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Can Antibiotics Make us Fat?

Updated on September 26, 2012

Scientists have discovered a link between the taking of antibiotics and the rise in obesity among the general population in advanced countries.

Obesityis a modern day epidemic.

Being overweight results in increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, as every organ in the body is put under undue strain, having to lug all the extra adipose tissue around.

Processed food manufacturers are under pressure to reduce sugar and salt from their products, in an effort to reduce the obesity trend, to little avail.

People are continuing to get fatter, and diet programs and the promotion of healthy eating, are largely failing.

Now scientist have discovered a link between the taking of antibiotics and obesity, according to the New Scientist magazine.

antibiotics alter gut bacteria
antibiotics alter gut bacteria | Source

Antibiotics destroy the natural flora balance in the gut

Trillions of microbes live in our gut.

Studies are being done into those microbes, and comparisons made with microbes extracted from mummified bodies from past millennia, and it would seem that modern day antibiotics are responsible for the destruction of the normal flora and fauna that live there, naturally.

In the past, it was known that antibiotics destroy all bacteria in our bodies, not just those which were making us ill.

It was thought that our natural microbes recovered after a period of time, probably a few days.

Now they are learning that antibiotics kill those minute bacteria forever, and change our intestinal functions for as long as we live.

Worse still, the immune systems of newborn babies only kick in at birth, when some microbes are passed from the mother as the baby passes through the birth canal.

If the mother's natural organisms have already changed, then the newborn baby will not recieve those vital life-giving organisms that will keep him or safe in the years to come.

While scientists still do not know the full function of the natural bacteria that lives in our gut, they do know that some are essential to life and for the normal digestion of foodstuffs.

Studies have shown that if newborn babies are given antibiotics at any time in their first six months, they are more likely to be overweight by the time they are 7 years old, even if their mother has a healthy weight.

antibiotics
antibiotics | Source

Superbugs and the overuse of antibiotics

It is the over-prescribing of antibiotics that has given rise to the so-called superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.

This is a serious problem in many parts of the world.

In India, antibiotic-resistant TB has already raised its ugly head. AsTBis a potential pandemic disease, this is a frightening scenario.

It has long been thought that the superbugs developed through people not finishing their courses of antibiotics.

The bacteria was knocked down, but not out, giving it the chance to resurrect itself with a new, slightly altered formula that antibiotics could not touch.

Everyone prescribed antibiotics therefore made every effort to finish the course, in order to kill off the bacteria and not allow it to return in a changed form.

No-one had any idea that this would have the knock-on effect of changing the gut flora forever.

Do you take antibiotics regularly?

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The link between helicobacter pylori and disease

Helicobacter pylori is the name of the bacteria discovered to be the cause of stomach ulcers, cancers and heart disease.

It lives in our gut naturally, and was not thought to cause problems until an Australian doctor discovered the link between it and ulcers.

Doctors learned that the simple prescribing of antibiotics - sometimes long courses - eradicated h. pylori from the body, curing the patient of his life debilitating stomach problems.

They did not foresee the huge rise in cancers of the oesophagus that followed the eradication of acid-neutralising h.pylori.

And not just cancers, Parkinson's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, asthma and autism are all linked to the eradication of h. pylori.

Think about it. Don't you know people with those diseases? I know I do. I have seen a big increase in what used to be rare conditions, over the last 20 years or so.

Now obesity has joined that list.

lab mice
lab mice | Source

So why do antibiotics make us fat?

Studies were carried out by a team of microbiologists, led by Michael Blaser of New York University.

Infant mice were fed low doses of antibiotics.

After 30 weeks, the penicillin-fed mice were between 10 and 15 percent bigger than similarly aged mice that had been fed a normal, drug-free diet.

It was only when these scientists looked at the micro-organisms in the guts of those mice that the differences became apparent.

The antibiotic-fed mice had a different complement of gut bacteria.

Then they transplanted the gut bacteria from the antibiotic-fed mice to yet another group of mice, ones that had been raised in a sterile environment and had no gut bacteria.

Within just 5 weeks, these mice fattened up so much they became a massive 35% bigger than the control group of unchanged mice.

At the present time, scientists do not yet know the optimum mix of flora in our gut.

There are trillions of them, with many different combinations, depending on there we live, environmental factors, what we eat and probably other, as yet unknown, factors.

It would be nice to think they learned the optimal levels and combination to ensure none of us need suffer the misery of obesity, but until then, there is something we can do to protect our children.

Do not allow antibiotics to be prescribed when the cause of the infection is unknown.

There will be a time when your baby is so ill, that antibiotics offer the only cure.

I know as a mother, as well as a nurse, that the temptation is there to allow your sickly baby to have them, knowing they will take away the misery a fever brings a small child.

Allowing nature to run its course is often the best bet.

That way, baby builds up his own healthy immune system and does not run the risk of obesity in later life.

As always, ask your health visitor or doctor for advice. Some conditions can kill if not treated, so unfortunately there are always going to be cases where antibiotics are life-savers.

Perhaps one day,faecal transplants may be the way forward, to rid us forever of obesity and the misery it brings.

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    • Health Visitor profile image
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      Health Visitor 5 years ago from UK

      Thanks Pollyanna. I have used them at various points in my life, and am always struggling with my weight although I was slim in my twenties.

    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

      Very informative hub, glad I have rarely used them.