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Jon Barron on Echinacea

In this week’s excerpt from Lessons from the Miracle Doctors, Jon Barron begins his discussion of immune boosters by looking at Echinacea.

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“Not only are natural immune boosters safer than the drug-based approach (having fewer side effects), they are also far more powerful than their pharmaceutical counterparts. Let’s take a look at some of the more powerful immune boosters available.

Echinacea (purple coneflower) is truly a miracle herb. It was ‘discovered’ in the late 1800s by a traveling salesman named Joseph Meyer, who learned about it from the Plains Indians while traveling out West. He brewed it up as an alcohol tincture and sold it as a cure-all—demonstrating its effectiveness by letting rattlesnakes bite him and then drinking his tonic. Needless to say, he never got sick, from whence comes the phrase ‘snake oil.’

How does Echinacea work? First, it contains echinacoside, a natural antibiotic comparable to penicillin in effect, which can kill a broad range of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. This makes it invaluable in wound healing and in the treatment of infectious diseases. Research has also reported Echinacea’s efficacy in treating colds, flu, bronchitis, and tuberculosis. Echinacea also contains echinacein, a biochemical that protects against germ attack by neutralizing the tissue-dissolving enzyme hyaluronidase, produced by many germs. Among the many pharmacological properties reported for Echinacea, macrophage activation has been demonstrated most convincingly. One study showed that Echinacea extracts can boost T-cell production by up to 30 percent more than immune-boosting drugs.

There are two primary varieties of Echinacea: Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia. They are similar, but also have complementary properties. Formulas that use both are more likely to be effective. It’s also worth noting that potency runs from seed (greatest potency) to root to leaf to almost none in the flower. And, of course, herb quality is paramount.

Over the last few years, there have been several studies that claimed to debunk Echinacea’s ability to boost the immune system and fight colds. Suffice it to say that the studies were either flawed in design (reviews of previously flawed studies), used the wrong parts of the Echinacea plant (flowers and leaves rather than roots and seeds), or used it at the wrong strength. Forget the studies—Echinacea still stands as one of the best immune boosters available.”

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Jon Barron on Antibiotics & Antibiotic Resistance

In this week’s excerpt from Lessons from the Miracle Doctors, Jon Barron talks about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance.

“In a moment, we will discuss how to maximize your immune function, but we first need to explore how modern medicine’s approach to dealing with immune system problems has led us to the brink of disaster. Antibiotics are chemical compounds that inhibit the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. They are the primary drugs that doctors use to support the immune system. Until recently, they were considered one of modern medicine’s greatest achievements. Unfortunately, their usefulness is rapidly diminishing, and, as it turns out, they may ultimately be responsible for creating some of mankind’s greatest plagues. How did this happen?

Penicillin, the first modern antibiotic, was discovered by Dr. Alexander Fleming in 1928. But just four years after drug companies began mass-producing it in 1943, microbes began appearing that could resist it. Since then, we’ve seen penicillin-resistant strains of pneumonia, gonorrhea, and hospital-acquired intestinal infections join the list. And it’s not just penicillin—bacteria resistant to most of the other antibiotics of choice have also proliferated.

Antibiotic resistance to synthetic drugs is almost impossible to stop since it is the result of the simple rules of evolution. Any population of organisms, bacteria included, naturally includes variants with unusual traits—in this case, the ability to withstand a particular antibiotic’s attack. When this antibiotic is used and kills the defenseless bacteria, it leaves behind only those bacteria that can resist it. These renegade variants then multiply, increasing their numbers a millionfold in a single day, instantly becoming the dominant variant. In other words, the very act of using an antibiotic creates the opportunity for resistant strains to flourish.

It’s important to understand that antibiotics vary in the way they kill microbes. Penicillin, for example, kills bacteria by attaching to their cell walls and then breeching those walls, thus killing the bacteria. Erythromycin, tetracycline, and streptomycin, on the other hand, kill bacteria by attacking the structures inside the bacteria (ribosomes) that allow them to make proteins, thus also destroying the bacteria. Because each antibiotic is a single compound and one-dimensional in its approach, it’s not that hard for microbes to ‘evolve’ around such attacks. For example, microbes resistant to penicillin have developed cell walls that prevent the penicillin from binding. Similarly, other variants prevent antibiotics from binding to ribosomes, thus neutralizing the effect of those antibiotics.

Where it gets really frightening, though, is that bacteria swap genes like politicians swap favors—which brings us to vancomycin, the antibiotic of last resort. When all other antibiotics failed, doctors knew they could count on vancomycin. But then vancomycin resistance was discovered in a common hospital microbe, enterococcus. By 1991, thirty-eight hospitals in the United States reported the variant. Just one year later, vancomycin-resistant staph bacteria were observed with the same gene. What this means is that not only are bacteria programmed to ‘evolve’ defenses against antibiotics, but once they produce such a defense, they are also programmed to rapidly share that defense with other strains of bacteria, thus rapidly spreading the resistance.”

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