Health Organization has stated that antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest threats to human health worldwide.

How Antibiotics Lead to Gut Dysbiosis Like Candida Overgrowth

Not only can the overuse of antibiotics lead to resistance, but they can disrupt your entire body ecology. When taken too often or for too long, antibiotics can do more harm than good. This is particularly the case with the gut microbiome. Substantial evidence shows that antibiotics substantially change the balance in the gut microbiome, which has a devastating effect on a variety of bodily functions.

Dysbiosis is an imbalance of gut flora caused by too few beneficial bacteria and an overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast like Candida, and/or parasites. This happens when the colonies of beneficial bacteria have been reduced, allowing ‘bad’ bacteria to grow and develop.

The thing to remember is that antibiotics kill ALL bacteria – the good as well as the bad! Antibiotics can’t discriminate between friendly probiotic bacteria and pathogenic bacteria. Every time you take antibiotics, you’re potentially wiping out large numbers of the beneficial bacteria required to keep out the bad bacteria. If there are too few good bacteria, this can provide perfect conditions for yeasts such as Candida albicans to take hold and grow out of control.

Many studies have found that antibiotic use often results in substantial increases in Candida and pathogenic bacterial colonization. The destruction of the colonies of beneficial bacteria suppresses the immune system. This disruption allows Candida to increase its numbers rapidly and become a much more dominant member of the gut ecosystem.

Antibiotics Destroy Gut Bacteria

One recent study published in the medical journal mBio showed that taking just one course of antibiotics for a week can cause dysbiosis by seriously altering the gut microbiome. These effects that can last up to a year. The study found that antibiotics such as clindamycin and ciprofloxacin kill off much of your gut bacteria, including the bacteria whose job it is to produce butyrate. Butyrate is an important fatty acid required or lowering oxidative stress and inflammation in the intestines. Inflammation of the gut lining is often linked to dysbiosis, especially overgrowth of candida yeast. The number of these bacteria were still significantly lower 12 months after taking the antibiotic.

Other studies have found that antibiotics not only alter the composition of gut bacteria, but also their gene expression, protein activity and overall metabolic function. The rate at which these changes occur is much faster than the bacteria can be replaced after the course of antibiotics. Worse, the damage done can result in the bacteria becoming like those observed in people with serious diseases.

Two studies on mice have found that the reduced numbers of gut microbiota in the small and large intestine is linked to the establishment of a chronic infection with C. difficile. Clostridium difficile is a bacterial infection of colon often caused by dysbiosis, and is a common cause of antibiotic-induced diarrhea.

How To Recover From A Cold Naturally

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to treat the common cold right from your own kitchen. It all starts with boosting your immune system.

  • Probiotics
    Probiotics are the most efficient and effective means of maintaining the health of the gut, which is where 70 percent of our immune system resides. Taking probiotics is especially important after a course of (necessary) antibiotics, as they will help to restore the healthy bacteria that have been killed off.
  • Garlic
    Garlic is a powerful medicinal herb that’s been shown to boost immunity by speeding up the body’s ability to produce natural killer cells. Garlic is also a potent antifungal, helping to ward off opportunistic pathogens such as Candida yeast. Cook garlic for less than five minutes to retain its therapeutic properties and add to food. Alternatively, you can eat raw garlic cloves by crushing them and mixing them with water. It’s best to avoid raw garlic on an empty stomach, and you can also take it with a tablespoon of coconut oil to cut down on any stomach burn.
  • Echinacea
    This amazing herb has been used for centuries to stimulate the immune system and restore the body’s defenses. Can be taken as a tea, tincture or in capsule form.
  • Andrographis
    Known for its ability to both prevent AND treat the common cold, andrographis is a herb that should be kept in every medicine cabinet. Double-blind studies of andrographis have shown that it relieves symptoms of earache, sore throat and nasal problems faster than most common cold and flu medications.
  • Vitamin C
    Vitamin C is required for a vast array of bodily functions, especially keeping the immune system in good order. The trick to taking it is little and often – not in large single doses, as the excess will simply be flushed out.

Antibiotics Won’t Cure Your Cold – So Go Natural

When you feel a cold coming on, don’t reach for antibiotics. Remember, antibiotics kill bacteria – and a cold is a virus. This means that not only are antibiotics totally ineffective for treating your cold, they’re going to do more harm than good by killing off the GOOD bacteria you need to recover from the cold! This leaves your body vulnerable to pathogenic bacteria and yeasts such as Candida, allowing them to take advantage of your weakened immune system and flourish in the gut.

Instead, look to boost your immune system naturally with probiotics or immune-stimulating herbs. You’ll be supporting your gut bacteria and giving your body a helping hand in overcoming those nasty pathogens – which means fewer colds!

If your doctor does prescribe antibiotics, ask him or her to explain why – and whether they’re necessary or not.

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