1. Probiotics work as well as drugs at warding off UTIs

    Probiotics match drugs for UTI prevention

    With all the attention given to antibiotic overuse, you'd think docs would have gotten the message by now and started to cut back.


    They're still giving these meds out left and right -- and women prone to urinary infections are often given a never-ending supply of the drugs as a "preventive" measure.

    But as the unmistakable burning sensation that marks the start of yet another infection shows, these "preventive" drugs don't actually prevent the infections.

    They can reduce the number of UTIs, but there are much safer ways to get the same results, starting with natural probiotics.

    In one new study, the probiotics Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 cut the average number of annual infections in half -- from 7 at the start of the study down to 3.3 after a year of supplements.

    Women in the same study given a daily dose of the antibiotic co-trimoxazole every day for that year brought their infections down from seven to 2.9. But in return for that tiny benefit -- just 0.4 fewer infections a year -- the women were quietly breeding their own microscopic army of superbugs.

    Tests on the women taken at the start of the study found that between 20 percent and 40 percent of E. coli samples were resistant to meds. After a year of antibiotics, that number shot up to as much as 95 percent.

    Among those on probiotics, on the other hand, the number of resistant samples actually fell slightly.

    In addition, antibiotics can cause stomach pain and diarrhea, and women who take them can even develop yeast infections. That's like trading one infection for another -- and that's never a very good tradeoff in my book.

    To me, it's no contest -- probiotics are the clear winner here. The urinary tract contains these friendly bacteria-fighting bugs, which increase your resistance to infection. And if you're prone to UTIs yourself, be sure to combine these natural gut-friendly bacteria with plenty of cranberry.

    I know cranberry is often dismissed as folk medicine, but science shows that this stuff is all "medicine" and no "folk" -- because cranberry can actually prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract.

    If they can't stick, you don't get sick. One study even found that 500 mg of cranberry extract in capsule form worked as well as the antibiotic trimethoprim in women with a history of UTIs.

    Bear in mind that most cranberry drinks -- I hesitate to even call them "juice" --contain a lot sugar and precious little cranberry. If you can't handle the unsweetened juice, get your cranberry in supplement form.

  2. Antibiotic azithromycin can triple the risk of heart death

    The antibiotic that can kill you

    One of the most commonly used antibiotics on the planet has a risk that goes way beyond the usual nausea and diarrhea. In fact, alarming new numbers show that this one can actually kill you.

    It's called azithromycin, but if you were on the receiving end of one of the 55 million prescriptions written for it last year, you probably know it better as the drug in the "Z-Pak" sold under the brand name Zithromax.

    And if you were, be glad you're still here to read this warning -- because researchers say people who take this med die at nearly triple the rate of people who get no meds at all, and double the rate of those who get the competing antibiotic amoxicillin.

    All told, they wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine that 85 out of every 1 million patients who take azithromycin die. If you're already facing heart risk, that number is even higher -- 245 deaths per million.

    The feds issued a warning after the study came out, but were quick to say that the overall risk is small. I'll let you be the judge of that -- but why take that risk at all when most people who get the drug never even needed it in the first place?

    Antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses. But since docs usually can't tell which is which without waiting days for test results, they often give the meds to everyone.

    They figure they're covered either way, since a viral illness will often clear up on its own while a bacterial illness will probably respond to the Z-Pak. The patient gets better no matter what and everyone wins, right?


    Clearly, there's a lot to lose when you take an antibiotic you don't need. Along with that risk of death, all antibiotics come with a risk of stomach pain and diarrhea -- and if that's not enough, they can wreck the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut.

    And let's not forget that antibiotic overuse is leading to the rise of drug-resistant superbugs.

    I won't say you never need an antibiotic. Sometimes you do, and I prescribe them -- even Z-Paks -- myself, but only when the patient needs help beyond natural therapies, which isn't very often.

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