Antibiotic Resistance is Becoming a Major Threat to Humanity
As humans, we face a number of threats from the environment, but none may loom larger than the one posed by antibiotic resistance. Through our over prescription, poor regulation, agricultural abuse, and weak supply chains, a hyper-resistant bacteria is just around the corner. And unless we do something to change the tide, we may be looking at a pandemic of mass proportion.
Human presence on earth is a blip on the timeline compared to bacteria. And bacteria are pervasive; on our clothes, in our bodies, in dirt, and on the surface of pretty much everything – in fact, all of the bacteria on Earth, despite its microscopic size, would outweigh us 100 million times.
In the 3.5 billion years bacteria have lived on Earth, it has survived interminable challenges to its existence, which has only given it time to continuously adapt and outlast every other lifeform. Not to mention the fact that bacteria can reproduce 500,000 times faster than we can, with certain strains giving rise to a billion offspring within several hours.
Now that we’ve made it our mission to maintain sterile environments and avoid illness, we’ve been combating bacteria with chemicals and antibiotics every chance we get. Antimicrobials are used in everything from hand soap, to skin wipes, to yoga mats and kitchen towels, creating what can only be described as a Darwinian battleground, where only the strongest bacteria survive.
The Overuse of Antibiotics
Antibiotics were discovered during WWII, and prior to it’s discovery thousands of soldiers died from infection. When it became evident that antibiotics could easily cure bacterial disease, they became an instant panacea. But they weren’t used with a calculated strategy. Instead they were given as prophylactics, starting a dangerous trend of over-prescription.
Soon, the miracle drug known as penicillin was being prescribed by every doctor, whether there were only marginal chances an illness was caused by bacteria or not. And today that practice continues as doctors, who treat individuals, not society at large, would rather take the risk of over prescribing than having a patient get ill. It’s estimated that a third of all antibiotics are prescribed inappropriately, either when no bacterial infection is present, or the wrong antibiotic is recommended.
In 1945, the founder of penicillin, Alexander Fleming, warned the New York Times that doctors over prescribing the drug posed a serious threat to its efficacy. Though it wasn’t until the 70s that the FDA realized the potential fallout of antibiotic resistance.
By this point antibiotics were being used not just for humans, but almost universally for livestock as well. Farmers found they could raise animals in smaller, dirtier conditions if they staved off illness by incorporating antibiotics into their diet. And for some reason, still unknown to this day, a diet supplemented with antibiotics allows animals to grow slightly faster, producing more meat and subsequently more profit.
Today approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are given to livestock, with the majority administered to healthy animals. This has created a vicious cycle in which farmers rely on the use of antibiotics to earn thin profit margins that would be eliminated if laws were enacted to restrict their use. Meanwhile, we’re eating the meat of these animals pumped with antibiotics, causing unknown health effects to us, while simultaneously promoting the growth of resistant bacterial strains.
Watch a trailer for the documentary, Resistance:
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Antibiotic Resistance Causes: A Lack of Regulation
According to a 2016 World Economic Forum study, around 700,000 people die annually from antimicrobial resistance. That death toll will reach a total of 10 million by the year 2050.
So, why has the use of antibiotics been unregulated for so long? One answer is the rise in confinement agriculture, which put small farmers out of business and corporate agriculture at the forefront of meat production.
By the time the FDA realized the impending threat posed by antibiotic resistance and abuse, its widespread use was already ingrained in farming practices. The FDA proposed a ban for the use of antibiotics in animal feed by 1973, though it never came to fruition. Since then, the drug’s use has continually increased. The FDA merely provided recommendations to farmers to curtail the use of antibiotics, rather than getting legislation passed to mandate it.
So, who is preventing such legislation from being passed? Lobbyists from many industries, including big ag, pharmaceutical companies, and fast food chains relying on large quantities of cheap meat.
Today, there are nine billion animals raised for meat in the U.S. annually, with 90 percent of those animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. These CAFOs, that contribute to a number of public health problems, are often owned by large corporations that pack as many animals into their enclosures as possible, barely maintaining their health with antibiotics.
Since the 1980s, mega-farms have overtaken markets, putting 85 percent of small farmers out of business. They began producing more meat at a faster rate, driving the market price of an animal down, sometimes by more than half. Now that this has become common practice, farmers fear they can’t afford to take a step back and revert to pre-antibiotic farming practices.
Misuse, Overuse and Refuse
The U.S. healthcare system is flawed, causing many to resort to desperate tactics when in need of medicine. While antibiotics aren’t necessarily expensive compared to other drugs, a trip to the doctor can cost the uninsured hundreds of dollars. To avoid this, people take matters into their own hands to save a buck, contributing to a greater problem and also putting them in a dangerous position.
On the extreme end, people have begun using over-the-counter animal antibiotics from pet stores to treat bacterial issues ranging from infections from wisdom teeth extraction to bronchitis. On the less extreme end, people often save unfinished antibiotics for future illness.
There’s debate as to whether patients should finish a prescription or stop once they start feeling better, but typically the dosage and type of antibiotic are tailored to a specific infection. There are also different strengths of antibiotics that have slowly become ineffective as bacteria have grown resistant. And not finishing a prescription can leave bacteria in your body that can grow stronger.
But even if we take proper dosages and get prescriptions from a doctor, there’s still the problem of waste and antibiotics seeping into the environment from a multitude of sources. Pharmaceutical pollution creates a fecund environment for antimicrobial resistance, and recent events have only perpetuated this.
A few years ago, there was an explosion at a Chinese factory that produced antibiotic precursors. This undoubtedly lead to more pollution, but it also lead to a major gap in the global antibiotic supply chain that relied on a tenuous supply of the drugs. This shortage, particularly of one antibiotic that prevents the spread of syphilis from mother to child, can exacerbate antimicrobial resistance while allowing the spread of disease.
Now that bacteria are evolving to quickly become drug resistant, pharmaceutical companies and their investors have no incentive to finance research into new antibiotics that could become useless within five years. When it costs a billion dollars to bring a new drug to market, there’s no chance our capitalist model will produce them at a loss.
What can we do before it’s too late? Awareness and pressure on the government to pass legislation limiting antibiotic use is key. While it seems hopeful at best, raising awareness can lead to a greater number of people observing best practices that limit resistance.
Pressuring governments, organizations, and private companies to enact policies can lead to change too. Encouraging doctors to prescribe fewer antibiotics, while consuming fewer ourselves, especially those from alternative sources, can slow the process of resistance.
Currently, one company, CARB-X, is working to speed up the development of new drugs that most big pharmaceutical companies won’t consider. The company’s funding is a mix of private and public partners working to find solutions to antimicrobial resistance.
In the E.U., the use of antibiotics in agriculture has been banned, and though there has been a slight decrease in animal growth and a slight increase in animal mortality, overall meat production is higher than when antibiotics were used.
If they can do it, so can the U.S. And though it may seem like something beyond individual control, it can be possible to collectively enact change by starting at the individual level.
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The Actual Truth About Fluoride
Fluoride is added to 70% of America’s drinking water, in what has long been a controversial practice of involuntary mass-medication. The CDC lists fluoridation as one of the top 10 most important public health measures of the 20th century. But a group of non-profit organizations is now fighting the EPA on this practice, citing a mountain of evidence that shows little benefit, and massive risks.
Not only has the ingestion of fluoride been linked to a variety of health concerns, but research increasingly shows that it doesn’t even improve our teeth. While applying fluoride directly to the tooth’s enamel can perhaps prevent tooth decay, it has been proven in dozens of peer-reviewed studies that swallowing the substance has no health benefit whatsoever.
So why exactly do we fluoridate our water?
The origin of the practice is downright bizarre: In 1901, dentist Frederick McKay began a 30-year study of what was known as “The Colorado Brown Stain.” Residents of Colorado Springs showed a unique disfiguration of their teeth: brown, mottled pits appeared in this population with alarming consistency. Yet, as McKay would soon discover, there was a beneficial trade-off for this unsightly condition: Those afflicted by the “Brown Stain” showed a complete lack of tooth decay and cavities.
After an analysis of the local water supplies, McKay found an unusually high amount of fluoride, which he credited for both the lack of decay and the “Brown Stain.” Today, the “Brown Stain” is known as dental fluorosis, and mild cases (which only produce white streaks) are present in 58% of adolescents. This mild discoloration has been a known side effect of fluoridation since the beginning, but the benefit of cavity and decay reduction was thought to outweigh the risk.
In the last few decades, however, an abundance of medical research has emerged that shows much more profound potential dangers, leading to an ongoing legal battle to end this practice. Fluoride is essentially toxic to the human body, although in small doses, no acute effects are perceived. While our kidneys are able to filter out 50-60% of the fluoride we consume, the rest is stored in the body and has been observed to build up over time in certain areas.
One organ that is particularly susceptible to fluoride build-up is the pineal gland — the part of our brain responsible for regulating sleep and reproductive hormones. Sometimes known as “the third eye,” this small gland has been linked to metaphysical abilities by many cultures throughout history. Philosopher and scientist René Descartes believed the pineal gland to be the “principal seat of the soul.”
It is estimated that 40% of Americans have significant amounts of fluoride build-up in this gland by age 17. By old age, the pineal gland contains about the same amount of fluoride as a tooth. While the role of the pineal gland in facilitating psychic abilities and increased intuition is still up for debate, the fact that fluoride consumption impacts the gland’s ability to function is absolutely proven.
And that’s not the only part of the brain that suffers: over 30 independent studies have linked fluoride to a reduction in childhood IQ: A 2018 study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine found that, for every increase of 1 milligram per liter of fluoride in a pregnant women’s urine, their offspring averaged 2.4 points lower IQ scores at age 1-3 years old. This follows a 2017 study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showing in utero fluoride levels associated with lower IQ in 6-12 year-olds.
Animal studies have shown other neurological effects, including impaired memory, reduced ability to learn, and even mild forms of brain damage. With potential health risks like that, you would think that the evidence of fluoride’s benefits must be pretty solid. …..well, think again.
There is no solid proof that drinking fluoride actually improves dental health.
In a 1989 study, data collected by the National Institute of Dental Research found that children who live in areas where the water supplies are fluoridated have tooth decay rates nearly identical with those who live in non-fluoridated areas. While tooth decay has declined in the US since fluoridation was introduced, countries which do not add fluoride to their water have seen the same rate of decline in tooth decay. This data from the World Health Organization implies that factors other than fluoridated water are contributing to the overall improvement of dental health worldwide.
In fact, there has never been a controlled, randomized trial to demonstrate the effectiveness or safety of fluoridation, despite over 60 years of consumption in public water supplies. A 2009 study, funded by the NIH, was surprisingly the first to look at individual exposure to fluoride (as opposed to simply living in a fluoridated community). They found no correlation whatsoever between fluoride ingestion and tooth decay.
Considering the wealth of scientific evidence now available, the involuntary mass-consumption of fluoride seems indefensible. Yet the EPA has dismissed citizen petitions to remove the substance, and is now trying to dismiss a lawsuit which would ban the use of fluoride under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Carbon filtration devices, like those made by Pur or Brita, will not remove fluoride from water. Even expensive reverse-osmosis filters can not remove 100% of the substance, although they can be up to 90% effective. Even if you have your own well or collect rainwater to drink, fluoride is still practically impossible to avoid. Food and drink is often made with fluoridated water. And of course, no explicit labeling is required.
When most people hear the term fluoride, they think of happy, white, shiny teeth. But if more Americans looked at the actual truth about this practice, perhaps the involuntary medication could end.