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Superbugs will kill someone every three seconds by 2050 unless we act now to change the way antibiotics are used and start a massive campaign to educate people, warns a new report.

Back in 2013, the government’s chief medical officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies said the danger posed by growing resistance to antibiotics should be ranked along with terrorism on a list of threats to the nation, describing it as a “ticking time bomb”.

She warned that routine operations could become deadly in just 20 years if we lose the ability to fight infection.

Dame Sally said: “If we don’t take action, then we may all be back in an almost 19th Century environment where infections kill us as a result of routine operations. We won’t be able to do a lot of our cancer treatments or organ transplants.”

Since the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance started in mid-2014, more than one million people have died from superbug infections.

Now, analysis based on scenarios modelled by researchers Rand Europe and auditors KPMG says the situation will get only worse with 10 million people predicted to die every year from resistant infections by 2050.

They found that drug resistant E. coli, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) would have the biggest impact.

Doctors are warning that the world is teetering on the cusp of a “post-antibiotic era”.

Lord Jim O’Neill, the economist who led the global review, told the BBC: “If we don’t solve the problem we are heading to the dark ages, we will have a lot of people dying.”

Lord O’Neill also said, “We need to inform in different ways, all over the world, why it’s crucial we stop treating our antibiotics like sweets.”

“We have made some pretty challenging recommendations which require everybody to get out of the comfort zone, because if we don’t then we aren’t going to be able to solve this problem.”

Among the recommendations of the review are an urgent and massive global awareness campaign as most people are ignorant of the risks, improved access to clean water, sanitation and cleaner hospitals to prevent infections spreading and promoting the use of alternative, non-drug treatments.

Lord O’Neill also focused criticism on agricultural practices that use antibiotics to boost the growth of animals, rather than to treat their infections.

It is has been common practice for decades to use sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics in animal feed, both to prevent animals from diseases and to improve production performance in modern animal husbandry (i.e. to speed up the time it takes to get an animal to its slaughter weight).

In the US, 70% of antibiotics (sold by weight) are for use in animals. Despite these drugs being given to animals, the practice risks spreading bacterial drug resistance to human infections.

Stating the obvious…

Maybe I’m being naive, but what if we went back to feeding agricultural animals their natural diet, put an end to intensive farming and got more people eating a diet high in unprocessed plant based whole foods?

It is important to note that plant materials are used widely in traditional systems of medicine and that plant extracts have also been used in animal nutrition, particularly for their antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and anti-parasitic activities.

Also, of 109 new antibacterial drugs, approved in the period between 1981 and 2006, 69% originated from plants.

Eat More Plants

A University College London study of 65,226 men and women indicated the more fruit and vegetables people ate, the less likely they were to die – at any given age.

Risk of death by any cause over the course of the study was reduced by:

  • 14% by eating one to three portions of fruit or veg per day
  • 29% for three to five
  • 36% for five to seven
  • 42% for seven or more (up to around 10 portions a day)

Fresh vegetables had the strongest protective effect, followed by salad and then fruit.

Instead of manipulating plant extracts to manufacture drugs, perhaps the answer is as simple as eating more of them.

“The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die – at any age.”

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