New Food attended the Pukka Herb event ‘Before we really need antibiotics, what are the healthy alternatives?’ to discover how food can help secure the future of antibiotics.
The prescription of antibiotics has become a hot topic in the world of food and health. Prescribed for minor infections such as sore throats, ear infections and UTIs, research suggests that we will see a future of resistance to otherwise preventable illnesses due to excessive and unnecessary use of antibiotics.
It is predicted that by 2050, 10 million people will die due to resistance. In fact, taking one course of antibiotics can see a 30 percent reduction in resilience after just three months.
New Food recently attended a conference led by Pukka Herbs, which examined the future of antibiotics and pushed for a sea change to our over-prescribing culture.
Experts at the event suggested that relationships between patients and GPs is one such reason why we see such excessive use of antibiotics. For example, concerned and ill-informed parents who want a quick-fix for their child’s condition, or medical negligence from GPs as overrun and busy clinics mean taking the time to describe alternative treatment is just not feasible. That being said, it was also suggested that GPs are not medically trained in herbal medicine or nutrition, so offering these alternatives may be an issue of simply not knowing them.
Of course, there is also the on-going debate of antibiotics given to animals in excess, which experts say is also a contributing factor towards human resistance.
The Pukka event, held at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, looked to provoke this discussion and aimed to bring together industry professionals to provide evidence of alternative remedies and their success rates.
Key speakers from Pukka, universities, and GP clinics from across the UK, spoke about ongoing research as well as current and future strategies to regulate the world of natural remedies. Foods such as thyme, mushroom, garlic, sage, zinc, echinacea, elderberry and pelargonium are just a few examples of home remedies with independent evidence studies of benefits against infections and illnesses.
Euan MacLennan, Pukka Herbal Director, speaking at the event, explained that a survey was carried out to examine public knowledge of antibiotics. It revealed that 70 percent of participants believed antibiotics can cure cold and flu, and 52 percent believed they can kill viruses, which is simply not the case. Further to this, of the same participants, 80 percent were aware of the fact that the use of antibiotics results in reduction of resistance, yet were still happy to use antibiotics for these common illnesses.
The conference speakers emphasised a need for education as paramount to the future of antibiotics, and it really is not “a pill for every ill.”
The role of a healthy diet is considered key to reducing the risk of illness, and therefore, there is a perceived ‘need’ for antibiotics. Gut microbiota, the collective community of genomes from microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract, is influenced massively by dietary intake. Short chain fatty acids are products of carbohydrate fermentation and can prevent interaction between the host and the microbiota.
Polyphenols, which are micronutrients we receive through certain plant-based foods, such as herbs and spices, can modulate the microbiota and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, and inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria. In turn, this can regulate the immune system and prevent these cases of minor infections and illnesses from ever occurring.
However, controlling your diet is not the only thing to worry about. With products that already exist, regulation may confuse the consumer even further. Although initiatives, such as the THR scheme, exist to prove the regulation of products in this industry through labelling, many consumers do not look for certificates or marks on products. Instead, they often go for the cheapest option, which may be the unapproved or deregulated product.
Further to this, in an industry where plant-names and herbal remedies are often used in scientific or foreign forms, labels can be simply ignored or overlooked.
An example is the fang ji case study. Stephania tetrandra (“hang fang ji”) and Aristolochia fangchi (“guang fang ji”) are two different plant species used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Both are commonly called “fang ji” and Stephania tetrandra has been mistakenly substituted with the nephrotoxic A. fangchi as they have morphological similarities. A. fangchi contains aristolochic acid, a carcinogen that causes urothelial carcinoma as well as aristolochic acid nephropathy (AAN) and has led to hundreds of cases of end-stage renal disease.
Although it is almost impossible to prevent illness from occurring, steps to reduce the risks can be taken, which Pukka’s portfolio of evidence is looking to display. Controlling diet using supplement products or simply asking questions about illness and alternative treatments are ways in which we can save antibiotics for when we really need them.