Eastern Medicine: Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics

Two months ago, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel called for revised labels for antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, more commonly known as their brand names Cipro, Noroxin, and Levaquin. The panel wants the labels to say more about the drugs’ side effects, which can include severe nerve damage, ruptured tendons, and psychological impairment. Massachusetts families attended the FDA meeting and described how these antibiotics for non-life-threatening infections put one patient on crutches for months and another in constant joint pain and a “deep mental fog” that led him to take his own life.

This particular class of antibiotics is used to treat sinus infections, urinary-tract infections and bronchitis. All told, these drugs were prescribed more than 36 million times in 2014. Many critics say this is too much.

In addition to the possible side effects, antibiotics may not work for a variety of reasons; continued use can hurt the body’s natural ability to fight off infection, while the bacteria that commonly cause respiratory infections easily develop a resistance to antibiotics.

Antibiotics can be useful for life-threatening infections, such as staph, but the reality is that herbal medicines and other remedies are just as effective for minor and even moderate infections – and without the serious side effects. These treatments also predate penicillin, discovered in 1928, by thousands of years.

Eastern Medicine first recognized infectious diseases about 2,000 year ago, describing the illnesses that spread from the exterior of the body to the interior as wen bing or re bing (warm disease and hot disease, respectively). This flow from outside to inside follows the pattern of the flow of qi and blood. Eastern doctors recognized that these diseases could spread quickly and affect anyone, but people with low immunity were most susceptible.

As with other warm illnesses, Eastern Medicine uses cold and bitter heat-clearing herbs to treat infectious diseases. Some so-called “classic” treatment paths will relieve the body’s toxicity, while a variety of treatments paths exist for bacterial as well as viral infections. (This is another area where herbal remedies are more effective than antibiotics, which are ineffective against viruses like the ones that cause the flu and the common cold.)

The use of herbal medicine to treat infectious diseases also preserves the balance of the body’s gut flora. Bacteria in the gut extract important nutrients from the food you eat; without this bacteria, the digestive system becomes cold and damp, which makes the body more susceptible to inflammation and autoimmune conditions. Antibiotics kill the bad bacteria, but they also kill the good bacteria, which upsets the balance of gut flora. Probiotics and fermented foods such as kimchi, yogurt, or kefir can help restore this balance.