Overuse of antibiotics: A leading cause of obesity, allergies and diabetes
You may think that all the cells in your body belong to you and are part of your DNA but the reality is we are the host of trillions of bacterial cells that live in peace and harmony in our bodies.
Each of us has approximately 100 trillion bacterial cells living in our bodies. They outnumber human cells by 10 to 1 and account for 99.9% of the unique genes in our bodies. In fact there are so many of these cells that they if they were grouped together, we might consider them to be a “human microbial organ.”
This huge collection of bacteria is known as the microbiome and is the human equivalent of an environmental ecosystem. Although all of these bacteria weigh only 1.36 kilograms (about 3 pounds) their composition determines how our bodies function or in some cases how it malfunctions.
Unfortunately because of the overuse of antibiotics the human microbiome is losing its diversity and this threatens the life of the person it inhabits. The human body is as infinite as the universe and just as we destroy ecosystems on our planet, antibiotics destroy our internal human ecosystems.
Dr.Martin J. Blaser, a specialist in infectious disease at New York University School of Medicine and the director of the Human Microbiome Program, has studied the role of bacteria in disease for more than three decades. His research extends well beyond infectious diseases to autoimmune conditions and other ailments that have been increasing sharply worldwide such as Type 2 diabetes.
In his new book, Missing Microbes, Blaser links the declining variety within the microbiome to our increased susceptibility to conditions from allergies and celiac disease to Type 1 diabetes and obesity. He and his colleagues mainly blame antibiotics for the connection.
In the first two years of his or her life, the average child is given, on average, 3 courses of antibiotics, and eight more courses over the next eight years. These children have not even developed a healthy bacterial ecosystem and yet very early in life its growth is being stunted or even damaged permanently by the medications.
Even a short course of antibiotics, such as the widely prescribed Z-pack (azithromycin, taken for 5 days); can result in long term shifts in the body’s microbial development.
But antibiotics are not the only cause of microbial disruption. Caesarean deliveries which have soared in the past 20 years encourage the growth of microbes from the mother’s skin instead of from the birth canal, in the baby’s gut. This change in microbiota can reshape an infant’s metabolism and immune system. A recent review of 15 studies involving 163,796 births found that, compared with babies delivered vaginally, those born by caesarean section were 26 per cent more likely to be obese as adults.
In the follow-up of those caesarean babies who became obese, there were major differences in the micro-organisms living in their bodies as compared to those who were not obese. The gut bacteria of the obese were better able to extract calories from food.
In Canada and the US, about 75 per cent of all antibiotics sold are used in livestock. The antibiotics are used to change the animal’s microbiota, hastening their growth. When mice are given the same antibiotics used in livestock, the metabolism of their liver changes, stimulating an increase in body fat.
The human microbial gut used to be a place of good bacteria that had the ability to protect us from many diseases. Now that the microbial balance has been disturbed by prescribed antibiotics and the meat that we eat, we see a huge increase in gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, digestive disorders such as chronic gastric reflux, and autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and allergies.
Some researchers have even speculated that disruption of gut microbia plays a role in celiac disease and the resulting explosion in demand for gluten-free foods even among people without this condition. In a mouse model of Type 1 diabetes, treating the animal with antibiotics accelerates the development of the disease.
A very common bacterium in the stomach of western societies is Helicobacter Pylori but it is rapidly disappearing as we use more and more antibiotics in our health care and in our meat. Researchers in Switzerland and Germany feel that this is the reason for a huge rise recently in asthma rates. A long time ago virtually everyone harboured this pathogen in their stomach and it protected us from allergic asthma.
H.Pylori colonization in early life encourages production of regulatory T-cells in the blood which are needed to counter allergic responses. It has to be stated that certain strains of H.Pylori have been linked to peptic ulcer and stomach cancer, but most of the other strains are protective and do us more good than harm.
Research by Blaser and his colleagues further suggests that H.Pylori in the stomach protects against gastro esophageal reflux disease, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer.
Sometimes it is difficult to determine if the disruption of the gut microbes caused the disease or the disease caused a disruption in the gut microbes. Most recent research suggests that it is the disruption of the gut microbes that is the main cause.
For this reason Blaser cautions against the overuse of antibiotics, especially the broad spectrum drugs now commonly prescribed for children. In so many cases the infection is caused by a virus which makes the use of antibiotics totally useless. Not only that, if it is caused by a bacteria, we should find out which one specifically and just use an antibiotic that stops the growth of that bacteria without destroying all the healthy microbial bacteria in your body.
Less than two years ago when people asked me what specific supplements they needed to maintain a state of health, I always recommended fish oil, a multiple vitamin or b-complex, vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin D but I never used to include a good probiotic. Today, the way things are, I think most people should add a good full spectrum probiotic to their supplement regimen.