Interesting Information: September 24, 2014
A Horror Story
I can tell this story now that my niece (and namesake) has delivered her beautiful second son and is home safely.
To tell this story before this event would have scared my niece to death. Though she had chosen to use a midwife and to have her son in a birthing center, the birth still took place in a hospital. And hospitals are not places one wants to be in these days.
Heather Ann (Woodward) Nichols, 29, grew up in Owls Head and Rockland. She met husband Matt in Portland, and they married int he spring of 2011. Heather went to one of our best state hospitals to have her first baby in early August.
The baby’s room was all ready, the couple was so excited about the birth of their first child, and the birth apparently went well. Heather had an episiotomy during the birth process. Heather went home with her daughter, Ruby Ann, and in a matter of hours, starting experiencing a lot of pain. She went back to the hospital and died a few days later. She had picked up a flesh-eating bacteria through the episiotomy–A Streptococcus, or necrotizing fasciitis. These bacterias LIKE living in hospitals.
NPR’s Diane Rehm has had many programs on the overuse of antibiotics over the many years I’ve listened to her radio show. She had another one last week (September 2013). But, the herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner says that it’s way too late now to try to cut back on the heavy use of antibiotics–most of which are used on the animals in our food supply–to promote growth in overcrowded conditions. The barn door is already open, and we can’t go back. Worse, there are no magic drugs in the pipeline that can control the super pathogens that we now face.
Here’s a quote from Buhner’s HERBAL ANTIBIOTICS (13-14):
The thing that so many people missed, including my ancestors, is that all life on Earth is highly intelligent and very, very adaptable. Bacteria are the oldest forms of life on this planet and they have learned very, very well how to respond to threats to their well-being. Among those threats are the thousands if not millions of antibacterial substances that have existed as long as life itself.
One of the crucial understandings that those early researchers ignored, though tremendously obvious now (only hubris could have hidden it so long), is that the world is filled with antibacterial substances, most produced by other bacteria, as well as fungi and plants. Bacteria, to survive, learned how to respond to those substances a long time ago. Or as Steven Projan of Wyeth Research puts it, bacteria “are the oldest of living organisms and thus have been the subject to three billion years of evolution in harsh environments and therefore have been selected to withstand chemical assault.”
What makes the problem even more egregious is that most of the antibiotics originally developed by human beings came from fungi, fungi that bacteria had encountered a very long time ago. Given those circumstances, of course there were going to be problems with our antibiotics. Perhaps, perhaps, if our antibiotic use had been restrained, the problems would have been minor. But it hasn’t been; the amount of pure antibiotics being dumped into the environment is unprecedented in evolutionary history. And that has had tremendous impacts on the bacterial communities of Earth, and the bacteria have set about solving the problem they face very methodically. Just like us, they want to survive, and just like us, they are very adaptable. In fact, they are much more adaptable than we ever will be.
What does the overuse of antibiotics look like? Buhner quantifies the overuse in this way (7):
In 1942 the world’s entire supply of penicillin was a mere 32 liters (its weight? about 64 pounds). By 1949, 156,000 pounds a year of penicillin and a new antibiotic, streptomycin (isolated from common soil fungi) were being produced. By 1999–in the United States alone–this figure had grown to an incredible 40 million pounds a year of scores of antibiotics for people, livestock, research, and agricultural plants. Ten years later some 60 million pounds per year of antibiotics were being used in the United States and scores of millions of pounds more by other countries around the world. Nearly 30 million pounds were being used in the United States solely on animals raised for human consumption. And those figures? That is per year. Year in, year out.
Buhner also notes that most of these antibiotics pass through animals and are excreted into the various waste stream systems where THEY NEVER GO AWAY. And, “hospital-acquired resistant infections, by conservative estimates, are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. And that doesn’t even include the death toll from infectious diseases in general, the same infectious diseases that were going to be eradicated by the year 2000 (11).
Buhner argues in HERBAL ANTIBIOTICS that our only solution is to return to plant-based medicinal strategies. This book is daunting in its scope. I feel like I did when I first started reading NOURISHING TRADITIONS with all its information and new ways of handling food. But, by now I have waded deeply into traditional food ways and into sourcing local foods and into thinking about and researching alternative medical strategies. So, I will begin with baby steps with finding ways to use herbal antibiotics–remembering that all the most powerful medicines are located in plants, which themselves organize through chemicals. That would lead to Buhner’s THE LOST LANGUAGE OF PLANTS, which was an eye-opener for me and which I will write about in a separate post.
And, what can we do about this very serious problem of antibiotic resistant diseases–which are part and parcel of ALL the superbugs we have created with our greedy and stupid practices that have ignored the powerful interconnectedness of nature?
Stay out of hospitals if at all possible. I, for instance, am done with getting blood tests unless I need one because I’m sick.
If you are pregnant, watch the excellent documentary THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN. You will be shocked to discover how much of pregnancy and birth in the United States has been colonized by practices located in making money, rather than in practices grounded in science. And, yes, I will write a separate posting on this documentary. For the moment, note that something like 85 percent of births across the rest of the world are overseen by midwives–and the survival rates are much higher than those in the US. Note, too, that most OB/GYNs have NEVER SEEN a natural live birth. These doctors are highly trained surgeons, and we are so lucky to have them if trouble develops, but have them attend normal births is a super, and expensive, overkill. So, do some research on your own. Learn for yourself what the issues are. And make your birth choices not out of fear, but out of knowledge–like my niece recently did.