The best part of having medical training is being able to know exactly when we need medical help. When my kids are sick, I am measuring their vitals, monitoring their symptoms, and generally watching them like a hawk. I may use some natural therapies (like herbs, supplements, hydrotherapy, acupressure, etc), but more often than not I trust that their body is doing the right thing and just try to make them comfortable. But sometimes they get really sick, and I seek out a second opinion. Unfortunately, when I take them in to see our family physician we will undoubtedly leave with a prescription for an antibiotic. I directly question the doctor “what evidence is there that this is a bacterial infection and not a viral infection?”, and every time he has no solid reasoning for the prescription, other than that he has nothing else to offer. He’s giving us a prescription as a safety net because he doesn’t know what else to do. He wants to help, but this is the only tool he has.

This makes me sad on a couple of levels. First, I feel bad for the doctor himself. In the past, a family doctor would have had an arsenal of tools to offer my sick child (herbs, hydrotherapy, nutrients, etc). But it seems that the modern day doctor’s hands are tied, and they are only comfortable suggesting pharmaceuticals. Even simple interventions with tons of scientific evidence (like vitamin C) seem to be beyond their scope. It’s disappointing to have our rich history of medicine culminate in a reductive impotence like this, but I hope that in time (thanks to consumer pressure) it will expand again to include a broader roster of treatment options (not substituting the suggested pharmaceutical, but at least bolstering it with additional immune boosting therapies). Even if our family doctor had a standard handout about at-home supportive therapies for all suspected viral infections and then suggested the antibiotic if symptoms didn’t improve in 24 hours, that would at least be more respectful of my child’s fragile ecosystem and long-term health.

The other impact of this culture of quick-to-prescribe-antibiotics is that many people who don’t truly need antibiotics are not only obliterating their own microbiome, but they are contributing to global antibiotic resistance. As a family, every time we were prescribed antibiotics they were not used and not necessary. But the only way I was able to confidently choose not to use them is because of my medical training and close monitoring of the sick child. If I was a parent without a medical background I would certainly feel more unsure and would be more likely to use the prescribed medication. And usually this happens more than once, and a child (or eventually an adult) comes to see me to help deal with the fallout of a long history with antibiotic use (digestive trouble, skin issues, mental health concerns, etc). We work together to rebuild their microbiome and reset their immune system.

Another HUGE way that we are contributing to antibiotic resistance is via our diet. Industrial meat farming requires the use of antibiotics, which we later consume on our plate. Watch this TED talk with Bruce Friedrich about his suggestions to steer away from industrialized meat. At a minimum, choosing to purchase your meat from small local farms is convenient (many have home delivery), environmentally friendly, and also healthier for you.

Global antibiotic resistance is a super scary possibility. Antibiotics are very important for us as a population, and we need to reserve them for serious cases so that they remain effective many years into the future.