In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released details regarding a 70-year-old Nevada woman who died after contracting a strain of bacteria, or superbug, that resisted all known antibiotics.
Concern over these kinds of cases is not new. The health care community has recognized for some time that the widespread use of antibiotics can lead to resistant bacteria. Like all organisms, bacteria evolve to adapt to its environment. In an environment that includes the frequent use of antibiotics, resistant bacteria could become more common.
Historically, antibiotics have been used rather indiscriminately. Because viral infections can have similar symptoms to bacterial infections, it was not uncommon for patients to be prescribed antibiotics even though they have no effect on viruses. Antibiotics are even used on some of the animals we eat.
National University’s Assistant Dean for Acupunture and Oriental Medicine programs Zhanxiang Wang, MD (China), PhD, LAc, teaches his students about cases in which antibiotics failed to help stop an infection. In one case, a dentist faced amputation when antibiotics had no effect on a cut on his finger. However, when prescribed an oral 10 herb formula by an oriental medicine physician, the dentist healed completely.
“A lot of research shows herbal treatment can help overcome this resistance,” Dr. Wang said.
Herbs for some injuries can work on multiple levels by killing the bacteria, healing the wound and relieving pain. Acupuncture can also help improve the body’s immune system, relieve stress and better other functions.
Dr. Wang advises using antibiotics properly. In addition to killing the bad bacteria, antibiotics can kill healthy bacteria that help with digestion and the immune system. As a result, more infections could develop requiring the use of even more medications.
Like oriental medicine doctors, naturopathic doctors also approach infections differently.
Louise Edwards, ND, LAc, a lecturer at NUHS explains, “Naturopathic doctors recognize the self healing ability of the body. We treat diseases and infections according to the laws of nature and with natural means. We know that when we create the conditions for health, we can bank on a return to health.”
Naturopathic doctors try to uncover the underlying causes of the infection by treating the individual and not just the disease or symptoms. There could be several factors including diet, mental state, environment and other habits that could make a person more vulnerable to infection. NDs also try to prevent new infections by making sure the immune system is working correctly. This could mean giving the patient herbs and other nutrients, as well.
Antibiotics are useful at appropriate times, however for many bacterial infections there are alternative treatments. Dr. Edwards said she would start with the fundamentals such as hydration, rest and avoiding sugar that can feed the bacteria. In addition she might recommend herbal and nutritional therapies to support the engaged organs, such as the lungs, and the immune system. There are even some herbs that will kill certain kinds of bacteria.
While the need for antibiotics is still necessary today, alternative medicine treatments can help make its use less widespread and also prevent antibiotic resistant bacteria.
“The way we treat patients can have lasting effects, not only for the patients but for society at large,” Dr. Edwards said. “At NUHS, our students learn the importance of treating the individual and giving them the most appropriate and effective care possible.”