Since 1928 when Alexander Flemming discovered Penicillin, antibiotics have been harboured as the holy grail of modern medicine. Saving millions of lives over the past 80 years, antibiotics have been heavily relied upon amongst the medical establishment. However since the 1940’s we’ve known that antibiotic resistance, that is, where the microbes we try to destroy become smarter than the drugs we’re trying to destroy them with, is becoming a major issue, already resulting in 750,000 deaths per year according to a British inquiry. We now also know, that antibiotics cause serious damage to the health of the human microbiome.
In a placebo-controlled study published in mBio, researchers took 66 healthy adults from the UK & Sweden & treated them with various commonly used antibiotics (clindamycin, ciprofloxacin, amoxicillin, minocycline & a placebo for control) to determine the effects these had on the microbiome of each individual. The researchers monitored the response participants had to the antibiotics, measuring microbial diversity & also the level of genes associated with antibiotic resistance found in each person.
The researchers concluded that ‘healthy individuals, exposed to a single antibiotic treatment, undergo considerable microbial shifts and enrichment in antibiotic resistance in their faeces.’ What was particularly intriguing was that a significant reduction in the numbers of butyrate producing microbes was observed – these are microbes which produce highly anti-inflammatory fatty acids which ensure the health of the gastrointestinal system. Significantly, some individuals still experienced a severe microbial shift 12 months after the initial antibiotic treatment.
What this means is that taking antibiotics for only one week could result in an imbalanced microbiome, with a subsequent decreased amount of anti-inflammatory chemicals in the GI system, for up to a year afterwards! The study also suggests that taking antibiotics for one week also contributes to the antibiotic resistance situation, posing a serious risk to the wider community. Note that this impact was only after one week of antibiotics whereas numerous patients can be on antibiotic treatment for up to 3-4 weeks at a time, multiple times per year!! This means that these patients would be living in a perpetual state of imbalance when it comes to their microbes – scary stuff!
Antibiotics may certainly have their place in modern medicine, however the drastic way in which we’ve overused them, & continue to overuse them, is contributing to a major world health crisis. I’m very quick to say that we are also responsible for this situation as in our persistence to run to the doctor for any & every cough & cold, begging for those little pills which make us better, we actually support that pattern.
Luckily, as the science continues to pour in on the microbiome, advancements in how we approach illness are coming & hopefully also a reassessment of the strategic implementation of antibiotic use. Unfortunately, it isn’t just the antibiotics we receive from the doctor that we ingest. As Cindy O’Meara pointed out at The Wellness Summit in Melbourne this year, glyphosate is now being found in many products & certainly poses a serious threat to the health of the human microbiome. The key?
Be in control of what enters your body. Know when you actually need medical intervention & when you just need rest or herbs, & of course as I’m quite fond of saying, eat with your microbes in mind.
This article is brought to you by The Gut Healing Protocol; an 8 week, holistic guide to rebalancing your gut health!
Sources for this article include:
Zaura E, Brandt BW, Teixeira de Mattos MJ, Buijs MJ, Caspers MPM, Rashid MU, Weintraub A, Nord CE, Savell A, Hu Y, Coates AR, Hubank M, Spratt DA, Wilson M, Keijser
BJF, Crielaard W. 2015. Same exposure but two radically different responses to antibiotics: resilience of the salivary microbiome versus long-term microbial shifts in feces. mBio 6(6):e01693-15. doi:10.1128/mBio.01693-15.
Disclaimer: Remember to always work with your well qualified, nutritionally-versed practitioner when it comes to the management & treatment of illness. The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only & should not be considered medical advice.