Manuel Felix and Turid-Rustad, Department of Biotechnology, NTNU, used under Creative Commons.

Antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing global problem; judicious use of anthroposophic medical approaches could help address it

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – the ability of microorganisms to withstand treatments designed to work against them – is a growing global problem. Previously effective antibiotics, antivirals and other medicines have are being rendered ineffective, subjecting patients to worsening infections and dwindling options to address them. A recent report estimated that by 2050, 10 million lives a year could be at risk due to the rise of anti-microbial resistant bacteria, unless the global health community takes serious steps to curtail current trends. The World Health Organization has called it “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development.”

Anthroposophic approaches offer promising options to reduce unnessary antibiotic use, and thus must be explored as one of the tools to address the risk of antimicrobial resistance.

IVAA’s Position on Antimicrobial Resistance

The IVAA recognises the critical role that anthroposophic medicine can plan in reducing the threat of antimicrobial resistance. We therefore call on policy makers to:

  1. Include anthroposophic medicine and other integrative approaches as promising options to reduce antibiotic use
  2. Prioritise and support research and other evaluation on such approaches, and ensure resulting knowledge is shared 
  3. Include anthroposophic and integrative approaches in public education on AMR
  4. Support the “One Health” to health, which acknowledges multiple sectors can impact upon public health, especially by adopting organic agricultural approaches to reduce antibiotic use in food production

IVAA’s full position paper on antimicrobial resistance can be found here [pdf].

How anthroposophic medicine can help address AMR

Stuart Gaines of the US FDA examining bacterial culture for antimicrobial resistance.

Anthroposophic medical approaches could prevent disease, and reduce use antimicrobials when disease strikes

One issue leading to AMR is widespread overprescription of antibiotics to patients who do not need them. Reducing this trend can be difficult, but anthroposophic medical approaches can help in three key ways.

First, the anthroposophic approach to health focusses on keeping patients healthy by looking to address factors in an individual’s lifestyle, background, or community that are risk factors for illness. Healthier lifestyles could contribute to preventing the types infections that cause patients to seek antibiotics. Anthroposophic care measures, such as avoiding fever suppression, could also lead to lower infection rates.

Second, there is evidence that the anthroposophic approach involves lower prescription rates of antimicrobials even when patients do become infected. A study on patients with upper respiratory and ear infections, for example, found that patients seeing anthroposophic physicians were prescribed antibiotics 5.5% of the time versus 33.6% the time if seeing conventional physicians, with equivalent outcomes and high patient satisfaction. A study in BMJ Open showed that general practioners trained in complementary medicine prescribed significantly less antibiotics than general practitioners without such training.

Thirdly, anthroposophic medicinal products could offer an alternative to antimicrobials in case of simple infections, though more research is needed. 

Organic cows in the UK. By Greg Marshall of Darlington Borough Council; used under Creative Commons.

Anthroposophic approaches to food and lifestyle could address a second major cause of AMR

The use of medically important antimicrobials in animal agriculture is a common practice that has lead to the spread of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in animals that is then passed on to humans. The WHO has issued guidelines [pdf] to address this issue, and recommends overall reduction of antimicrobial use in food-producing animals, and a complete halt to the use antimicrobials to encourage growth or as a preventative measure for diseases that have not been diagnosed. 

The guidelines were issued in as a part of the “One-Health” approach that recognises the impact of different sectors (including food production and veterinary care) on AMR.

Biodynamic farming, the anthroposophic approach to agriculture, encourages an organic approach involving reduction in unnecessary inputs and non-needed antibiotic use. A European Parliament study [pdf], for example, indicate a substantially lower use of antibiotics in organic farming. A comprehensive review in 2017 found that organic approaches to agriculture have overall benefits for human health, including potentially reducing allergies, improving nutrition, and most importantly reducing use of antimicrobials. Biodynamic farming is one way to meet the WHO’s guidelines on antimicrobial use reduction, and may have the additional benefit of improving overall health.

Further Reading on Anthroposophic Medicine and AMR