The odds that you've had one of those nasty winter or spring colds are pretty high. These are the colds that seem to drag on forever gradually turning into an upper respiratory infection. We feel awful, lack energy and usually as a last resort find ourselves in room filled with other people coughing and spluttering, waiting to see the doctor. Unfortunately, the doctor's usual response will be to put you on a course of antibiotics.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against the proper use of antibiotics. They have the potential to be lifesavers when used properly, but they are not a cure-all. Antibiotics are usually used to treat infections caused by bacteria, such as tuberculosis, salmonella, and some forms of meningitis. However, they do not work against other organisms such as viruses or certain fungi. It's important to bear this in mind if you think you have some sort of infection, because viruses usually cause many common illnesses, particularly of the upper respiratory tract such as the common cold and sore throats.

A virus is a microscopic organism that lives as a parasite in plants, animals, and bacteria and consists of a nucleic acid core within a protein sheath. Most people who have a head cold, runny nose, cough, muscle ache, sore throat and even a fever have a virus. Viruses usually cause illness for 7-14 days and the symptoms can be treated with non-prescription drugs like herbal decongestants, cold formulas and cough syrups. Antibiotics do not work against viruses, only against bacteria.

Bacteria are single-celled, often parasitic microorganisms without a distinct nuclei or organized cell structure. There are good and bad bacteria. Many types of bacteria do not cause illness and live harmlessly on, and in, the human body. The bad bacteria cause serious illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis, dysentery and blood poisoning.
These illnesses can be life threatening and can best be treated with antibiotics. If these bacteria become resistant, then it becomes very difficult, even impossible to treat them. Overuse of antibiotics can lead to bacteria becoming resistant to them so it's important to only take them when absolutely necessary.

HOW DO ANTIBIOTICS WORK?

The very first antibiotic, penicillin along with a family of related antibiotics (such as ampicillin, amoxicllin and benzylpenicillin) is still widely used to treat many common infections. Our healthy, strong immune systems, with their antibodies and special white blood cells, can usually kill harmful bacteria before they multiply enough to cause symptoms. And even when symptoms do occur, the body can often fight off the infection. Sometimes if the immune system is not strong it becomes overwhelmed by a bacterial infection and needs help to get rid of it. This is where antibiotics come in. Some antibiotics, such as the penicillin's, are 'bactericidal', meaning that they work by killing bacteria. They do this by interfering with the formation of the cell walls or cell contents of the bacteria. Other antibiotics are 'bacteriostatic', meaning that they work by stopping bacteria multiplying.

Unfortunately, the antibiotics do not differentiate between our good bacteria, especially in the gut, and destroy them all! This damage to the destruction of the "gut flora" can have very serious consequences. These beneficial bacteria perform crucial tasks, from boosting our immune system, aiding digestion, warding off allergies to assisting in the elimination of harmful toxins. These friendly bacteria include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidus and Bulgaricus, supplements for which can be found in any health food store's refrigerated section. They protect us against pathogens such as Salmonella, yeast, cholera, and the bad E. coli. Once gone, these friendly bacteria are replaced by hostile bacteria such as Pseudomonas, Clostridium, and Klebsiella, and by Candida yeast, a powerful member of the fungi family.

SIDE EFFECTS OF ANTIBIOTICS

The most common side effects with antibiotic drugs are diarrhea, feeling sick and being sick. Fungal infections of the mouth, digestive tract and vagina can also occur with antibiotics because they destroy the protective 'good' bacteria in the body (which help prevent overgrowth of any one organism), as well as the 'bad' ones, responsible for the infection being treated.

Rare, but more serious side effects, include the formation of kidney stones, abnormal blood clotting, increased sensitivity to the sun, blood disorders, and deafness.

Sometimes, particularly in older people, antibiotic treatment can cause a type of colitis (inflamed bowel) leading to severe diarrhea. Penicillin's, cephalosporin's and erythromycin can all cause this problem but it is most common with clindamycin, an antibiotic usually reserved for serious infections. If you develop diarrhea while taking an antibiotic, immediately contact your doctor.

Some people are allergic to antibiotics, particularly penicillin, and can develop side effects such as a rash, swelling of the face and tongue, and difficulty breathing. Always tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic; sometimes the reaction can be serious or even fatal. This is called an anaphylactic reaction. You should use an antibiotic with care if you have reduced liver or kidney function. It goes without saying if you are pregnant or breastfeeding tell your doctor before taking any prescription drugs including antibiotics.

HOW TO USE AN ANTIBIOTIC IF YOU HAVE TO TAKE THEM

Antibiotics are usually taken orally but also given by injection or applied to the affected part of the body. The drugs begin to tackle most infections within a few hours. It is vital to take the whole course of treatment to prevent recurrence of the infection. Sometimes bacteria become 'resistant' to an antibiotic you have been taking, meaning the drug will no longer work. Resistance tends to occur when the bacterial infection responsible for the symptoms is not completely cured, even if the symptoms have cleared up. Some of the residual bacteria, having been exposed to, but not killed by, the antibiotic are more likely to grow into an infection that can survive that particular antibiotic. This explains why finishing the course of antibiotics, even if you feel better, is important.

Certain antibiotics should not be taken with certain foods and drinks. Some antibiotics are best taken when there is no food in your stomach, usually an hour before meals or two hours after - make sure you follow the instructions on the dispensing label. Do not drink alcohol if you are taking metronidazole. Do not take tetracyclines with dairy products, as these can reduce the absorption of this type of antibiotic.

There are a number of important interactions between antibiotics and other medicines so it's important to tell which your doctor or pharmacist about any other medicines you are taking.

RESTORING BENEFICIAL BACTERIA

If for some reason you have had to go on a course of antibiotics, try to boost your natural immune system and follow this recovery plan:

- Stay away from sugar or artificial sweeteners. Use Stevia or Lo-Han instead.

- No mushrooms or cheese. No yeasty foods, like bread, rolls or beer.

- Eliminate fruits and fruit juices (except for tart apples).

- Cut down on grains. After two weeks introduce gluten-free whole grains like Auinoa, corn or millet.

- Don't drink coffee, tea, herb tea or coffee substitutes as they often harbor molds.

- Avoid supermarket salad dressings, vinegar, soy or Worcestershire sauce and horseradish.

- Drink anti-fungal teas like paud'arco, angelica root, bergamot, hyssop, chamomile and alfalfa.

- Eat unsweetened, plain yogurt or kefir that contain lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidus and bulgaricus.

- Use olive oil to cook with as a dressing on salads and vegetables.

- Drink organic, green vegetable juices.

- Use raw almond butter.

- Cook with garlic. It contains allicin, a natural anti-fungal chemical.

- Take grape seed extract in water last thing at night.

- Take an antioxidant supplement that includes vitamins E, A, and C (among others) zinc and selenium

For this dietary plan to be affective it should be continued for at least 4 to 6 weeks, however before beginning any dietary program always check with you doctor first. When coming off the plan you can try eating foods you have cut out, one at a time to see how they make you feel. If you get gas or bloating stop taking the food for another few weeks. Following this plan for the recommended amount of time will help boost your immune system and help you to stay healthy.

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