What Do Antibiotics Do to Your Body? The Antibiotic Dilemma, Part 1

What Do Antibiotics Do to Your Body? The Antibiotic Dilemma, Part 1I can’t count the number of times I have been prescribed an antibiotic in my life. There were the multiple cases of strep throat when I was young. And the many times I have had ear infections, bladder infections, and other mild infections. Most of the time, I blindly accepted my doctor’s recommendation without second-guessing the necessity of using antibiotics.

I was even prescribed a long-term, daily dose of an antibiotic when I had pretty bad acne in high school. I filled the prescription and started taking it, but that didn’t last long. Something didn’t feel quite right about putting a bacteria-killing agent into my body for the small chance that my acne would improve. Was it really safe? What damage could I do to my body by continuing with that treatment option? 

Antibiotics are often unnecessary

Antibiotics are the go-to treatment for a variety of common conditions. The problem is, they are often unnecessary and used improperly, and they actually have some very serious side effects. Aside from contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,[1] overuse of antibiotics can damage your health, too.

So what do antibiotics do to your body and why aren’t they safe? In Part 1 of this series, learn how antibiotics can wipe out the beneficial bacteria in your gut. In part 2, you’ll learn about how antibiotic use is associated with serious conditions like diabetes, and what to do to avoid these antibiotic risks.

What do antibiotics do to your gut health?

Our bodies are full of living organisms called bacteria. Some of the bacteria are harmful if allowed to grow and proliferate (like Salmonella or E. Coli), but others are actually essential to good health and the proper function of various bodily systems.

The composition of bacteria in our gut, and how it impacts our overall health, has become a very popular field of research as more people understand the importance of what is called the gut microbiome (or the community of bacteria living in our bodies).

A healthy microbiome is essential for proper immune function, for example, and disruptions to the gut microbiome have been associated with conditions like obesity, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, metabolic diseases, asthma, arthritis, and more.[2,3] Addressing the health of the gut microbiome may help prevent childhood obesity, fight depression, and even improve symptoms of autism.

Antibiotics kill bacteria, the good and the bad

Antibiotics help treat infections because they kill off the bacteria causing your symptoms. The problem is that they aren’t specific to the harmful bacteria that infect you; they wipe out the other, beneficial bacteria in your body, too. In this way, antibiotics disrupt the balance between good and bad bacteria, which can lead to significant health problems.

Unfortunately, antibiotic use can cause lasting damage to the gut microbiome, altering both the quantity and diversity of bacterial communities. Studies show that antibiotics certainly do alter the gut microbiome in healthy people,[2,4,5] and that these disruptions can last for several months; it can take six months after stopping antibiotics for the changes made by the drugs to return to normal.[2]

Antibiotic use in young children can be especially detrimental, as the balance of bacteria in the gut at certain developmental stages is particularly important for good health.[2]

Serious consequences of antibiotic use

Now you know how antibiotics can wreak havoc on your gut health, and how this might have far-reaching effects on your body. In Part 2 of this series, learn the shocking association between antibiotic use and diabetes risk. You’ll also learn what questions to ask your doctor to avoid unnecessary antibiotics, and what to do if you decide antibiotics really are the best option.

Share your experience

What do you do when you are prescribed an antibiotic? What do you think, are they damaging to your body? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

[1] Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:214021.

[2] PLoS Pathog. 2015 Jul 2;11(7):e1004903.

[3] Nutr Rev. 2015 Aug;73 Suppl 1:32-40.

[4] ISME J. 2015 Sep 11. [Epub ahead of print]

[5] Nat Commun. 2015 Jun 30;6:7486.

Originally published in 2015.

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UHN Staff

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