Antibiotics and the surprising threat to women’s brains

The fact that antibiotics are a double-edged sword is well known.

Antibiotics kill bacteria that cause infections, but overuse of these powerful drugs can make “good” bacteria go “bad,” leading to the formation of “superbugs” that do not respond to the antibiotics we have available.

Antibiotic use has also been connected with an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease, heart problems and even colon cancer (especially if you’re under 50).

Now, if we’re not more careful with them, we can add cognitive decline to the conditions that seem to be connected with prolonged antibiotic use…

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Antibiotic use can age your brain by 4 years

A team of epidemiologists at Harvard Medical School has found an as-yet-unexplained link between taking antibiotics for at least two months in midlife, and a dip in cognitive score assessments taken several years later.

The subjects of this study were 14,542 women who were participants in the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-term study started in 1976 that’s now in its third generation of women.

The women’s cognitive ability was assessed starting an average of seven years after they began using antibiotics. They completed an online test at home, which included four different tasks designed to measure different aspects of cognitive performance.

“In a cohort of over 14,000 women, we observed that antibiotic use in midlife was significantly associated with subsequent poorer scores for global cognition, learning, and working memory, and psychomotor speed and attention,” the researchers report.

For the women on antibiotics, the drop in brainpower across various categories of learning, response, and memory was the equivalent of three to four years of normal aging.

In other words, the study data showed that, in women who used antibiotics for only two months, their brainpower was at least three to four years older than their chronological age.

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Caution and alternatives to antibiotic overuse

Now, this study doesn’t prove that antibiotics caused the drop in brainpower. But the association was strong enough to suggest that more research is certainly warranted.

In the meantime, it would be wise to practice caution when it comes to antibiotic use…

First, remember that antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections — not viral ones.

If you must take antibiotics — take them as prescribed and finish the prescription. Otherwise, they may work less effectively for you the next time you need them. A 10-day to two-week regimen is common.

There are also some things you can do to avoid common infections and ramp up your immune system…

  • For women, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are all too common. Not only has drinking cranberry juice been shown helpful in helping avoid UTIs, but research has shown cranberries can help improve the effectiveness of antibiotics, which could cut down on overuse.
  • Try a nasal wash to avoid sinus infections. According to investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, “Patients don’t get better faster or have fewer symptoms when they get antibiotics,” says Jay F. Piccirillo, M.D., the study’s senior author. “Our results show that antibiotics aren’t necessary for a basic sinus infection — most people get better on their own.”
  • Boosting the health of your gut may also make antibiotic use less necessary. A study found that children who took probiotics were 53 percent less likely to need antibiotics. The older we get the more our guts need a helping hand from probiotics.
  • Take vitamin D. A very recent study confirmed what most of us have suspected for years about this immune booster — but found out the right form of the vitamin matters. According to Professor Colin Smith, lead author of the study from the University of Surrey, “We have shown that vitamin D3 appears to stimulate the type I interferon signaling system in the body — a key part of the immune system that provides a first line of defense against bacteria and viruses. Thus, a healthy vitamin D3 status may help prevent viruses and bacteria from gaining a foothold in the body.” The same study found that vitamin D2 did not have the same effect.

There’s another big plus about keeping your vitamin D levels up that makes it the perfect answer to the antibiotic-brain health conundrum…

Researchers at the Free Radical Biology in Cancer Core of the Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky found that “adequate vitamin D serum levels are necessary to prevent free radical damage in the brain and subsequent deleterious consequences.”

Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!

Sources:

Large-Scale Study Reveals Strange Link Between Antibiotics And Cognitive Decline — Science Alert

Association of midlife antibiotic use with subsequent cognitive function in women — PLOS One

The Nurses’ Health Study and Nurses’ Health Study II are among the largest investigations into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women. — Nurses’ Health Study

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Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.