The holidays are upon us and the feasts begin along with the splurging of delicious food. But did you know that your food might be giving you extra weight? Well, here is an interesting fact: low doses of antibiotics have been used to promote weight gain in food animals since the 1950s. For many years scientific studies have illustrated the connection between weight gain and antibiotics, due to their bacteria-killing action. New Zealand researchers found that boys treated with antibiotics during their first year of life reported higher body mass index (BMI) between the ages of 5 and 8 than boys who had not been similarly treated.
Can Antibiotics Really Be Blamed?
One thing is clear: Antibiotics change the makeup of our digestive system. In one investigation, it was discovered that the use of the antibiotic vancomycin, which was developed to treat penicillin-resistant infections, could be linked to a 10 percent BMI increase. You see, our digestive system is a group of organs, which includes the stomach and the colon, and together it harbors nearly 100 trillion bacteria (gut microbiota). These bacteria make an invaluable contribution to our metabolism by helping to break down complex carbohydrates and starches, thwart the growth of harmful bacteria and even produce vitamins and hormones that direct the storage of fats.
Researchers have discovered that a less diverse community of gut bacteria goes hand in hand with increased obesity and insulin resistance. So they are saying that obese individuals with lower levels of microbial diversity tend to gain more weight than those with higher levels of microbial diversity. To prove this point, researchers transferred the gut microbiota from human twins into adult, germ-free mice. The twist here is that each set of twins, one twin was thin and the other fat. The mice receiving material from the overweight twin soon became overweight, while the mice receiving material from the lean twin remained lean.
The diversity of your gut bacteria is impacted anytime you take an antibiotic prescribed to cure an illness. Not only does the medicine attack the intended target, pathogenic bacteria, but it also kills some of the bacteria living in your digestive tract. So everytime you get a cold and want antibiotics, the composition of your gut microbiota changes. The question is if this is temporary or permanent change?
Consider that in the early 1900s, Helicobacter pylori was a microbe found in almost all stomachs, but by the turn of the 21st century, fewer than 6 percent of children in the U.S., Sweden, and Germany were still carrying the organism. A single course of antibiotics that treat middle-ear or respiratory infections in children eradicated H. pylori in up to half of all instances.
The harm done may not be only from the pills we ourselves directly swallow. Keep in mind that about 15,000 tons of antibiotics were used to promote growth in domestic food animals during 2011 alone. Most of the antibiotics commonly used for animals belong to the same classes as human antibiotics, including tetracyclines and sulfonamides. The animals ingesting these antibiotics become fat – which we like, because larger animals mean more meat for the table – yet at the same time these animals also develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which they then transmit to humans through the food supply. With each bite of meat from an animal treated with growth-promoting antibiotics, we very well may be developing an inability to properly digest food and an incapacity to make necessary hormones and vitamins on which our bodies rely. Add to the fact that recently, The FDA asked for a ban on antibiotic use for animals used for human consumption.
Does the overuse of antibiotics scare you?