Phytomedicine can help to fight ‘superbugs’

I wrote this unpublished article to the Straits Times :

The article ‘WHO issues grim warning about ‘superbug’ threat (dated 1 May,
2014) is a timely one. Evidence is pointing to climatic factors as the cause of the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases including dengue, malaria, tuberculosis, and other viral diseases. The situation will be worsened with frequent travel, human migration, malnutrition, and poor diets in the case of those who lead fast-paced and stressful lifestyles such as Singapore. There is widespread consensus by experts that antibiotics are not appropriate for the treatment of most cases of acute bronchitis, pharyngitis, and rhinosinusitis.

While the WHO is right to suggests limited use of antibiotics and promotion of hygiene, there is another alternative and proven way to prevent drug resistance: The rational use of phytomedicine. The scientific and rational use of herbal medicine is also supported by the same WHO. For example, a study by the National Cancer Centre (Singapore) found that cancer patients who take complementary medicine such as herbs and nutritional supplements come down with fewer infections than those who do not (Pang, M. (2012, June 14). Alternative Medicine May Help Cancer Patients. The Straits Times, p. B1.).

The use of antibiotics can deplete the body’s healthy gastrointestinal microflora, which is necessary for immunity. Supplementing with probiotics is also not a long term solution to build host resistance. As with all pharmaceutical products, vaccines have risks and can cause rare but serious side effects such as autoimmunity and their scheduled use in children is controversial.

Our body is an ecological domain inhabited by microorganisms including virus, fungi, and bacteria. The human body possesses multiple mechanisms of host defence to maintain ecological balance.

Immune regulation involves a healthy gastrointestinal tract system, as the immune system has a strong presence at the mucosal lining of the tract and many macrophages, lymphocytes and other immune cells are located through its length. Unlike antibiotics which can cause imbalance gut flora, phytotherapy research has confirmed what our ancestors knew that herbs can enhance our bodily defence mechanisms to fight against viral, bacterial, and fungal infections not by attacking the microorganisms (as in the case of antibiotics) directly but by enhancing our immune system. They also function as prebiotics i.e. helping the digestive system to build good bacteria.

This is one overlooked way to prevent drug resistance and stop infection or at least its severity in the first place.

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About sliew

I am a practicing Medical herbalist and doctor of naturopathy from Singapore.
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