We all know that antibiotics can sometimes be a necessary evil. There is evidence that they can alter your digestion, your mood, your immune system, and much more. But often we don’t have a choice. Severe bacterial infections sometimes need antibiotics, even though those same life-preserving medicines might have negative consequences for other aspects of our health.
One of the most direct ways in which antibiotics affect you is by changing the balance of micro-organisms in your gut. This is one of the mechanisms by which conditions like SIBO and Candida overgrowth first begin. Once this healthy balance has gone, the way is left clear for opportunistic, fast-growing microbes to take over.
There is now evidence to suggest that an imbalance in the gut microbiota is linked to the decades-old rise in childhood obesity. What if this rise in obesity was related not just to sedentary lifestyles, but also to an increase in the use of antibiotics? If more people knew about this and other consequences, they might think twice about asking their doctor for antibiotics.
Antibiotics and childhood obesity
A 2014 analysis showed that an average child in the US receives 3 courses of antibiotics before they reach 2 years old. By the time he or she reaches 10 years old, that same average child will have taken ten courses of antibiotics. Many of these prescriptions are unnecessary. Over the years, not enough attention has been give to how this might affect long term health.
There are several epidemiological studies, involving tens of thousands of people, showing a strong link between antibiotics and obesity in childhood/adulthood. This is particularly true for antibiotics that are given in the six months immediately after birth.
There is also lots of evidence that overweight individuals have a different set of micro-organisms in their guts. You might think that this would be caused by their diet, and to some extent that is true. But this imbalance in the gut flora is also one of the root causes of their obesity. Animal studies have shown this. When you take the gut microbes from an obese animal and transplant them into a lean animal, that lean animal will start to gain weight.
What does this all mean? If you start off with the wrong gut flora, it can make you much more likely to gain weight both in your childhood and beyond. The overuse of antibiotics in your early life can alter your metabolism to make it more prone to obesity.
Do you know one of those people who seem to gain weight just by looking at a chocolate bar? It’s tempting to blame this on their diet, lifestyle or exercise regime, but that might not be the case. The underlying reason might actually be an altered metabolism caused by a disruption in their gut flora.
How else can antibiotics damage your health?
Antibiotics are wonderful things and sometimes we (literally) can’t live without them. But they come with some nasty side effects too.
Have you ever experienced diarrhea during or after a course of antibiotics? It’s called Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea, and it’s the most obvious sign that the antibiotics are messing up things in your digestive system. However, this goes much deeper than just the superficial discomfort of abnormal bowel movements or headaches.
The problem with antibiotics is that they don’t tend to discriminate. They can do a great job of killing whatever bacterial infection is bugging you, but they take down a lot of the ‘good bacteria’ in your gut too. Ever heard the proverb, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater?” That expression is a great description of how antibiotics are over-zealous in the elimination of bacteria in your gut.
Those health-affirming, probiotic bacteria are actually vital to your health. They play an important role in priming your immune system, extracting nutrients from food, maintaining the correct pH in your gut, and much more. They also compete for resources and prevent pathogens like Candida from starting colonies where they shouldn’t. I’ve discussed the relationship between antibiotics and Candida at length in The Ultimate Candida Diet.
Some of the connections between gut bacteria and your health are even more surprising. There is evidence that the microorganisms in your gut have a direct link to your mood. Over the next few years, we’ll hear more and more about the gut-brain connection and how you can improve your health by optimizing your gut flora.
Take probiotics; avoid antibiotics where possible
Antibiotics are massively overprescribed. In fact, at least 30% of antibiotics prescriptions are completely unnecessary, according to the CDC. The reality is that many other prescriptions are marginal at best, so the real figure is likely well in excess of 50%. Antibiotics are regularly prescribed “just in case” for conditions where they are very unlikely to help. Examples include colds, flus, bronchitis, and some sinus infections and ear infections. The next time you ask for antibiotics from your doctor, consider that they might not help your condition, and they may in fact damage your long term health.
Meanwhile, this overuse of antibiotics has serious consequences elsewhere. Official estimates in the US and Europe show that 50,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant diseases each year. It’s fair to say that this number would be significantly lower if antibiotics were used appropriately. After all, antibiotic-resistant diseases need exposure to antibiotics in order to develop their resistance.
Just as you should avoid antibiotics where possible, you should go out of your way to introduce probiotics into your diet. This doesn’t only mean the store-bought probiotic supplements (which can be very effective). It includes probiotic-rich fermented foods that you can make in your own home. Examples are kefir, probiotic yogurt, sauerkraut, and many more.
Probiotics can improve your digestion and overall health. But one of the most appealing things about probiotics is the way that they can restore balance to your gut flora and boost your immune system.
The idea is pretty simple. Instead of destroying the colonies of gut bacteria, you should try to replenish them. Taking probiotics will not only improve your digestion and boost your immunity; it will also reduce the need for you to take antibiotics in the future. That’s why taking probiotic supplements and food is one of the cornerstones of the anti-Candida diet plan.
Lastly, and going back to the title of this article, probiotics have the potential to manage your weight too. Letting your gut flora get out of balance can lead to long-term weight problems, but using probiotics may be able to reverse the damage. In combination with a healthy diet, those good bacteria might just be able to return your metabolism back to where it should be.