We already know that overuse of antibiotics can instigate growth of bacteria that are resistant to conventional antibiotic treatments. In fact, the nosocomial infection rate in hospitals that contributes to hospital-acquired infections is partially due to an environment that routinely uses antibiotics. So it should come as no surprise that growing antibiotic use might be suspect in other conditions.
Martin Blaser M.D., head of the Department of Internal Medicine at New York University's Langone Medical Center, recently wrote a commentary in Nature suggesting that overuse of antibiotics may be helping to fuel conditions like diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, asthma and obesity. He notes in the commentary that these conditions have nearly doubled in many populations over the past several decades. Though experts certainly identify a myriad of contributing causes, he now adds the "killing of healthy bacteria or flora" as an additional theoretical contributor to the proliferation of obesity. It's called an unintended consequence of use.
Consider that the human body has an unbelievable number of microbes that live on our skin, in our mouths, in orifices like our belly button and certainly in our digestive tract or gut. These microbes are healthy microbes and their purpose is to help us fight certain conditions like autoimmune disorders, help access and use nutrients like vitamin K and to help to utilize the energy accessed from the carbohydrate foods we eat. So we don't want to kill off these organisms, which is typically what does happen when you are treated with antibiotics. The antibiotics decimate populations of both "good and bad" microbes. In fact recently many doctors have begun to prescribe probiotics, along with a course of antibiotics to help preserve the healthy gut flora.
Past research has identified that H. pylori, a bacterium that lives in our gut, is now at lower levels in many children compared to prior generations. This phenomenon may be due to overuse of antibiotics, and kids who have few or no H. pylori have higher rates of asthma, hay fever and skin allergies. Dr. Blaser references cattle and other livestock as proof that use of antibiotics may also induce obesity. Farmers who use low doses of antibiotics to prevent infections in chicken, turkeys, cows and sheep noted weight gain (a plus for the animal's valuation). Unfortunately humans would not routinely benefit from that incidental health impact, and Dr. Blaser theorizes that our current obesity rates may be a reflection of regular antibiotic use.
Further studies will be necessary to objectively prove this theory. In the meantime we should all use antibiotics only when necessary and follow directions of usage carefully. So the next time you have a cold, don't badger your doctor for an antibiotic prescription. Let him decide if you need it or not. Your waistline may thank you for it!!
Published On: August 27, 2011