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Supporting doctors: How herbs can help reduce antibiotic overprescribing

  • Dr. Amparo Aracil
    Dr. Amparo Aracil

    Amparo is a medical herbalist and doctor interested in community herbalism and acute medicine. Amparo combines¬†their work as a herbalist with working as a doctor, previously¬†for the NHS¬†and now in both primary care and A&E in Spain.¬†Amparo¬†has¬†also¬†worked with Herbalists Without Borders Calais providing first aid and herbal medicine to migrants and refugees. Having a special interest in psychoneuroimmunology and auto-immune conditions, they have extensive clinical experience helping people with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and¬†thyroid disorders.

    Amparo has been involved with writing lectures and teaching clinical skills for Heartwood students, and runs student clinics on a monthly basis.

    Amparo is a registered member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and the General Medical Council. You can find more about them at their website.

  • 12:04 reading time (ish)
  • Herbal Research Immunity Safety

The overuse of antibiotics is a major issue, leading to antibiotic resistance and higher risk of major health issues and death. Here we share how herbalism can help.

How herbs can help reduce antibiotic overprescribing

Antibiotics are group of drugs that have the ability to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, with the aim of treating bacterial infections in humans and animals (1). Antibiotic resistance occurs when specific antibiotics lose their efficacy against bacteria (2). Some bacteria possess inherent resistance to certain antibiotics, while a more concerning issue arises when bacteria that are typically susceptible to antibiotics, develop resistance due to genetic mutations (2). Genetic mutations happen when bacteria that survive antibiotic use, pass on the genes that have allowed them to remain alive. Infections caused by resistant bacteria often need intensified care and the use of alternative, costlier antibiotics that can sometimes have more severe side effects (2).

The more antibiotics are used, the less effective they become against their target microorganisms. Antibiotic overprescribing occurs when healthcare providers prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily, such as for viral infections or conditions where antibiotics offer little or no benefit (3). In the NHS, as in many healthcare systems globally, overprescribing is a significant problem that is contributing to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, posing a significant challenge to public health (3, 4). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today (5). If no action is taken, antimicrobial resistance could cause up to 10 million deaths annually by 2050, matching the same annual deaths as caused by cancer (6). 

According to the UK government’s 2019-2020 English Surveillance Programme for Antimicrobial Utilisation and Resistance (ESPAUR) report, antibiotic prescribing rates in the UK remain high, particularly in primary care settings (3). Overprescribing of antibiotics in primary care is one of the main drivers of antimicrobial resistance internationally (8). Some studies have estimated that between 20-33% of antibiotic prescriptions in primary care in the UK and the US are unnecessary or inappropriate (4, 7).  

In response to this crisis, healthcare systems like the NHS are implementing strategies to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions and shorten the duration of antimicrobial courses (9).

To support this endeavour, it is important to highlight the role that herbal medicine can play in decreasing antibiotic overprescribing. Herbal medicine can support and mitigate the problem of antibiotic overprescribing by providing safe, effective, and sustainable alternatives for treating infections (10). By harnessing the antimicrobial properties of herbs and promoting herbal self-care practices, healthcare systems can reduce reliance on antibiotics, mitigate the threat of antibiotic resistance, and improve patient outcomes. Some benefits of reducing antibiotic overprescribing with the support of herbal medicine include reducing the risk of toxicity and adverse drug reactions, reducing antimicrobial, and reducing the disruption of normal gut microbiota and with this, reducing the risk of opportunistic infections with bacteria such as Clostridium difficile (10).

Collaboration between herbalists and doctors is key to realising the full potential of herbal medicine in treating infectious diseases and promoting holistic health.

Dr. Amparo Aracil

Amparo is a medical herbalist and doctor interested in community herbalism and acute medicine. Amparo combines their work as a herbalist with working as a doctor, previously for the NHS and now in... Read more

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