Alcohol, Antibiotics and Sex

I have Type 1 diabetes and I am supposed to measure and monitor my blood sugars every moment of every day. Of course, I don’t. With the passing years, I understand my body and can feel the symptoms well before I stick the needle into my finger, extract some blood for the machine and measure where I am. When I have reached this point and need to measure my blood sugar levels the answer is normally some food because I have forgotten to eat (sorry Annie and Maddie, it is just because I forget) or rarely another injection of the rapid-acting insulin.

Diabetes has other side effects which are less easily managed. For me, if my blood sugars have been wandering up and down, it is a tendency to mild gum infections. Nothing serious and normally it resolves quickly as I pull my diet back under control, but sometimes it would help if I had a short course of antibiotics.

When I tell that to the endocrinologist (diabetes doctor) at the hospital they nod and say something like, ‘not uncommon’. However, the problem is that my dentist doesn’t believe me and is always muttering and tutting saying that if it carries on a tooth will have to go. It normally heals up within a week.

That is where I am today. I have a mild toothache.

Now, this piece could go one of many ways. I could write about how a patient will often know more about themselves than the doctor or dentist. Unlike the dentist, my doctor listens to me when we have a discussion. That’s right, I discuss my health with my doctor and he listens to me when I say I think a problem is related to something else. We always end with an agreed holistic plan.

My dentist will only give me a prescription for antibiotics if I book an appointment first and the basic cost of that is £55. In the UK dentistry is not really covered by the National Health Service. Then there is the drug cost which can be another £25. I don’t feel good about spending £80 when I know the solution.

What happens? I go online, and self-prescribe Amoxycillin for no more than £15. I hate doing that. I might think I know more but I know that I know a lot less than someone who has been trained for 7 years. I like to keep the experts in line with what I am doing but if they disagree what am I supposed to do?

Perversely, just as I am explaining that I self-prescribe antibiotics, I could go on and on about their over-use. A virus will mutate and change so that over time antibiotics become less effective. We need to control their use, especially in animal feeds. Antibiotics will not cure a common cold. We need them to work and not be given out willy-nilly.

Antibiotics have had a short but interesting history and developing around them are a range of myths. But, before I start, there is some small print. I am not a doctor or trained pharmacologist so don’t take what I say as gospel. Do listen to your doctor and not what internet contributors say. Whatever I may rant about, doctors do know best.

One of the great myths about antibiotics is that you can’t mix them with alcohol. Although there are some exceptions, generally, that is not true. The antibiotic cephalosporin cefotetan slows alcohol breakdown, another antibiotic that comes with a specific warning not to be used alongside alcohol is metronidazole, although even that is questioned by Finnish research.

The myth is supposed to have arisen just after WW2 and there are two stories that are thought to be the source from that period.

Then, penicillin was in short supply and after it had been taken it was retrieved from a patient’s urine to be recycled. Recovering soldiers were allowed to drink beer but this increased the volume of urine making it harder to recover the drug. Therefore, beer was banned. That sounds unlikely, but you never know.

The other story is from the same period. Sexually transmitted diseases were on the increase with soldiers returning from war expecting more back home than just rest and recuperation, leading public health wanting to restrict what was becoming an epidemic. Effective treatment and control required not just consistent and regular taking of the antibiotics, but also carnal abstinence. But, on a brief break from war, it was believed that soldiers would go and drink, lose control, and have further amorous adventures, further spreading any diseases before they were cured.

To help self-restraint it was better if they didn’t drink. So, tell the soldiers that they couldn’t drink while taking penicillin and the STDs wouldn’t be spread. That sounds a far more probable tale.

I may return to these topics over the coming weeks but in the meantime, my tooth is feeling better. My blood sugars must again be under control.