A recent article evaluating antibiotic use and correlated weight gain was recently published by Brian Schwartz of Johns Hopkins, in “The journal of Obesity”. This gives me a starting point for a discussion of antibiotic overuse and the harmful effects they have both immediately and long term. Even when judiciously used by many physicians there are issues with intestinal bacteria changes.But these changes are especially common place with the rampant over prescribing because of fear, lack of understanding, and due to time constraints. There is still a prevalent ignorance regarding disease and the use of medications and their complications. Everything you put in you mouth has good or bad health effects both immediate and long term. Antibiotics more so than the majority of things you put in your body has an immediate negative impact, but more and more we are learning about the long term impact. This article studies the relationship of antibiotics to weight gain for children with increasing proportion with rising number of antibiotics used. This goes on to relate it to the loss of good bacteria in your gut that can process food and help break down good nutrition. This is a new idea regarding weight gain but not new knowledge that the loss of normal bacteria flora in your intestine causes all sorts of problems. These range from digestive issues to many other systemic diseases. By changing your intestinal system you lose a lot of natural ability to build immunity through the gut, a main source of fighting illness, and have poor absorption of nutrients, causing stomach, issues, gas, bloating, inflammatory bowel disease and all sorts of chronic diseases. Antibiotics alone are not the only cause of this. A poor western diet with processed foods, fats, sugars, salts ,toxins including those from animal protein , junk food, and diary. These have direct and lifelong negative impact. We now know intuitively that when you are on antibiotics you should take a probiotic ( which add good bacteria) especially if the use is prolonged. Antibiotics kill all bacteria randomly including the good bacteria in your gut making the way for stronger more dangerous bacteria to flourish. And now for the really bad news: This antibiotic misuse is not just personal where it wipes out our useful bacteria and can make you personally resistant to that particular antibiotic by helping the strongest of the bacteria mutate: antibiotic overuse is causing a worldwide plague of resistant bugs that are not treatable with the antibiotics we currently have. This may be a boon to the drug companies who want to come up with a super expensive super bacteria killing antibiotic, but even they are running out of the options to do this. They are going back to nature to find natural plant antibiotics in tropical forests remote environments to find remedies to fight these super bugs. The pharmaceutical companies are finding the origin of strong antibiotics, manipulate and synthesize them to fight the resistant bugs they have created while wreaking havoc on your intestinal and immune system. I personally prescribe antibiotics when necessary and will not sacrifice anyone’s health for the sake of a philosophy or politics or to be strictly“ natural organic”, but necessary means well documented and proven , or there is no other choice when the danger of watching and patiently waiting for a disease to resolve would far outweigh the use and dangers associated with the medication prescribed.
The theory of the study is that antibiotics change a child’s intestinal flora by changing the way one digests food and therefore absorb nutrients differently, possibly absorbing more calories and fat. In turn gaining weight faster than other children.
The average additional weight gain by the time they were teenagers in this study was 3 lbs. Early in childhood children would gain weight after the antibiotic use but would lose it, but by the time they became 15 the weight gain was permanent.
Researchers, in preliminary studies believe the weight will keep going up as the patient’s age.
Other variables that could contribute to weight gain do not seem to be accounted for in this study including family lifestyle and health perspective including the following factors:
Food quality- fatty food, meat, dairy, processed food, sugar, fried foods. all lead to weight gain and changes in intestinal flora as well. Antibiotic use in animals is a main source of this growing worldwide resistance.
Activity level– less activity and exercise is a well known factor in obesity and weight gain.
Illness – chronic illness, multiple antibiotic use could be correlated with sickly less active children.
Overuse of physician’s care– have a tendency to seek medical care for small viral illness and prefer antibiotic use to natural means and patiently waiting for viruses to resolve.
The broader point is that maintaining good natural bacterial flora in your intestine is one of the key components to good health, whether it be maintaining a healthy weight as pointed out in this study or by eating healthy and supporting good bowel function. Your intestinal system health is linked to overall health more intricately them we previously understood.
by Warren Krantz MD, FAAP