The poisonous effects of antibiotics

Sometimes when your nose stuffs up and your throat’s sore, a doctor may give you an antibiotic “just to be safe.” Turns out that drug prescription is anything but.

A study at Oregon State University shows that an antibiotic’s side effects can be much stronger and potentially more complicated than doctors recognize. And those effects may lead to long-term health problems.

It’s generally recognized that antibiotics can distort the healthy probiotic bacteria that live in your digestive tract. But the Oregon scientists discovered that the effects on your physiology extend much farther.

They believe that their data show that using antibiotics too often harms the immune system, makes it harder for the body to properly metabolize sugar, hurts the absorption of nutrients in the intestines, makes you more liable to gain weight and generally stresses the body.

Unfortunately, about 40 percent of all adults take at least one antibiotic prescription annually. About 70 percent children take at least one a year. Plus, there are antibiotic residues in our food because farmers give these drugs to their livestock.

The researchers note that antibiotics can help cure a life-threatening bacterial infection. But they caution that more than 10 percent of folks who take an antibiotic suffer acute problematic side effects.

“Just in the past decade a whole new universe has opened up about the far-reaching effects of antibiotic use, and now we’re exploring it,” says Andrey Morgun, who teaches at Oregon’s College of Pharmacy. “The study of microbiota is just exploding. Nothing we find would surprise me at this point.”

The Oregon lab study looked closely at the effects of a collection of antibiotics that are currently used in laboratory animals.

“Prior to this most people thought antibiotics only depleted microbiota and diminished several important immune functions that take place in the gut,” Morgun says. “Actually that’s only about one-third of the picture. They also kill intestinal epithelium (the lining of the digestive tract). Destruction of the intestinal epithelium is important because this is the site of nutrient absorption, part of our immune system and it has other biological functions that play a role in human health.”

One of the most serious findings in this research is the detrimental effect antibiotics can cause on mitochondria in the digestive tract. Mitochondria are tiny structures that produce cellular energy and are crucial to proper growth. When antibiotics put digestive mitochondria out of business, they threaten the basic ability of the digestive tract to function. That can lead to diarrhea, ulcerative colitis and other serious disease.

Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.