By Dr. Mercola
Azithromycin (Zithromax) is a macrolide antibiotic used in the treatment of bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, and sexually transmitted diseases. It's known for having unpleasant side effects such as skin rashes, itching, allergic or anaphylactic reactions, and severe, watery diarrhea.
But it's also associated with more severe side effects, such as myopathy―muscle and tendon pain, weakness and cramping―when taken in combination with statins i. And previous research has shown that use of any type of antibiotic increases the risk of breast cancer in women ii.
Most recently, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that azithromycin increases your chances of dying from a cardiovascular event by a whopping 250 percent within the first five days of usage, compared to those who took amoxicillin iii. This is nearly the same as that for Vioxx, which killed 60,000 people and was voluntarily removed from the market nearly eight years ago.
When researchers looked at people who already had heart problems, their risk of dying while on this drug were even higher. The risk of cardiovascular death was also significantly greater with azithromycin than with ciprofloxacin, while levofloxacin and azithromycin had comparable risks of cardiovascular death.
What You Must Know about Antibiotics
It's important to recognize that antibiotics are indiscriminate bactericidal agents, meaning they kill all bacteria, both beneficial and pathologic, and many of the immediate and long-term side effects are related to this fact. By killing off the beneficial bacteria in your gut, antibiotics have a detrimental effect on your overall immune system, and if you do not "reseed" your gut with probiotics (good bacteria)—either in the form of a probiotics supplement or fermented foods—your immune function can remain compromised for some time.
Hence, antibiotics should only be taken when absolutely necessary, and care must be taken to rebalance your intestinal flora to prevent long-term effects to your health. Taking probiotics while on an antibiotic can also help reduce diarrhea, which is a common side effect.
About 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gastrointestinal tract, which houses 100 trillion bacteria—about two to three pounds worth of bacteria, plus yeasts. You should have about 85 percent "good" bacteria and 15 percent "bad." All of these microbes compete for nutrients from the food you eat, but the strength in numbers that beneficial bacteria enjoy helps keep the bad bacteria and the ever-present yeasts in check, and causes them to produce nutrients your body needs, such as B vitamins.
However, when you introduce antibiotics, these beneficial bacteria are decimated along with the pathogenic ones, thereby upsetting the delicate balance of your intestinal terrain. As a result, yeasts can grow unchecked into large colonies and take over, causing a condition called dysbiosis. Using their tendrils (hyphae), yeast can literally poke holes through the lining of your intestinal wall, which results in a syndrome called leaky gut. At this point, you tend to become increasingly susceptible to a wide variety of health problems, such as:
Arthritis Asthma and allergies Skin problems Kidney problems Digestive issues Autoimmune disorders
How Your Gut Influences Your Health
The reason why a dysfunctional bowel can wreak such havoc is well-explained by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, whose groundbreaking work sheds much needed light on how your gut affects your immune system, and how this dynamic interaction has profound impacts on your overall mental-, emotional-, and physical health.
She has written an excellent book called Gut and Psychology Syndrome, the acronym of which—GAPS—also stands for Gut and Physiology Syndrome, which is the name of a second book currently being written. Dr. Campbell-McBride's GAPS theory eloquently explains how immune abnormalities caused by damaged gut flora are at the root of virtually ALL degenerative diseases, as well as many neurological disorders, including ADHD and autism.
Once your gut becomes porous, or "leaky," it has openings that can allow undigested food particles in. When foods are absorbed in this partially broken down form they're viewed as "foreign," causing your immune system to react to them. Food sensitivities and allergies, digestive issues, and eventually, autoimmune disorders, can all arise as a result.
In addition, parasitic yeasts can also cause you to change what you eat by causing cravings for carbohydrates like sugar, pasta and bread, for example, as this is their preferred fuel. So, it should come as no surprise that weight gain is one of the telltale signs of antibiotic damage and subsequent yeast overgrowth.
Sadly, many doctors dismiss the connection between their patients' intestinal disorders and the drugs they themselves prescribed. So, beware, and always make sure to repopulate your gut with a high quality probiotic every time you use an antibiotic.
Did You Know You May Be Consuming Hidden Antibiotics Daily?!
Unfortunately, the greatest danger posed by antibiotics does not actually come from prescribed courses of antibiotics, which you have some control over, but rather from the food you eat. The prevalence of antibiotics in both meats and vegetables has the potential to throw off, or contribute to this intestinal imbalance.
Animals such as cattle, chickens and hogs raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO's) are routinely given antibiotics -- both to keep them alive in stressful, unsanitary conditions, and to make them grow bigger, faster. Antibiotics can also be found in conventionally-grown vegetables, and the reason for this is because antibiotics in livestock end up being transferred, via manure, into the soils that vegetables are then grown in.
The widespread practice of using subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics to increase growth in livestock has been pin-pointed as a leading cause for the development of new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as the now-widespread form of staph (MRSA) known as ST398, or "the pig strain" of MRSA.
This livestock-acquired strain of MRSA adds to an already troubling situation... The human community-associated strain of MRSA, USA300, already affects close to 100,000 people a year in the US, and caused 18,600 deaths in 2005 alone iv. To put that number into perspective, HIV/AIDS killed 17,000 people that same year. What's worse, research has shown that various MRSA strains can be transmitted from humans to animals and vice versa v, putting the health of both humans and animals (including pets) at ever increasing risk.
It's important to realize that antibiotic-resistant disease like MRSA is a man-made problem, created by the excessive use of antibiotics. Medical overuse of antibiotics is one aspect, but the greatest, and most hidden, factor is the excessive use of antibiotics in food production.
According to the first-ever report by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on this subject, American factory farms used a whopping 29 million pounds of antibiotics in 2009 alonevi. Back in 2001, a report issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimated that the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock accounted for 70 percent of the total antibiotic use in the US, and when all agricultural uses were considered, they estimated the share could be as high as 84 percent!vii
Clearly, agricultural antibiotic use is the smoking gun in the battle against antibiotic-resistant superbugs. It's also likely a primary cause of chronic poor gut health and reduced immune system function!
FDA Proposes Phase-Out of Antibiotics in Food Production—Sort of...
The rise of antibiotic-resistance in livestock is so alarming that government officials have finally admitted you can become infected when you eat or simply handle infected meat. They also warn that the microbes can contaminate kitchen counters, utensils and other food. Even the USDA, which usually defends agribusiness interests, proclaimed at a 2009 congressional hearing that there is indeed a link between antibiotic use in animals and drug resistance in humans viii.
But the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still refuses to tackle this issue head on.
In fact, on December 22 last year, the agency quietly posted a notice in the Federal Register that it was effectively reneging on its plan to reduce the use of antibiotics in agricultural animal feed – a plan it has been touting since 1977. Against all logic, and with virtually no public announcement, the FDA decided to continue allowing livestock producers to use the drugs in feed. According to the Federal Register, dated December 22, 2011 ix:
"The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or the Agency) is withdrawing two 1977 notices of opportunity for a hearing (NOOH), which proposed to withdraw certain approved uses of penicillin and tetracyclines intended for use in feeds for food-producing animals based in part on microbial food safety concerns."
This despite the fact that as recently as 2010, the FDA acknowledged the problem in a draft guidance to industryx, which proposed livestock producers stop using subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics in animal feed, stating that:
"Antimicrobial drugs have been widely used in human and veterinary medicine for more than 50 years … The development of resistance to this important class of drugs, and the resulting loss of their effectiveness as antimicrobial therapies, poses a serious public health threat.
Misuse and overuse of antimicrobial drugs creates selective evolutionary pressure that enables antimicrobial resistant bacteria to increase in numbers more rapidly than antimicrobial susceptible bacteria and thus increases the opportunity for individuals to become infected by resistant bacteria.
Because antimicrobial drug use contributes to the emergence of drug resistant organisms, these important drugs must be used judiciously in both animal and human medicine to slow the development of resistance."
Then, in April of this year, the FDA issued voluntary guidelines suggesting that livestock should only be treated with antibiotics to cure illness, not to enable growth xi. But can we really rely on the honor system with regard to how industry grows our food? I think not. We need measures to ensure antibiotics are used responsibly— and that needs to go beyond mere suggestion.
On a slightly brighter note, in January the FDA announced it would restrict the use of one class of antibiotics, cephalosporin, in cattle, swine, chicken and turkey xii. These antibiotics, which are regularly prescribed to humans, are implicated in the development and spread of drug-resistant bacteria among humans that work with, and eat, the animals. As of April 5, cephalosporin is no longer allowed for use in preventing diseases in livestock, although they will still be allowed for illness treatment in livestock.
How to Protect Your Family from Hidden Antibiotics
Granted, conventional medicine still needs to curtail its prescriptions for antibiotics, but even if you use antibiotics judiciously you're still exposed to significant amounts of antibiotics from the foods you eat. This is one of the primary reasons why I ONLY recommend organic, grass-fed, free-range meats and organic pasture-raised chickens, as non-medical use of antibiotics is not permitted in organic farming. These foods are also far superior to CAFO-raised meats in terms of nutritional content, which you can read more about in this previous article.
Apart from growing and raising your own foods, your best option is to get to know a local farmer—one who uses non-toxic farming methods. If you live in an urban area, there are increasing numbers of community-supported agriculture programs available that offer access to healthy, locally grown foods, even if you live in the heart of the city.
The Weston Price Foundation xiii also has chapters all over the world and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase these types of foods locally. Another resource you can try is Local Harvest xiv, which you can use to find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of safe, sustainably grown food in your area.