How Antibiotics Harm Your Health and How to Help Your Body Recover
In developed countries, the average person receives around 20 courses of antibiotics by age 18. Antibiotics are effective to treat bacterial infections, but are ineffective against viruses.
Many health experts argue that physicians prescribe antibiotics too hastily without first ensuring that the patient's condition is really caused by bacteria.
All this over-prescription of antibiotics is damaging our health in several ways.
The Effect of Antibiotics
1. Your digestive tract is composed of good bacteria that your body needs. They help to digest especially carbohydrates, they keep in check the proliferation of the bad bacteria, and they help your immune system distinguish between the two.
In fact, some medical experts estimate that as much as 80 per cent of your immune system's ability to distinguish between good and bad bacteria is established by gut bacteria.
2. The immune system begins to build a record of good versus bad bacteria while the foetus is still in the womb. This is when good bacteria begin to proliferate and bad bacteria are marked as potentially damaging.
Women are usually advised to steer clear of antibiotics during pregnancy precisely because its use can compromise the foetus's ability to learn the difference at a stage when the build-up of bad bacteria can kill it.
3. The overuse of antibiotics throughout life weakens your immune system by destroying the good bacteria from which it is meant to build a record of the organisms it should leave alone. As a result, it continues to attack good bacteria because it has marked them as potentially harmful.
At this stage, physiologists are still researching the potential harm of the destruction of good bacteria, but they do know that bad bacteria flourish in the absence of the good bacteria that are supposed to suppress their growth.
You thus place yourself at risk of developing a long list of inflammatory diseases caused by bacteria, including inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and cancer, and even disorders caused by other biochemical imbalances, such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and depression.
4. The destruction of good bacteria makes the lining in the digestive tract more susceptible to leakage of food, bacteria, and chemicals meant for digestion. This is believed to cause an autoimmune response in many organs, which basically means that the immune system begins to attack healthy tissue.
5. By overusing antibiotics, you also risk developing species of bacteria that are drug resistant and therefore untreatable. If a potentially harmful organism survives a dose of antibiotic, it builds resistance to that antibiotic and can then no longer be killed. If this happens to be one of the harmful types, you will struggle with it for the rest of your life in the form of serious illness, hospitalisation, and expensive invasive medical treatments.
6. Worse still, some bacteria pass their drug-resistant properties to other bacteria, which may pass them on to still further bacteria, which is a chain reaction that can put your life at risk.
7. As those in the meat industry have discovered, cattle, pigs, sheep, and other mammals put on considerable weight when fed with antibiotics. Chickens do too. The meat industry in Europe is no longer permitted to pack the animals with antibiotics, exactly because the medical industry has pleaded with the European Union to curb their overuse.
But the obesity of antibiotic-fed animals has given rise to the realisation that antibiotics cause obesity in humans too via a mechanism that is at this stage still unknown.
None of this implies that you should abstain from antibiotics completely. Some bacterial infections are life-threatening, after all. It only means that you should build a relationship with a physician who is aware of the potential risks and who prescribes antibiotics only when they are essential.
It is extremely important that, when you are prescribed an antibiotic, you complete the whole course. If you stop taking it halfway through, you would have taken too little to kill the bacteria, but enough to make them resistant to the next course.
There are steps you can take to help your body recover after a course of antibiotics:
• Use probiotics to replace the good bacteria killed by the antibiotics. Probiotics contain beneficial bacteria that resemble those in the digestive tract.
Strains like bifidobacterium lactis HN019, lactobacillus reuteri ATCC55730, lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, lactobacillus casei DN-114 001, and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb-12 are believed to help the immune system recover by replacing those lost bacteria that it is supposed to label as harmless.
Probiotics are best taken as supplements that are especially designed to contain the right strains of bacteria. Progurt is a good example, as it contains a greater volume of good bacteria than any other supplement. Its bacteria is also human-derived and thus better able to colonise.
Alternatively, any fermented food contains probiotics, so you can try yogurt and soft cheese, or preferably plant options like pickled vegetable sauces, miso and tempeh that are high in protein and vitamins and thus much healthier.
• While probiotics actually contain live bacteria, prebiotics feed and thereby build up the good bacteria that are already in your digestive tract. You can eat a lot of oatmeal, beans, lentils, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, and bananas on their own or in combination with a probiotic supplement.
• If you opt for fermented foods to replace good bacteria, remember to drink alkaline water or to take an alkaline supplement. Fermented food is relatively acidic, and can exhaust your body's ability to neutralise them if you suddenly binge.
• Drop all refined foods from your diet for a few weeks. Plant and animal foods contain a reasonably good mix of bacteria, which can re-introduce good and bad bacteria into your digestive system to restore your immune system's ability to distinguish between the two types. During excessive processing of our modern food types, all these bacteria are destroyed.
• While you are cutting food types from your diet, include animal-based foods. They may have a good collection of bacteria, but they are also acidic, while you actually need alkaline foods to help the lining of your digestive tract recover. When antibiotics destroy good bacteria, yeast tends to grow in the digestive tract's lining, which can cause perforations and leakage. Yeast does not grow well in an alkaline environment.
• Glutamine can help to repair the lining in your digestive tract. You can consume it either as a supplement or in foods like cabbage, beets, beans, spinach, and parsley.
Of course, it is important to take antibiotics when they may be needed, but quiz your physician on the type of antibiotic and the need for it. Try to steer clear of general broad-acting antibiotics in favour of ones that narrowly target specific bacteria.
Follow the steps above to help your body recover once you start taking them, and where possible try to explore all natural forms of antibiotics first.