Herbal medicine, infections, ecologies etc and the crisis of antibiotic resistance
According to the Director of the WHO we may be heading to a ‘post antibiotic era’. This looming catastrophe can surely only be brought nearer by the other challenges facing our generation – climate change, vast movements of vulnerable people, international conflict, economic meltdown, austerity etc.
The crisis of anti-microbial resistance was high on the agenda 2013 G8 summit. Press releases at the time outlined David Cameron’s intention to find a new business model that would encourage pharmaceutical companies to step up their search for new anti-biotics. The phrase fiddling with firelighters while Rome burns comes to mind, although it is indeed true that the current market led research model does narrow the scope of investigation.
We need to find solutions urgently. Herbal medicine has so much to contribute and while this may not yet be understood at a policy level, we need to get on and explore, research, and discuss the possibilities.
The section Herbs and Anti-biotic resistance includes my own article arguing for greater valuing of home remedies; an article outlining how herbs can increase the efficacy of current antibiotics; and short musical videos looking at antimicrobial plant remedies. This section will be built up and added to over time and if you have an article or paper you think I should include please contact me.
I have included a section on WHO guidelines and information about good practice and appropriate use of anti-biotics because the message is still not universally clear, or indeed actioned. Also a section on breaking science. This includes exciting new advances – for example our emerging understanding of bacterial communication systems. But also insights that are shaping the paradigm shift towards a more ecological and complexity approach to germ theory. It is this shift that brings us back to the importance herbal medicine.
Herbal solutions to the crisis of anti-biotic resistance
In this article, I attempt to lay out the arguments that herbal medicine and home remedies have so much to contribute to our collective response to the potentially
calamitous scenario, a (in the words of the director of the World Health Organisation) ‘post anti-biotic era’. It is quite long but I believe there is a crucial question, why aren’t
the WHO and other policy makers queuing up to explore the potential use of herbal medicines.
Some anti-microbial herbs
A short musical tribute to some antimicrobial herbs, and illustration to the article above with help from Green Onions.
Mainly lovely pictures of people making things with elderberries, set to music.
2. General anti-microbial resistance, the science, the politics, the policy making
WHO Fact sheet on anti –microbial resistance
Includes recommendation for governments, health practitioners and individuals.
The 2014 report of surveillance of anti-biotic resistance
This WHO report, produced in collaboration with Member States and other partners, provides for the first time,
as accurate a picture as is presently possible of the magnitude of AMR and the current state of surveillance globally.
report makes a clear case that resistance to common bacteria has reached alarming levels in many parts of the world and that in
some settings, few, if any, of the available treatments options remain effective for common infections. Another important finding
of the report is that surveillance of antibacterial resistance is neither coordinated nor harmonized and there are many gaps in
information on bacteria of major public health importance.
Combatting antimicrobial resistance: time for action, Copenhagen Demark, March 2014
Margaret Chan’s key note speech to the conference.
Chan high lights growth of medical tourism as a factor
in accelerated international hospital acquired infection. She notes that resistance levels vary, demonstrating need to harmonise
strategy and best practice.
Chan also states in this address, that, worldwide, greater quantities of antibiotics are used
in healthy animals than unhealthy humans. She highlights how Denmark have tackled this problem in a pioneering way, that has led,
ironically, to increased livestock and poultry production.
Chan goes on to describe how poverty selects for poor practice
and the way that this occurs.
The rise of the Super bug with Doctor Karl Close
This clip gives an excellent explanation of the different ways bacteria can develop resistance,
including their ability to share genetic information. For me the conclusion – that we need to escalate the arms
race against microbes with newer, stronger anti-biotics, is a little weak.
3. Breaking science, new ecological perspectives, shifts in the paradigm
Bonnie Bassler – How bacteria communicate
I love this erudite and stunningly fast paced Ted Talk. Bassler builds a graphic picture of the relationship
between bacteria and humans, and the emerging discoveries her research team are uncovering about the communication systems that
exist between bacteria. She postulates that this emerging understanding may provide tools for us to help us sabotage bacterium’s
ability to collectively turn on their virulence, or, conversely boost the communication pathways of mutualistic (beneficial)
bacteria. The prospect of this is really promising in terms of science delivering a potential solution to the crisis of
anti-biotic resistance. Although there may be a concern that the demarcation between pathogenic bacteria and mutualistic
bacteria may not be as clear as is being presented in this model. (see article ‘A new vision of Immunity: homeostatis and
the super organism’).
Elaine Hsiao – Microbes and Behaviour
This mind boggling talk is not about anti-biotic resistance and possible solutions, but its proposition, that
microbes may be affecting our behaviour, speaks to the wider issue of the complexity and interdependence or our internal
ecologies. It is full of really interesting information – but concludes with slightly worrying hints to wards possible
therapeutic strategies that bring up images of the worst biological control disasters.
A new vision of immunity: homeostasis of the superorganism
This article in the journal for Mucosal Immunology (2010) 3, 450–460 by G Eber starts with the following
The immune system is commonly perceived as an army of organs, tissues, cells, and molecules that
protect from disease by eliminating pathogens. However, as in human society, a clear definition of good and evil might be
sometimes difficult to achieve. Not only do we live in contact with a multitude of microbes, but we also live with billions
of symbionts that span all the shades from mutualists to potential killers. Together, we compose a superorganism that is
capable of optimal living. In that context, the immune system is not a killer, but rather a force that shapes homeostasis
within the superorganism.
This is a brilliant, well referenced article will blow your mind with ecological
concepts. Very exciting!