Antimicrobial resistance has followed on the heels of drug development since the very beginning –
in fact, since before penicillin was ever released to the general public. Factors such as antibiotic overuse on humans and animals, incomplete medication cycles, and greater ease of pathogen concentration and transmission in our crowded, global lives have accelerated the evolution of microbial resistance. In the last decade, there has been an effort to slow it down, by pointing out needless medical prescribing patterns, layering or combining antibiotics to improve their lethality, and segregating the use of next-generation antibiotics as a “last resort.” Nevertheless, global spread of staph, malaria, and tuberculosis strains that are, in some cases, resistant to almost every pharmaceutical antimicrobial continues. Beyond this, global transmission of viral infections presents a difficult challenge as well.
The WHO and countries around the world are establishing guidelines for antibiotic use, and research to develop new drugs continues. But we may have to stop thinking of antibiotics as invincible weapons in a microbial war, and more like pieces of the co-evolutionary relationship we have with microbes: […]
Mucosa, host defense, and the role of stress
In our quest to combat disease, modern medicine has developed an array of tools: from antibiotics and other antimicrobials, pharmaceuticals can provide a strong push-back against infection when necessary. Conversely, in cases where the immune system turns its fire against our own bodies (conditions collectively known as “autoimmunity”, for example rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or certain inflammatory bowel diseases), we see the use of steroids, anti-inflammatories, and immunosuppressants. And while in either case these modern interventions can be life-saving, both circumvent our immune systems: antimicrobials purport to take over the job of fighting pathogens, while steroids and immunosuppressive drugs just turn the immune system off.
But our immunity is a sophisticated, subtle learning system that works best when it is fully engaged. In fact, we’re starting to discover that some of the dysregulation in immune function (hypersensitivities, asthma and allergies, for example) might be linked to an overly sheltered, microbe-free environment:
without exposure, without challenge, the immune system fails to learn the language needed to operate effectively in a world full of both microbes and allergens.
To herbalists, the use of drugs that fight infection or suppress the immune response as a first-line intervention seems akin to a parenting philosophy that either does a child’s work for her, or tells the child to be quiet and go to her room. Neither, in the long run, produces healthy, well-adjusted adults.
We strive instead to support our immune system’s own functional processes, much […]
One of the big lessons I learned from studying medicinal plants is that, when a health concern isn’t an immediate emergency, it is better to focus on supporting the living human than trying to control one piece or another of the physiology.
So, for example, we use gentle infusions made with herbs like catnip and elderflower for children’s seasonal challenges instead of drugs that might reduce fever or suppress the secretion of mucus. It is often the case that over-the-counter and prescription medications, useful as they are, come at our bodies using a drug-like mentality: find the most obvious problem, and hit back at it hard. I can’t argue that this approach has been incredibly successful in a range of situations, notably acute infection, life-threatening autoimmune inflammation, shock, and acute cardiovascular events – but that doesn’t, by extension, mean that this drug-like mentality is the only approach, or that it should be the first approach in any given situation. In many cases, the herbalist’s approach of support over control makes a lot of sense.
Nowhere is this perhaps more clear than in the way we address occasional heartburn. There are a few options to choose from: regular antacids like Tums or bicarbonate, digestive bitters, H2 receptor blockers like Zantac, and proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec, to name just a few. The proton pump inhibitors are by far the most prescribed type of heartburn and acid reflux medication: in fact, these are the fourth top-selling prescription in the United States, with over 15 million monthly prescriptions. By some estimates, over 20% of the population is taking a […]
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita, also known as Matricaria chamomilla or Chamomilla recutita) is one of the best-known medicinal herbs in the world. Ivan Salamon, from the University of Presov in Slovakia, also calls it “one of the most well-documented,” and points to its use in the official dispensaries of over 26 countries. Dr. Salamon has spent much of his research career on this beautiful and delicate plant, documenting changes in its volatile oil profile in different growing environments, analyzing chamomile crops grown in the open in Slovakia for contamination (and found them to contain very low levels of heavy metals, pesticide and radioactivity residue), even helping to develop a specialized industrial-scale harvester for the flowers. In his review of the medicinal properties of chamomile, he notes its consistent popularity and effectiveness.
We think of chamomile flowers (the most active medicinal part) as […]