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Winter is here and with it, a higher risk of all of those upper respiratory infections, coughs, sore throats and earaches that can make you miserable.
But, should you immediately head to the doctor at the first sign you’re sick, fill your prescription and start popping the pills they give you?
The results of some new research show that you might want to think twice…
In fact, scientists at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin and the University of Copenhagen have found that
A microbiome out of balance
You probably already know that your gut is home to billions of beneficial bacteria. The number of bacteria in your gut is roughly equal to the number of people in the entire world.
And, those bacteria have a very important job. They help you digest the food you eat, produce vitamins that your body needs to stay healthy, train your immune system and ward off infections. Eighty percent of your immune system lives in your gut and it’s been called the place “where bacteria and your immune system meet.”
This is all excellent news, right up to the point where you start taking antibiotics since therapies that use antibiotics can destroy most of that vital bacteria.
And, according to Dr. Sofia Forslund, lead author of the study from the Max Delbrück Center, “When thrown out of balance, there is a risk of infection, excess weight, and diabetes, as well as inflammatory and neurological diseases.”
That’s why her team set out to discover exactly what happens in your gut when you take those antibiotics and if it ever recovers.
Death of bacterial species
The researchers gave otherwise healthy men a cocktail of antibiotics that are generally used when bacteria have become resistant (a problem we’re facing more and more thanks to the overuse of the most common antibiotics).
They then followed up and studies the men’s gut microbiomes for a full six months using DNA sequencing to determine which bacteria lived, died or made a come-back and to see if any bacteria developed what they called “resistance-genes” (in other words whether or not taking the medications caused even more problems with antibiotic resistance.)
They found that when you take antibiotics, a large part – but not all – of the flora in your gut is killed off but that it does grow back over time.
Dr. Forslund describes it this way, “Similar to when a forest slowly recovers after a fire.”
They found that it takes approximately six months after taking antibiotics for your gut to recover and that some species are killed off completely and never grow back.
Even worse, the researchers reported that the first forms of bacteria that do make a comeback in your gut are ones that can cause disease and ones that have structures or metabolites that are harmful to your body and result in GI problems.
To top it off, the bacteria present in your gut following antibiotic use are more resistant to future treatment, putting you at risk should you ever have a severe infection that can’t be fought in any other way.
If this doesn’t worry you, you should know that the so-called superbugs (bacteria that have become resistant to our first-line antibiotics) are now responsible for 700,000 deaths each and every year.
Fighting infections judiciously
All of that adds up to the fact that avoiding antibiotic use whenever possible is the way to go.
Luckily, there are ways to fight off infections naturally, without a trip to the doctor that my colleague, Dr. Keith Scott-Mumby, delves into in his article, 9 Antibiotic Alternatives You Need to Have on Hand.
But the bigger threat is using antibiotics for viral infections, where they will do no good. Antibiotics can do more harm than good when they’re overused and misused this way. For more insight into antibiotic use, I suggest Dr. Cutler’s post on antibiotics and bronchitis.
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- Regeneration in the digestive tract — American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
- Probiotics help as 80% of Immune System in your GI Tract — Institute of Health Sciences
- The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet — The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System