As an herbalist and aromatherapist, I’m a huge fan of essential oils. And while we’ve always recommended the use of high quality, organic essential oils in our books and courses, we’ve also had a difficult time making specific recommendations on brands. That’s because the market in the US seems to be an either/or option. It’s easy to find organic essential oils and it’s easy to find high quality essential oils. But to find essential oils that are both pesticide and contaminant free AND high quality, practically impossible! Until now…
Earlier this year, our Academic Director and I traveled to Dublin for Botanica 2012, an educational conference featuring some of the world’s experts in aromatherapy. While we were there, we were able to network with other researchers, professionals, and distillers and we discovered a distilling company that provides high quality essential oils that are certified organic by the Soil Association, one of the strictest organizations in the world that verifies not only organic growing conditions, but also sustainability and ethical working conditions. Finally, essential oils we could get behind! We began a relationship with these distillers and J&M Botanicals is now able to offer some of the highest quality essential oils in the world that are 100% pure and organic! We’re thrilled to provide these oils, and even happier at the reasonable prices we’ve been able to provide. The line was officially released on Nov 2 and you can find more under the Aromatherapy tab over on the J&M Botanicals site.
70% of modern health problems are directly caused by lifestyle choices. SEVENTY percent! What would your life be like if almost 3 of every 4 illnesses, disorders or concerns that came your way … didn’t.
What troubles me the most about this statistic is that so many of us already know or at least suspect that, but we still don’t make the change. My husband and I (admittedly documentary junkies) were watching a film last night about another health crusader trying to spread the word about prevention.
Normally I avoid such films and shows and last night once again provided evidence of why… whether it’s Jamie Oliver or Joe Cross – or your or I, the response is almost always the same – a combination of 1) it doesn’t really work, 2) it’s too much trouble, or 3) I’ve already tried the natural route (or know someone that did). And I find myself both saddened and frustrated!
To take a closer look at each of these:
1) it doesn’t really work… not so! Epidemiologists, scientists, researchers, professionals, just about ANYONE that spends any time reading through medical literature can verify that yes, prevention does work! The American Cancer Society tells us that 75-80% of all cancer related deaths are directly related to environmental choices. Not genetics! The experts that devote their lives to researching how we get sick are telling us that we don’t usually have to! What would the country look like if we could prevent / save: almost 3/4 of the dollars spent on illness (medication, days lost in work or productivity, treatment, specialist visits), 3 out of 4 or even 4 out of 5 of the deaths lost to cancer, nearly 3 out of 4 of the health concerns we face – lost days from our lives that could have been better spent elsewhere – instead of sick in bed!
2) it’s too hard… I’ve been up close and personal with a struggle to beat cancer – and seen cancer win. I’ve seen children facing life threatening illnesses that emotionally tear up their parents. I’ve seen individuals of all ages in pain, struggling to enjoy their days despite a chronic health concern. *That’s* too much trouble. Cancer occurring at a rate that is quadruple (or more) what it should be is too much trouble. Diabetes, obesity and adrenal fatigue are too much trouble. Changing simple lifestyle habits – a route I’d prefer any day.
3) I’ve tried it – or my friend has – This one needs it’s own blog post really, but here’s what that usually means: I’ve tried the latest fad diet, I’ve tried the gov’t food pyramid (or revised pyramid, or circle), I’ve taken the latest cool health supplement, I’ve been taking the newest MLM product. I’ve had people tell me they need to take medicine because eating raisins didn’t cure their chronic inflammation, coconut oil didn’t cure their cancer and vinegar didn’t cure their GERD. I’ve seen people eat hot dogs while telling me bananas are bad for you, and eating cake while telling me yogurt is bad for you. I’m not at all advocating the trendy, pseudo-science that passes through communities faster than the illnesses they claim to cure. I’m advocating an evidence based, scientific and rational approach to life. Make the claim back itself up with evidence – both modern scientific and time tested. When formula was introduced as the superior infant food, babies died. When margarine was introduced to replace “bad” saturated fats, heart disease and inflammatory conditions skyrocketed. Processed foods result in chronic health concerns. That’s backed by scientific in multiple languages.
So, what to do? Educate yourself! We have more resources available to us than ever before. Thanks to modern conveniences, students study wellness through our school in over a dozen countries across multiple continents. Get a book on real foods, read labels, make simple lifestyle changes. Each of these baby steps will add up – and you’ll see a difference!
Antibiotic overuse and the risk of losing antibiotics is a tough concept to understand without reviewing some basic information about bacteria and how it reacts to antibiotics. We have a misconception in our society that antibiotic use is without risks, and there is nothing wrong with taking a dose – or a series of doses – just in case. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. For this installment, we’ll take a peek into the inner workings of bacteria and see what actually happens when bacteria change.
Bacteria are single celled organisms. There are countless types of bacteria throughout our environment. Don’t get grossed out. This is actually a really good thing! Bacteria can be found in the depths of an ocean, in the intestines of animals and humans, in the frozen tundra and miles deep into the earth. They are everywhere. It has been estimated that we have more bacterial cells in our bodies than human cells. This is a good thing! It really is!
We live in a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. They help us to digest our food. They protect our skin from infection. They protect our bodies from infection. Bacteria protect us. These single celled organisms are our friends.
We’ve all heard of pathogenic bacteria with frightening abilities to cause meningitis, pneumonia, ear infections and countless other infections. (As seen in the cartoon drawing of a mean, nasty bug at the beginning of this post!) Yet, we rarely discuss the fact that the vast majority of bacteria are actually good for us. They protect us from these pathogenic bacteria. Researchers are now finding that a variety of conditions from obesity to autoimmune disorders can be linked to bacteria. The beneficial bacteria on our skin protect us from infections. The beneficial bacteria in our gut make sure that we can use the nutrients we consume. A goal of eradicating bacteria from our environment is the frightening concept because we’d quickly perish without the valuable benefits of bacteria.
As living beings, bacteria are also constantly adapting to their environment. They mutate over time and develop new traits, just like humans. And, like humans, they also have the ability to reproduce, creating bacteria with new abilities. Unlike humans, bacteria are asexual. Yet, they have a gene swapping ability that enables them to provide other bacteria with super traits. In some cases, this may mean more bacteria have the ability to resist penicillin or another antibiotic. It may mean that these bacteria have the ability to stay in a dormant state for a longer period of time. It may mean that certain bacteria have the ability to emit toxins within the body. In some cases, this has caused previously friendly bacteria to become pathogenic, thanks to the passing of new traits and abilities.
In humans, this means that a specific strain of bacteria becomes resistant to previous antibiotics and becomes more dangerous at the same time. Not only is it now more difficult to wipe out, it is more likely to be deadly in a faster time span. It means that individuals can now acquire MRSA (a specific type of resistant bacterial infection) from their communities, not just hospitals. It means that individuals are now dying from bacterial infections – something thought to be impossible decades ago. It means that surgical procedures are more dangerous than they were previously because of the potential for incurable infections and it means that today’s children are requiring stronger, second and third generation antibiotics to cure infections that were treated in our childhood with much milder drugs.
What causes this to happen? Some of it is natural. It happens just because it is going to happen. However, research has shown us that the vast majority of the danger currently taking place with certain pathogenic bacteria can be directly linked to human behavior. The overuse of antibiotics is a critical factor in this occurrence, and we have complete control over this factor.
In the next installment, we’ll look at the things that we are doing that are causing it and what it will mean to humankind if this trend continues. Stay tuned…
How it all began…
To understand the issue of microbial resistance, it is best to understand this history of antibiotics and their use. So, like anything I write, we’ll start at the beginning… In 1928, a Scottish biologist by the name of Alexander Fleming (pictured above) was conducting research in a laboratory. Having accidentally contaminated one of his bacterial cultures with a fungus, he returned to work one day to find that the fungus had destroyed all of the bacteria surrounding it in the culture. “That’s funny,” he remarked, not realizing that this funny incident would soon become legendary. Alexander Fleming had discovered the source of the first modern antibiotic, penicillin. In 1929, his work was published in medical journals and the course of medicine would be changed dramatically. Over the next two decades, researchers refined his discovery, working with the chain of fungus to isolate the active principles and make it suitable for human use. By the mid 1940s, antibiotics were ready to be used in modern medicine, sparking a revolution in medicine as it was known at the time.
Suddenly, diphtheria, typhoid, pneumonia, meningitis and other horrific diseases were curable. No longer did parents have to dread the word diphtheria from their physicians – this new miracle drug could cure it. It could cure everything! When the public discovered the drug, they rushed to purchase it, and manufacturers made sure that it was readily available. It was included in cough drops, lotions, cough remedies – over the counter medicines for just about any ailment… no prescription needed!
Alexander Fleming had a problem with this. He advised that the drug should be only made available through iv administration so that it could be regulated in a hospital. If it was made available to the public, he warned, bacterial resistance would emerge. While scoffers abounded, the first documented antibiotic resistant bacterial infection occurred only a year later. Within a decade, 59% of bacterial strains isolated from sick patients were resistant to penicillin – over half!
Not to worry though! The war on infection was now won. New antibiotics began to pour out from researchers and manufacturers. With every resistant strain was a new, stronger and more harsh antibiotic. The days of dangerous life threatening infections were something of the past. Physicians began using this new tool for everything that came along – bacterial infections, viral infections, fevers, colds, anything… just in case.
So, you may wonder… where exactly is the problem? How is this a bad thing? It’s not… it’s a great advancement of modern medicine. However, it’s an advancement we may lose very soon, if things don’t change dramatically.
As Fleming warned, resistance can occur with bacteria – quickly. Bacteria have the ability to swap genes with other bacteria and they can mutate to form resistance to attackers in their environment. What this means is that when antibiotics are used widely, bacteria will learn how to thrive in spite of it – it adapts to its environment so that it is not wiped out. This can take place in a matter of minutes, but it takes researchers decades to release new antibiotics. We take far longer to come up with new ammo than it takes bacteria to come up with new resistance abilities. When this happens, if we don’t create new antibiotics that keep up with the resistance, bacterial infections cannot be cured. Global health professionals are telling us that if things don’t change, we will be thrown back to a pre-antibiotic era of medicine, where we don’t have the ability to cure bacterial infections and lives that could have easily been saved will be lost.
Consider these facts:
- For decades, an incurable bacterial infection was unheard of… it didn’t exist. Now, 19,000 individuals die annually in the United States due to antibiotic resistant infections. (25,000 in the EU)
- In the 1990s, 20 pharmaceutical companies were researching new antibiotics. Currently, there are two.
- The World Health Organization has declared that the single greatest threat to worldwide health today is antibiotic resistance … not AIDS, not famine, not malaria… antibiotic resistance.
- New stains of resistant bacteria are being discovered frequently – many worse than the previous discovery.
- Antibiotic resistant strains can be acquired from the community, not just the hospital, which means they are spreading throughout society becoming more and more prominent.
- Roughly 440,000 new cases of drug resistant tuberculosis arise annually worldwide … resulting in approximately 150,000 deaths.
- Without reliable antibiotics, routine procedures such as surgery, chemotherapy, organ transplants and similar procedures would become dangerous and risky – if possible at all.
- Almost half (49%) of our beef in the US contains drug resistant bacteria. Our poultry also contains a significant amount of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
The problem is not isolated to any specific country; it is an issue the entire world shares and the entire world will lose the benefits of antibiotics if action is not taken. The World Health Organization assures us, “No action today = no cure tomorrow.” In this series, I’m going to cover how exactly this happens, what is causing it, how it affects each of us, what we can do about it, and what happens on a large scale when we each take action. The good news is that we do have time to act… antibiotics can be saved. But now is the time to do so… not after we’ve lost the benefit of one of the greatest advancements in modern medicine.
Antibiotic resistance is a hot topic right now. We’re finding that new superbugs exist – more dangerous than the last. And we’re finding that resistant bacteria is everywhere – including our food supply! This issue isn’t a new one… far from it. We’ve been warned for years that this is a big concern – Alexander Fleming even predicted it decades ago! We teach about responsible antibiotic use and prevention of resistance in our courses – and have since the formation of the school in 2007.
So, I’m prepping a series about resistance. Just the facts… how this happens, why it’s a concern and what we can do to protect our children and their children from entering a pre-antibiotic era soon. We also have some fabulous guest posts from Elizabeth Battle, a Clinical Master Herbalist student with Vintage Remedies on some antibiotic herbs that make great options. Interested? Stay tuned… and if you have specific questions, I’m still tweaking the posts and would love to fit those answers in for you. Just leave your thoughts or questions in the comments below.