Antibiotics have had a staggering impact on human health and life expectancy. These anti-bacterial drugs have saved millions of lives and dramatically reduced suffering. But perhaps they have been too successful. Antibiotics have been used (incorrectly) to treat viruses, added to animal feed to increase yields and even put in hand soaps.
Much has been written about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and this is a grave concern. However, people, even physicians, sometimes lose sight of the fact that antibiotics are drugs. Like any drugs, they have side effects and contraindications; and new research has now shown yet another downside to antibiotic overuse.
Punch To The Gut
Farmers have an economic incentive to feed antibiotics to livestock: It makes animals fatter. Why they have this effect has been poorly understood, but new research shows that antibiotics throw beneficial gut bacteria out of balance. As a result, animals gain more weight.
In a study published in Nature, researchers showed that mice fed an antibiotic cocktail gain more body fat than mice that are drug-free. Looking deeper, investigators found that antibiotic-fed mice don’t have fewer bacteria in the gut; they have a different mix, something quite similar to the bacterial mix found in obese people. The physiological changes in antibiotic-fed mice include hormonal changes and a shift in copies of key genes that influence metabolism. These differences result in more energy being produced from a given amount of food, which is then stored as fat.
It’s unclear whether this research translates to humans. However, given what we know about antibiotic overuse, it’s another reason to be cautious with these drugs.
The Problem With Antibacterial Soap
Take a look at the soaps on store shelves. It’s getting more difficult to find hand soaps that don’t tout their antibiotic ingredients. One of those ingredients, a chemical called Triclosan, has been shown in research to cause muscle weakness, particularly in the heart.
Testing this substance on lab animals, the scientists found that Triclosan acts as a cardiac depressant, weakening the heart’s ability to pump blood. It also leads to weakness in leg and other muscles.
A major concern is the compound’s effects on people with underlying heart disease and those who have trouble metabolizing such drugs. Because products containing Triclosan are so common, the chemical is finding its way into our water supply.
Some Simple Safeguards
To protect yourself, first and foremost, make sure your personal care products don’t contain antibiotics. There’s no good reason for antibiotics to be in these items. To avoid them, you may have to shop in the natural products section; but purer products are available, if a bit more expensive. It’s worth spending a little extra.
Another critical step in self-protection is to maintain healthy immunity. That can minimize your need for antibiotics. Start with a diet that includes lean proteins, whole grains, and many fruits and vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower and kale, are particularly beneficial.
Take supplements that give your body natural support against harmful bacteria, along with natural immune boosters. A top recommendation is honokiol extract from magnolia bark. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional Asian practices to fight infections and support immunity. I also recommend a Tibetan herbal formula that contains 19 botanicals that work together to fight infections, boost immune function, offer strong antioxidant protection, reduce inflammation and support good circulation. Medicinal mushroom formulas also work well to boost immunity and promote numerous areas of health.
And don’t forget probiotics, to support the beneficial microbes in your digestive tract. This is especially important if you have taken a round of antibiotics. (These drugs can kill off the good bacteria in the digestive tract.) After antibiotics, you want to restore balance in your system as soon as you can with a high-quality probiotic supplement. Cultured foods such as raw sauerkraut, kim chee, yogurt and kefir are similarly excellent for bringing digestion back into balance.
The problem with the way we often use antibiotics is that they represent too much of a good thing. If you have a serious bacterial infection, by all means, take this type of critical, lifesaving medicine. However, like any drug, it’s good to steer clear of overuse in order to optimize the drug’s effectiveness and your long-term health.
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