In the United States, about 30 percent of antibiotics (which is about 47 million prescriptions) are unnecessarily prescribed in doctors’ offices and emergency clinics. Many of these prescriptions are for a cold or flu, but here’s the thing: you can’t fight colds and flus with antibiotics. You will actually make these viral infections worse when you take antibiotics.
Antibiotics are a valuable tool for fighting life-threatening bacterial infections. Yet, the CDC says that antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health threats. Colds and many infections of the upper respiratory tract, including some ear infections, are caused almost exclusively by viruses, not bacteria. Antibiotics don’t work against viruses.
Antibiotics actually strengthen a viral infection like the common cold or flu. Viruses that naturally live in the body can store antibiotic-resistant genes, and they pass them out like candy to hungry bacteria. This intensifies the problem of antibiotic resistance. Researchers have also found that antibiotics slow down the clearance of an infection – meaning more sick days out. When you treat a viral infection with antibiotics, you essentially cripple your immune system.
With antibiotic use, researchers have found that:
- Immune cells express fewer genes associated with protection against viral infection.
- The body is less equipped to stop viral replication.
This happens because antibiotics wipe out the healthy bacteria that naturally protect the body.
HOW ANTIBIOTICS COULD HURT
Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness. Inappropriate prescribing is one factor that contributes to this. Repeated exposure to antibiotics can cause germs to become resistant to the drugs. The CDC estimates that drug-resistant bacteria cause 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
Side effects are another problem that come from using antibiotics unnecessarily. The CDC says antibiotics are responsible for 1 in 5 emergency-room visits related to bad drug reactions. Particularly troubling is the increase in severe diarrhea caused by C-diff, the Clostridium difficile bug that can take hold in the gut after antibiotics kill off other bacteria.
Other consequences of medication-resistant infections include:
- More serious illness
- More recovery time
- More frequent or longer hospitalization
- More doctor visits
- More expensive treatments
ANTIBIOTICS LINKED TO CHRONIC DISEASE
Scientists have traced the devastating ripple effects of antibiotic use over time. In 2015, New York University’s Langone Medical Center researchers discovered that multiple courses of common antibiotics could affect a child’s development for the rest of their life. Within the same year, researchers found a three-way link between infant antibiotic use, changes in gut bacteria, and the development of adult disease in the gut. A child’s gut may never recover from antibiotic overuse.
Farmers, for example, discovered decades ago that animals fed small amounts of antibiotics, below the doses used to treat infections, gain more weight. Antibiotics may also be contributing to obesity in humans. This is theorized by Martin Blaser, MD, who heads the department of medicine at NYU’s Langone Medical Center. Dr. Martin also believes that other health issues have arisen from the over use of antibiotics.
Some of these include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Type 1 Diabetes
- H. pylori deficiencies
- Stomach and Esophagus Cancers
THE IMPORTANCE OF GUT HEALTH
Healthy gut bacteria and your immune system are allies. Together, they fight infection and protect the body. Unfortunately, antibiotics wipe out healthy bacteria and destroy the lines of communication between good bacteria and your immune system – sometimes permanently. If a wounded inner ecosystem gives viruses a fighting chance, then a healthy inner ecosystem should turn the tides in your favor. You can reverse the damage caused by antibiotics.
HOW TO RECOVER FROM ANTIBIOTICS: HEAL YOUR GUT
If you have used an antibiotic to treat an infection, there are ways to recover. Here are some steps you can take to make sure you keep your body as healthy as possible.
The following are ways to restore healthy gut flora and digestive function during and after a course of antibiotics:
- Probiotics. Probiotics can be supplied through a supplement (such as our Green Juice) or by eating probiotic-rich foods like Kefir, kombucha, or naturally fermented pickles, kraut or kimchi. Take a probiotic during treatment and for at least a month after finishing the treatment. Saccharomyces boulardii is a beneficial yeast that helps with recovery. Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland reported that probiotics help fight viral respiratory tract infections- like the common cold and the flu.
- Bone broth. Though it may seem intimidating at first, bone broth is essentially grandma’s chicken soup – made from scratch.
- Prebiotics. Prebiotics help good bacteria grow and thrive. Both during and after antibiotics, it’s important to focus on getting a lot of soluble fiber found in peeled fruits and root veggies – it will feed good bacteria. Insoluble fiber, which is found in foods like whole grains, beans, and difficult-to-digest veggies, should be avoided because it will irritate your already-compromised gut lining.
- Ginger. Make a simple tea by simmering fresh slices of ginger in boiling water and adding a touch of raw honey and lemon. This will help to gently “warm” your digestion as your recover from the “cold” nature of antibiotics.
- Avoid cold and raw foods – like smoothies, juices, fruit, salads – in favor of more easily digested cooked foods, like soup and simple dishes of cooked rice, meat, and veggies.
When you employ these methods to improve your gut health, you also strengthen your immune system and help prevent future viral infection. With the proper knowledge and tools, you can overcome the vicious effects of antibiotic overuse.