Contrary to the opinion of the conventional medical establishment, there is no free lunch when it comes to antibiotics. Doctors, for the most part, are still handing out prescriptions like candy to their patients despite the continuing and growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
There is now a strain of tuberculosis (TB), the scourge of the last century, that is completely resistant to all antibiotics. Doctors have nicknamed this TB strain “TDR” for Totally Drug-Resistant. As of January 2012, a dozen patients in India were infected with this TB superbug.
The problem with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections continues to expand with babies and children representing a large chunk of the cases. I’ve been contacted by more than one young mother recently who was beyond desperate to resolve an MRSA infection in her child – an infection which was resisting all conventional treatments like antibiotics.
Beyond the problem of antibiotic resistance, however, are the long term effects of even a single round of antibiotics. The expectation in the health community that you can just fix the damage with probiotics and/or fermented foods and that gut flora magically returns to normal seems to be far from accurate.
Evidence is now emerging from multiple sources that gut flora may actually be permanently altered by drugs or, at the very least, the damage persists for several years.
Gut Damage from Antibiotics Persists for Long Periods of Time
The Journal Microbiology reports that the generally acknowledged precept that use of antibiotics only causes disruption of the gut flora for a few weeks is highly flawed.
Gut flora does not quickly return to normal after a round of antibiotics.
Even a short course of antibiotics can lead to resistant bacterial populations taking up residence in the gut that persists for up to 4 years – maybe even longer.
As a result, researchers are urging prudence and restraint in the use of antibiotics in order to prevent treatment failure for patients that have resistant bacterial populations still residing in their intestines from previous courses of antibiotics.
What this means is that taking antibiotics today for an illness that is not life-threatening may, in fact, lead to a growth of superbugs in your gut that could actually threaten your life down the road and prevent antibiotics from working for you when you desperately need it.
Could Damage to Gut Flora Be Permanent?
Dr. Martin Blaser MD of New York University’s Langone Medical Center who writes in the August 2011 edition of Nature, has this to say about damage to gut flora from antibiotics:
Early evidence from my lab and others hints that, sometimes, our friendly flora never fully recover. These long-term changes to the beneficial bacteria within people’s bodies may even increase our susceptibility to infections and disease. Overuse of antibiotics could be fueling the dramatic increase in conditions such as obesity, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies and asthma, which have more than doubled in many populations.
As evidence, Blaser goes on to say that infections with H. pylori, the bacterial cause of ulcers, has plummeted in recent years. H. pylori, as it turns out, is very susceptible to the same broad-spectrum antibiotics used to treat children’s ear infections and colds which are doled out without much thought at most pediatrician offices.
Shockingly, the majority of children routinely receive up to 20 courses of antibiotics before the age of 18. In addition, between one third and one-half of pregnant women receive antibiotics during pregnancy. The high C-section rate also negatively affects the composition of gut flora of these children. They completely miss out on exposure to Mom’s friendly bacteria as they travel through the birth canal.
This is a lot of antibiotic exposure for our younger generations and the implications for those children who don’t acquire H. pylori due to excessive antibiotics appear to be dramatic with a higher risk for both allergies and asthma. This may be the case even when attempts to repair the gut after a course is completed are followed.
Blaser’s research group has also observed that lack of H. pylori in the human body affects the production of ghrelin and leptin, 2 hormones that play a factor in weight gain.
Preservation of the MicroBiome
The composition of a person’s microbiome, not only in the gut but also on the skin and everywhere in the body, has huge implications for long term health. Altering this balance with antibiotics not only negatively affects the variety of bacterial species present but also promotes the retention of resistant bacteria in the gut for up to 4 years and perhaps far longer.
Preservation of your personal microbiome is critical and affects not only your health but the health of your children as parents bequeath their microbiome to their offspring.
Blaser observes that:
“Each generation … could be beginning life with a smaller endowment of ancient microbes than the last.”
If Dr. Blaser and the other researchers are correct, it seems that people need to guard their microbiome against the assault of antibiotics in the same manner that they protect their home and possessions with locks on the doors.
If your illness is not life-threatening, skip the antibiotics even for something like strep which even WebMD admits will almost always resolve without drugs or complications. The risk to your future health is just too great otherwise.
Sources and More Information
Long-Term Impacts of Antibiotic Exposure on the Human Intestinal Microbiota
Short-term antibiotic treatment has differing long-term impacts on the human throat and gut microbiome
Stop the Killing of Beneficial Bacteria
Are Antibiotics Always Necessary for Strep Throat?
The 11 Best Natural Antibiotics and How to Use Them
How to Kick Strep Throat Faster and Better Without Antibiotics
I’m taking azithromycin as I write this. It’s been 2 years since my last antibiotic. These are lung infections. Back in college I didn’t go to the doctor over one of these lung infections for over 3 months and it never got better until I used antibiotics. I have to be able to work and I cannot do that with lungs full of yellow/green infected-smelling mucus. Every time I go out to work, it destroys any progress I was making in feeling better. I cannot eat and drink and prepare all these natural remedies while sick and working. I’m too tired and out of it (like when you have the flu).
I’m here trying to figure out what I can do for myself next year (winter cold/flu season and spring allergy seasons are when this lung infection can start). I eat only whole foods, organic, loads of vegetables, moderate clean proteins, healthy fats. I eat no sugar, no grains, no prepackaged of any kind. Been doing this starting almost 2 years ago.
If I hadn’t taken the azithromycin, I’d still be sitting here too sick to work and no end in sight. I am not happy about the damage to my microbiome. I have been working diligently to improve it for 2 years.
I need to figure out some natural antibiotic to use now after I am done with the Azithromycin because I do not want this infection to grow again. I feel like the antibiotic never completely kills it off and have had it regrow within a week or two after stopping antibiotics. My lungs are my weak point. I can handle sinus and skin-level infections using natural means and always do.
I was considering oil of oregano capsules internally plus silver internally. I have tried breathing things in like oil of oregano or eucalyptus in the past and none of that ever made any significant difference.
Hi, Lori. I’d encourage you to do some research on N-acetylcysteine (also sometimes spelled N-Acetyl-
Cysteine. In studies, it was shown to be effective at preventing people from catching cold and flu viruses, even when the viruses were injected! NAC is said to be especially good at preventing respiratory infections and lung involvement when a common virus is contracted, and can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. From my research, NAC is a form of amino acid found in typical protein-containing foods, and is safe to take even long-term. I personally take it daily. It is recommended to take it with food, to avoid stomach upset.
What had you used for Lyme? What were the effects?
I’m a big advocate of holistic health – and avoiding antibiotics at whatever cost. 6 years ago a month of clindamycin damaged my gut and I believe I am still dealing with the ramifications. Needless to say, I have avoided antibiotics like the plague (which I’ve actually contracted from a beaver before – no joke!).
That is, until yesterday. After 9 days of treating strep throat naturally, with a conjunction of GFSE, cat’s claw, artemisinin, cloves, black walnut, crytpoleptis, probiotics, broths, whole foods, rest, and so on, I developed Scarlet Fever. I had a rash, golf-ball sized glands, and I was in pain and exhausted to the point where I went to the hospital. Trust me, I have been through a lot with Lyme disease, and I have avoided the hospital many a time when others probably would have gone. I also treated Lyme with natural anti-microbials and immune and metabolic boosting practices. I’m proud of it, too. I am still hestitant to advocate long-term antibiotic use for even the worst of cases, however I believe antibiotics can be the lesser of two evils SOMETIMES; the two evils being immune and gut damage VS death. Hate to say it but I feel so much better right now. I know that getting better is not as simple as finishing my course of antibiotics. I have weeks, maybe months (we’ll see) of gut repair, avoiding infections and probably probiotics. I didn’t ever want to deal with this again, but I am here, and I know the drill.