269 million antibiotic prescriptions are written in a year. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), of that number, 47 million people didn’t need antibiotics . As a probiotics company founded by a CEO who was hospitalized by a round of antibiotics destroying his gut biome, we can say antibiotics can be dangerous. However, we’d be ignorant to say they’re not necessary.
All we’re saying is that before you and your doctor decide if antibiotics are right for you, maybe check and see what the root causes issues might be first. You might not need antibiotics, after all. If you do, then all the power to you.
So, what are antibiotics? How do they affect gut health, specifically? Let’s take a look.
What Are Antibiotics?
Antibiotics are what they sound like. They are antibacterial drugs, often used to prevent or treat bacterial infections. Pharmacists and scientists formulate antibiotics in laboratories. These medications are made by a mixture of items found in nature and synthetic compounds.
Popular types of antibiotics include:
- Penicillins (Penicillin, Amoxicillin)
- Cephalosporins (Cephalexin [Keflex])
- Macrolides (Erythromycin [E-Mycin], Clarithromycin [Biaxin], Azithromycin [Zithromax])
- Fluoroquinolones (Ciprofloxacin [Cipro], Levofloxacin [Levaquin], Ofloxacin [Floxin])
- Sulfonamides (Co-trimoxazole [Bactrim], Trimethoprim (Proloprim)
- Tetracyclines (Tetracycline (Sumycin, Panmycin), Doxycycline (Vibramycin)
- Aminoglycosides (Gentamicin (Garamycin), Tobramycin (Tobrex)
Interestingly enough, our microbes create antibiotics on their own. However, there are too many toxins in our food, environment, and cosmetics for these microbes to handle. That’s where antibiotics prescribed by a doctor can really come in handy.
Importance of Antibiotics
This type of medicine is extremely important in our everyday lives, and without antibiotics, there would be a lot more people dying every year.
A meta-analysis looks at how life expectancy for humans after the antibiotic era rose from 47 years old by over 30 years . The research uncovered some impressive numbers that speak to the importance of antibiotic treatments.
“The antibiotic era revolutionized the treatment of infectious diseases worldwide, although with much success in developed countries. In the US for example, the leading causes of death changed from communicable diseases to non-communicable diseases (cardiovascular disease, cancer, and stroke), the average life expectancy at birth rose to 78.8 years, and older population changed from 4% to 13% of the entire US population.”– Ann Ib Postgrad Med.
As humans tend to do, we get carried with the convenience of antibiotics. These powerful doses have caused our stomach bacteria to grow resistant to antibiotics.
Due to intestinal flora resistance, we often have to increase the dose of the antibiotics, which can cause issues when it comes to the good stomach bacteria that live inside of us .
Not only does our gut biome have to contend with antibiotic medications, but these medications have found its way into our food sources.
Antibiotics in Food
Those who follow a meat-based diet probably consume a lot of antibiotics involuntarily. That’s because many animals used in agriculture are fed antibiotics.
One of the reasons for this practice is because a majority of these animals are fed high-allergen foods such as gluten. As a result, they get sick with GI issues, weakened immune systems, and poor muscle quality. Therefore, their feed is enriched with antibiotics for prevention purposes.
Another reason is that cows’ udders tend to become damaged from constantly being pregnant and milked. Therefore, they are prone to bacterial infections.
As one analysis stated,
“16% of all lactating dairy cows in the U.S. receive antibiotic therapy for clinical mastitis each year, but nearly all dairy cows receive intramammary infusions of prophylactic doses of antibiotics following each lactation to prevent and control future mastitis—primarily with penicillins, cephalosporins, or other beta-lactam drugs .”– United States Department of Agriculture
Another meta-analysis looked at the many holes in the food industry’s ethics.
This article noted,
“Forty-two percent of beef calves in feedlots are fed tylosin—a veterinary macrolide drug—to prevent liver abscesses that negatively impact growth, and approximately 88% of growing swine in the U.S. receive antibiotics in their feed for disease prevention and growth promotion purposes, commonly tetracyclines or tylosin .”– Public Health Rep.
This practice isn’t for the benefits of animals, but rather the pockets of the animal agriculture industry. So, make sure you read the label of any animal product you purchase to make sure it is the best foods for gut health. Look for packages that claim to be antibiotic-free.
Antibiotics in our Water
We as a people are really bad at disposing of our unused medications. As a result, we often dump them down the drain, toss them in the trash, or dispose of them in a variety of otherwise unsafe ways.
This negligent practice has caused a variety of companies, such as Walgreens, to get collection bins that help to dispose of these medications safely.
The main issue with medications in our public water is that they are relatively difficult to filter out. Meaning that, the water that comes out of their faucet has a small number of antibiotics and other drugs inside .
According to one study from 2014:
“Although the ideal antibiotic is toxic to bacteria without affecting humans/animals, reality is more complicated, and directly toxic side effects are common for several classes of antibiotics at doses used for therapy. A few, relatively persistent antibiotics have been found in drinking-water at very low ng/L levels. Near manufacturing discharges, ground-water contamination has led to levels up to low µg/L in drinking-water wells .”– Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences
So, when it comes to this overuse of antibiotics, and the fact that it is found in drinking water, what is the worst-case scenario?
Growth of Superbugs
Superbugs sound cute if you do not have context. You might imagine a tiny fly with a superhero cape or something. That said, what they really are is dangerous.
These mutant bugs are extremely drug-resistant bacteria that have become next to impossible to treat. As humans continue to evolve to adapt to their surroundings, so do stomach bacteria.
Since they are growing used to antibiotics, bugs are figuring out ways to fight back. This reaction is because the stomach bacteria have become immune to modern forms of antibiotics, and as a result, have nothing that stops them from running rampant.
According to Mayoclinic:
“’Superbugs’ is a term used to describe strains of bacteria that are resistant to the majority of antibiotics commonly used today. Resistant bacteria that cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections are just a few of the dangers we now face. Antibiotic resistance is a naturally occurring phenomenon that can be slowed, but not stopped. Over time, bacteria adapt to the drugs that are designed to kill them and change to ensure their survival. This makes previously standard treatments for bacterial infections less effective, and in some cases, ineffective .”– Mayo Clinic
So, this growing issue is something that we have to be concerned about. First, we need to decide if our gut biome really needs antibiotics. Talk with your doctor about other options and go to a specialist for a second opinion before accepting the prescription.
Also, we should reconsider before improperly disposing of medications. Don’t flush antibiotics down the toilet or toss them in the trash. Always check and see if there is a place to drop them off or mail them back.
Benefits of Probiotics
Overuse of antibiotics can not only be bad for all the ways mentioned above, but it can also wreak havoc on your gut health as well. Our gut biome uses stomach bacteria as a way to break down the foods that we eat. After the digestion of food, intestinal flora converts the sugars into nutrients. When the stomach bacteria is out of balance, we get GI problems like SIBO and other digestive issues.
Therefore, if you have to take antibiotics for any reason, it is best to consume probiotics as well. Probiotics supplements help ensure a good gut biome.
In fact, according to Harvard:
“Probiotics can also help offset the bacterial imbalance caused by taking antibiotics. Antibiotics kill good bacteria along with the harmful ones, often leading to gas, cramping or diarrhea. Potential benefits of probiotics have been seen in the treatment or prevention of many conditions such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease .”– Harvard
Therefore, if you have to go on antibiotics due to chemo or surgery, try to eat as many fermented foods as possible and take probiotics supplements. Reducing your risk of infection by consuming a wide variety of different bacteria in your food is a good way to reduce the effects of antibiotic resistance.
Future for Antibiotics and Humans
Stomach bacteria can be good or bad, but we as humans are causing all bacteria to be more resistant to antibiotics. This practice can cause severe gastrointestinal issues and dangers to our health over time. So, while we cannot live without them, it would be better to reduce their use as much as possible.
In addition, it’s in your best interest to get to the bottom of your gut health. Find out what is in your gut biome by using an at-home microbiome testing kit.
From there, we can determine which harmful stomach bacteria may have taken residence due to antibiotics. We can then formulate personalized probiotics supplements to help replenish beneficial intestinal flora.
 “Antibiotic Use in Outpatient Settings, 2017 | Antibiotic Use | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/stewardship-report/outpatient.html.
 Adedeji W. A. (2016). THE TREASURE CALLED ANTIBIOTICS. Annals of Ibadan postgraduate medicine, 14(2), 56–57.
 Zorzet, A. (2015). Global Importance of Antibiotics and Consequences of Antibiotic Overuse. Retrieved April 29, 2019, from Confex.com website: https://aaas.confex.com/aaas/2015/webprogram/Paper14032.html
 Department of Agriculture (US) Fort Collins (CO): USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services, National Animal Health Monitoring System; 2008. Sep, [cited 2010 Nov 11]. Dairy 2007 part III: reference of dairy cattle health and management practices in the United States, 2007.
 Landers, T. F., Cohen, B., Wittum, T. E., & Larson, E. L. (2012). A review of antibiotic use in food animals: perspective, policy, and potential. Public health reports (Washington, D.C. : 1974), 127(1), 4–22. doi:10.1177/003335491212700103
 Harvard Health Publishing. (2011, June). Drugs in the water – Harvard Health. Retrieved April 29, 2019, from Harvard Health website: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/drugs-in-the-water
 Larsson, D. G. J. (2014). Antibiotics in the environment. Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences, 119(2), 108–112. https://doi.org/10.3109/03009734.2014.896438
 Protect yourself from superbugs. (2018). Retrieved April 29, 2019, from Mayo Clinic website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/infectious-diseases/expert-answers/superbugs/faq-20129283
 Harvard Health Publishing. (2017, June 7). The benefits of probiotics bacteria – Harvard Health. Retrieved April 29, 2019, from Harvard Health website: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-benefits-of-probiotics