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Are Antibiotics Contributing to Obesity, Diabetes and Stroke?

Story at-a-glance -

  • Regions of the United States with the highest levels of antibiotic overuse also have the worst health status, including the highest rates of obesity, asthma, heart disease, heart attack, diabetes and stroke
  • While preliminary, the new data suggests that antibiotic overuse may be associated with chronic health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, and is likely due to their detrimental effects on your gut bacteria
  • It’s already been established that antibiotics may permanently alter your gut bacteria and interfere with important hunger hormones secreted by your stomach, leading to increased appetite, body fat and body mass index (BMI)
  • Avoiding antibiotics in your food, and using them for bacterial infections only when necessary, will go a long way towards protecting your health
 

Are Antibiotics Contributing to Obesity, Diabetes and Stroke?

December 14, 2011 | 48,611 views

By Dr. Mercola

Extending the Cure, a non-profit research group, has published a series of maps looking at the major drivers of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

They reveal a troubling growth in the use of certain antibiotics -- along with an even more surprising result.

According to data analyzed by journalist Maryn McKenna for Wired, the states with the highest levels of antibiotic overuse are one in the same as those that have the worst health status in the United States, including the highest rates of obesity, asthma, heart disease, heart attack, diabetes and stroke.

The map graphics are very revealing, and -- even though this is purely speculation -- it's hard to ignore the fact that the same areas of the United States that are lit up like Christmas trees are those that have both, the highest rates of antibiotic usage, and chronic diseases.

Is Antibiotic Use Associated With Obesity, Diabetes and Other Diseases?

Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States.

In West Virginia, the state with the highest antibiotic use from 1999-2007, there were 1,214 prescriptions written for every 1,000 people, according to Extending the Cure.

Antibiotics can save your life if they're necessary, such as if you develop a serious bacterial infection, but it's important to understand that you don't need antibiotics for every ear, nose, or throat infection you come down with. Remember that antibiotics are useless against the viral infections that cause the common cold and the flu, and when used for this purpose, will only harm your health.

How?

By wiping out the good bacteria in your gut.

Antibiotics, by design, disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, often killing off both beneficial and harmful microorganisms without distinction. We now know, however, that your health is intricately tied to, and in many ways dependent upon, a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut.

When this balance is disrupted, it paves the way for a number of chronic diseases, including many of those highlighted on the maps in areas with high rates of antibiotic use, such as:

Good bacteria (probiotics) are, in fact, so crucial to your health that researchers have compared them to "a newly recognized organ," and have even suggested we consider ourselves a type of "meta-organism" -- in acknowledgment of the fact that we cannot be whole and healthy without the participation of a vast array of friendly bacterial species and strains.

If you want to dig into the research for yourself, check out the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), whose goal is to characterize microbial communities found at multiple human body sites and to look for correlations between changes in the microbiome and human health. There you can find 15 demonstration projects looking into the role of microflora and conditions like psoriasis, Crohn's disease, obesity, acne and more.

You can also visit Green Med Info, which has assembled an amazing list of more than 200 studies, which together explore more than 180 diseases that may find relief with probiotics.

When taken in this context, it's easy to understand how antibiotics overuse could predispose you to a number health problems by disrupting your body's vital bacterial balance.

Can Antibiotics Make You Fat?

Here's an interesting factoid you may not be aware of: about 70 percent of all the antibiotics produced are used in agriculture -- not necessarily to fight disease, but rather to promote weight gain.

Farmers commonly give healthy livestock continuous low-doses of antibiotics because it makes them gain more weight, faster -- a phenomenon that likely occurs, as the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs stated, because the antibiotics "change the composition of the gut flora to favor growth."

If it happens in livestock, there's reason to believe it happens in humans as well, and research by Dr. Martin Blaser, a professor of microbiology at New York University Langone Medical Center, suggests that antibiotics may permanently alter your gut bacteria and interfere with important hunger hormones secreted by your stomach, leading to increased appetite and body mass index (BMI).

Separate research by Dr. Blaser also found that mice fed antibiotics (in dosages similar to those given to children for throat or ear infections) had significant increases in body fat despite their diets remaining unchanged. Multiple studies have actually shown that obese people have different intestinal bacteria than slim people, and that altering the microbial balance in your gut can influence your weight.

Here are six such studies:

When rats were given lactic acid bacteria while in utero through adulthood, they put on significantly less weight than other rats eating the same high-calorie diet. They also had lower levels of minor inflammation, which has been associated with obesity.

Babies with high numbers of Bifidobacteria and low numbers of Staphylococcus aureus – the latter of which may cause low-grade inflammation in your body, contributing to obesity -- appeared to be protected from excess weight gain. This may be one reason why breast-fed babies have a lower risk of obesity, as Bifidobacteria are  known to flourish in the guts of breast-fed babies.

Two studies found that obese individuals had about 20 percent more of a family of bacteria known as Firmicutes, and almost 90 percent less of a bacteria called Bacteroidetes than lean people. Firmicutes help your body to extract calories from complex sugars and store those calories as fat. When these microbes were transplanted into normal-weight mice, those mice started to gain twice as much fat.

Obese people were able to reduce their abdominal fat by nearly 5 percent, and their subcutaneous fat by over 3 percent, just be drinking a probiotic-rich fermented milk beverage for 12 weeks.

Probiotics (good bacteria) have been found to benefit metabolic syndrome, which often goes hand-in-hand with obesity.

Probiotics may also be beneficial in helping women lose weight after childbirth when taken from the first trimester through breastfeeding.

Conventional Antibiotics May be Growing Useless

If the potential to upset your body's natural balance of gut bacteria, paving the way for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and more, doesn't put the notion of taking antibiotics in a different light, consider this: whenever you use an antibiotic, you're increasing your susceptibility to developing infections with bacteria that are now resistant to that antibiotic -- and as a result, you can become a carrier of this resistant bug, and can spread it to others.

The rise of antibiotic-resistant disease is actually one of the "world's most pressing public health threats," as even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges. There are already numerous bacteria resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics, and this is a direct result of the vast overuse of antibiotics in both the medical system and, even more so, conventional livestock farming.

This includes:

Acinetobacter: A bacteria found in soil and water that often causes infections in seriously ill hospital patients.

Anthrax: Spread by infected animals or potentially biological weapons.

Group B streptococcus: A common bacteria in newborns, the elderly and adults with other illnesses.

Klebsiella pneumonia: A bacteria that can lead to pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound and surgical site infections and meningitis.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): A superbug that can be so difficult to treat, it can easily progress from a superficial skin infection to a life-threatening infection in your bones, joints, bloodstream, heart valves, lungs, or surgical wounds.

Neisseria meningitides: One of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis in children and young adults.

Shigella: An infectious disease caused by Shigella bacteria.

Streptococcus pneumoniae: A leading cause of pneumonia, bacteremia, sinusitis, and acute otitis media (AOM).

Tuberculosis (TB): Both "multi-drug resistant" and "extensively drug-resistant" forms of TB are now being seen.

Typhoid fever: A life-threatening illness caused by the Salmonella Typhi bacteria.

Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE): Infection with the enteroccocci bacteria that often occurs in hospitals and is resistant to vancomycin, an antibiotic.

Vancomycin-Intermediate/Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VISA/VRSA): Various strains of Staph bacteria that are resistant to vancomycin.

In the war of antibiotics versus bacteria, the bacteria are clearly winning -. As much as I stress that antibiotic use needs to be minimized, this is one class of drugs that I would not want to fall off the radar.

When used properly, in the correct contexts and with responsibility, antibiotics can and do save lives that are threatened by bacterial infections. But they will only remain effective if urgent changes are made to curb the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and disease … and this will only happen with a serious reduction in their use now.

Tips for Practical Antibiotics Use

Remember first and foremost that antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections -- not viral infections. Antibiotics do, however, sometimes help relieve perceived/subjective symptoms caused by some viruses, because they address 'secondary bacterial infections,' i.e the overgrowth of the always-naturally-present haemophilus influenzae, once the virus compromises and/or overwhelms normal immunosurveillance.

But normally please remember that if you or your child have a viral infection such as a cold, the flu, most sore throats, acute bronchitis and many sinus and ear infections, antibiotics are failing to address the root cause.

They will not help you to feel better faster; they will not cure the infection; and they will not make you less contagious to others. What they may do in this case, however, is increase your chances of having that antibiotic not work as effectively in the event you do need it for a bacterial infection. Not to mention, the CDC notes that, in children, antibiotics are the most common cause of emergency department visits for adverse drug events, so they carry inherent risks as well.

In the event of a viral infection, you can read my full strategies for prevention and treatment of viral infections like colds here.

Keep in mind, also, that the foods you eat are a major source of exposure to antibiotics, so to protect your gut bacteria you should buy primarily antibiotic-free, organically raised meat and produce. Conventionally farmed food is often grown in fertilizer derived from factory-farmed animal waste and human sewage, which may be a source of contamination with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

How to Restore Your Gut Bacteria if You've Taken Antibiotics

Because your gut bacteria are vulnerable to your lifestyle choices, including your diet and exposure to pollution, chlorinated water and agricultural chemicals, I recommend that everyone consider the optimization of their gut bacteria as an ongoing process.

Also, if you've recently taken antibiotics, it is particularly important to restore bacterial balance as quickly as possible. In this case, a high-quality probiotic supplement can help you restore healthy gut bacteria quickly. Ideally take this in addition to eating non-pasteurized, traditionally fermented foods such as:

  • Fermented vegetables, we will be providing you with loads of information on this in the coming months with very specific details on how you can make your own
  • Lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner)
  • Fermented organic grass-fed raw milk, such as kefir
  • Various pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash and carrots
  • Natto (fermented soy)

At the same time, it is vital to eliminate sugar, including fructose, from your diet, as it will sabotage any beneficial effects of the fermented foods by feeding the pathogenic yeast, fungi and bacteria that are in your gut.

A high-quality probiotic supplement, along with eating traditionally fermented foods and avoiding sugar, is a good plan for optimizing your gut bacteria at any point and should also work well following a course of treatment with antibiotics.

[+] Sources and References

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