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Antibiotics & Steroids

by Marina Zacharias

(Reprinted with permission from the Natural Rearing Newsletter8 Volume 2/Issue 2, September 1996)

In the world of orthodox veterinary medicine, there are two big guns used (and often abused) without a second thought. These magic bullets are the very familiar antibiotics and steroids that have come to be expected to solve whatever ailments an animal may have. In many cases they are used indiscriminately just in case some dreadful complication may arise that may threaten the health of an animal.

I have often said that we should draw on the best of both worlds in the care of our animals. However, you do need to be fully informed about your choices and not simply rely on the mega-buck advertising campaigns of the pharmaceutical companies to influence your decisions without explaining the risks involved in using these man made miracles of modern medicine.

The Rise (and Fall) of Antibiotics

Let's be very, very clear about just what an antibiotic is supposed to do. It is used to kill BACTERIA. Let's be equally clear about what it does not do. It is useless on viral, fungal or other nonbacterial diseases!!

Widely hailed as a magic bullet it would be more appropriate to think of an antibiotic as a hand grenade. The subliminal connotation of a bullet is that it is aimed at a specific target and nowhere else. The true function of an antibiotic is to destroy all bacteria -- the beneficial as well as the harmful. The consequences are often serious, particularly those stemming from the impact of the drug on the immune system! Let me give you a few examples of the good guys that are being destroyed along with the intended bad guys. Some friendly bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus protect the body from infection by yeast and unfriendly bacteria. Some of the good guys manufacture B vitamins, others lactase, still others their own form of antibiotics against flora. The good bacteria fight tumors, work to lower high cholesterol levels and improve digestion.

When these organisms are wiped out by antibiotics we are obviously creating an ideal condition for the soil of disease to take over and the body becomes susceptible to other types of pathogens, particularly yeast!. Candida albicans is a normal inhabitant of the body, but when antibiotics knock out its competitors, it spreads! This frequently leads to infections, producing antigens and toxins that can cause immunological, neurologic, or endocrinologic problems. This overgrowth of yeast (called Candidiasis) has been linked to food allergies, autoimmune disorders, chemical sensitivities, etc.

To make matters worse, antibiotics can inhibit the availability of several of the B vitamins, vitamin A, folic acid, zinc, and magnesium. When antibiotics cause diarrhea, this problem may become serious.

Considering the foregoing, how can anyone even think of using an antibiotic for prevention of a disease? To anyone choosing to think for themselves it should be obvious that this particular application of an antibiotic will produce exactly the opposite results -- that is they will probably do more harm than good!! If you're going to wipe out the good guys Ajust in case@ a bad guy might come along, are you not inviting the very thing you are trying to avoid??

Again, I want to urge you to think before you react. Don't start demanding an antibiotic from your obliging vet for simple diarrhea or some other non bacterial problem.

There is another aspect of indiscriminate use of antibiotics that you should be aware of. In the battle of the Bugs the bugs are winning! Shortly after World War II, a small dose of penicillin used to be a sure thing against pneumoccal pneumonia. Now, despite dosages up to 600 times the strength of those originally successful dosages, patients sometimes die.

It seems that Mother Nature is designing the survival instinct in all living creatures, providing microbes with the ability to mutate rapidly when the species is threatened. Thus, the more antibiotics are used, the more chance there is of a particular bacteria to change its basic structure to produce a new generation of resistant strains, immune to the magic bullet of yesterday.

The drug companies scrambled to produce more and more powerful variations in the unrealistic belief that man, with all his modern science, could beat nature at its own game. The medical use of antibiotics has skyrocketed to become a multi-billion dollar industry in the 90's. Pharmaceutical companies advertise aggressively, patients (and doctors) often think that they are not doing everything possible if they do not use antibiotics, preferably the newest and most powerful available. For example, studies show that doctors prescribe antibiotics for 7 of 10 Americans with colds -- even though colds are viral, not bacterial!! Doctors, Dentists and Veterinarians prescribe the drugs as a preventative, although they are rarely necessary and only effective in very specific circumstances. In total, studies have shown that at least 50% of all outpatient prescriptions are probably not needed.

Highly resistant organisms are being created and spreading with astonishing rapidity. Would it surprise you to learn that the death rate from infectious diseases has risen by 50% since 1980? Or how about this little gem: Penicillin can control only 10 percent of staphylococci it used to kill.

Is the medical community aware of what's going on?

In January 1996, in an unprecedented move, 35 medical journals around the world released issues devoted to the same topic: the current crisis in antibiotic resistance! Article after article repeated the same message, that excessive and inappropriate use of antibiotics is to blame!

If human excessive usage is finally being recognized, what about the antibiotics used in the livestock industry? With animals and poultry, even more antibiotics are fed each year than are consumed by humans! We are all aware (or at least should be) that the meat and poultry producers in this country rely on antibiotics to promote weight gain and with the crowded industrial conditions that dominate this industry, neither animals or poultry would survive without the heavy intervention of drugs!

Lest we forget, the unfortunate animals that are not able to survive this onslaught of drug abuse are the ideal raw material for commercial pet food!!

For years the agribusiness interests disputed that bacteria from animals could spread to humans or contribute to the mutation of resistant strains. Since then researchers have shown that the swift increase in the use of antibiotics in animals, closely paralleled the rise in Salmonella outbreaks in this country. Currently it is estimated that 6.5 million people in the United States fall sick annually from the microbes in meat and poultry. (This is from human grade meat. I shudder to think of what actually exists in pet= grade meat -- i.e. AUnfit for human consumption).

In addition, animal manure is used as fertilizer, carrying antibiotic resistant organisms into the soil. Fruit, vegetables and grains become contaminated, so that even those who do not eat meat or dairy products may be affected. The worst of these grain scraps are, of course, commonly used to make commercial pet food.

Does this mean you should never use an antibiotic? Of course not. What it does mean is that they should only be used as a last resort rather than the first option to be tried. Holistic practitioners are more likely to search for underlying causes of diseases and other factors such as allergies, nutrition, emotional state, environmental factors, etc. The host of alternative treatments for infections (i.e. homeopathy, herbal remedies, e tc.) are much more likely to be the first choice of an holistic vet, rather than reaching for the latest antibiotic.

Before using any antibiotic you should make sure that an accurate diagnosis has determined that the problem is definitely due to a bacterial infection. If the problem permits, you should also determine what alternatives are likely to help solve the problem without the use of an antibiotic. Don=t administer an antibiotic without knowing what the possible side effects are! Save the Abig gun@ treatment for emergencies and you will have a better chance of it being effective.

Over the last fifty years, the medical community has become dependent on the use of antibiotics as the principal means of controlling bacterial infections. With the typical abuse and overuse of these drugs, the new resistant strains of bacteria are rapidly creating a scenario of a disaster of epidemic proportions just waiting to occur.

In several previous issues we have listed many remedies to combat bacterial infection. One of the benefits of natural rearing is that it does develop a healthy immune system capable of resisting infection to a large degree. Thus, when needed, most holistic treatments are only required for that extra little nudge to help the body cure itself. Rarely is there ever any need to call on the drug world to solve the problem.

Steroids -- The Great Pretender

Like antibiotics, steroids are one of the most abused class of drugs in the orthodox veterinarian field of medicine. At one time, they were reserved for the extreme emergency cases. Today, they are being used on the most trivial of conditions. Why? They give the appearance of an instant miracle cure which matches the >expectation= level of the client. So, many vets turn to steroids as the first, rather than the last, line of attack for their anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects.

Steroids mimic the action of the adrenal glands, the body's most powerful regulator of general metabolism. Far from being a wonder drug Acure all@ steroids cannot cure one single condition. All they do is suppress the body's ability to express a normal response. Occasionally this type of suppression will give the body a chance to heal itself. But more often, the effect is immediate, devastating and can cause permanent damage.

The medical community seems to have a particular blind spot about these drugs, refusing to believe that steroids can cause the terrible carnage that the manufacturers have long admitted to.

For over 30 years we've known that steroids can routinely cause over-activity of adrenal hormones, which produces Cushing's disease. They can also cause muscle wasting, hyperglycemia, water retention, bruising, insomnia, serious mood changes, menstrual problems, impotence, loss of libido, or even allergic shock and diabetes. (Source: Physicians Desk Reference).

Steroids are all broad-spectrum -- that is, they don't specify simply the area of the body you wish to treat, but scatter through every cell including the central nervous system, cells in bone, smooth muscle, blood, liver, etc.

The sad thing is that these drugs are considered so safe that they are used in many over the counter medications for everything from skin problems to hemorrhoids! They are considered the drug of choice for asthma, eczema, arthritis, back problems, bowel problems, and for any and all inflammations or allergic reactions -- and new uses are still being invented.

The Empire boys will tell you that steroids only cause side effects after many years of usage. Here's a little bomb shell for you: studies show that steroids can cause permanent, debilitating side effects after a single dosage!! There is no such thing as a safe dose. They have not been subjected to long-term scientific study to find out how or whether they work for specific conditions. Septic shock and adult respiratory distress syndrome are two conditions where steroids were widely used as treatment -- until scientific trials demonstrated that they were not only of no benefit, but may actually have been doing harm.

The major concern with using steroids is the possibility that the pituitary gland will stop producing ACTH, a hormone that regulates the adrenal glads, needed by the body during stress and to fight infection. When the body is flooded with extra cortisone the adrenal glands decrease their own production. They seem to say, O.K. if you're going to do the work I might as well shut down. Extended use of steroids can effectively turn your dog into a steroid junkie hooked for life on these drugs. What is really needed is to stimulate the adrenals to get back to a healthy normal state, rather than trying to artificially replace their function.

Caution: If your animal is already on steroids, never, never, abruptly halt their medication. Any weaning off of steroids must be done on a gradual basis, preferably with close monitoring by your holistic vet, after you=ve had a correct diagnosis of the source of the problem.

In some ways I wish the overuse of steroids was only to be found in the veterinary field. Unfortunately our children are also at serious risk. Take the case of nine-year-old Lexie McConnell. She was diagnosed as having toxoplasmosis (an eye infection). The consultant put her on 80 mg per day of prednisone. Immediately, she suffered severe side effects -- huge weight gain, terrible pain, holes in her tongue and black stools. After nearly a month, at her parents pleading, the doctors lowered the dosage to 60 mg, 40 mg, 20 mg. In excruciating pain, Lexie was taken to a hospital, where it was discovered she'd contracted chicken pox. (Remember, that steroids suppress the immune system, leaving the body susceptible to infection). Four days later, she died! In this case steroids killed a young child after only five and a half weeks!! It's ironic that later, another eye specialist declared that a simple course of antibiotics could have cleared up her infection.

Her parents are now on a crusade, demanding that a warning card be given out by doctors on a mandatory basis, signed by the doctor, for every prescription of steroids. They are asking people to write their congressperson today, demanding that the card be made law and that studies be funded into the safety of steroids. I sincerely hope they are successful in their efforts.

How many vets have provided their clients with any indication of the possible dangers of steroids, prior to administering the drug?? How many vets are even aware that even short course application can present permanent damage??

Because there are so many, many natural methods of dealing with problems where steroids would be prescribed, it is up to each of us to be aware that the best rule of thumb is -- don't start them. There are many holistic vet practices that are totally void of any steroid usage -- a valid testimony that other methods are just as effective, without the risks.

(Marina Zacharias is a breeder/handler of Basset Hounds and has been using natural methods of health care for all her dogs for over ten years. She is a Natural Rearing consultant, author, Editor of the Natural Rearing newsletter and founder of the NR Breeder Directory.

She has been a noted guest speaker at a variety of functions including the 1995 Educational Symposium for Alternative Veterinary Methods. Although she is not a Veterinarian, she is certified in Homeotoxicology (homeopathic) and does regularly attend the annual conventions of the American Holistic Veterinarian Society. She is also an associate member of several European holistic health care associations.

If you would like further information on holistic care for your animals, including a sample copy of the Natural Rearing Newsletter please contact Marina, P. O. Box 1436, Jacksonville, OR 97530 Phone (503) 899-2080; Fax (503) 899-3414 or e-mail

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