We’ve heard it before, antibiotics can potentially do more harm than good, but the evidence just keeps piling up.
Research from Oregon State University has shown that antibiotics affect microorganisms living in an animal’s gut in more ways than previously thought. It’s been long established that antibiotics disrupt the natural order of microbiota in the gastrointestinal system, but the extent of which hadn’t been closely looked at.
This new research shows that regular and overuse of antibiotics can have unwanted effects on gut microorganisms and also on everything from the immune system to food absorption. It is being linked to things like obesity, depression and allergies. This research is alarming considering antibiotics are regularly used on farm animals that we consume; plus 40 percent of adults and 70 percent of children take at least one antibiotic a year.
“Prior to this, most people thought antibiotics only depleted microbiota and diminished several important immune functions that take place in the gut,” Andrey Morgun, an assistant professor in the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy, said in a university news release. “Actually that’s only about one-third of the picture. They also kill intestinal epithelium. Destruction of the intestinal epithelium is important because this is the site of nutrient absorption, part of our immune system and it has other biological functions that play a role in human health.”
Antibiotics, when used properly, are important in treating bacterial infections, but as bacteria changes and evolves, antibiotics are becoming less and less effective and bacteria more resistant.
It’s a serious problem. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, 23,000 Americans die as a result of and more than two million are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The problem is scientists don’t have great alternatives lined up for the inevitable uselessness of antibiotics. The research into antibiotic alternatives isn’t well funded from the government or the pharmaceutical companies because they thought they had the battle won when it came to antibiotics, Dr. Peg Riley, who researches microbial evolution at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said to International Business Times.
Riley is an expert on bacteriocins, which are toxic proteins that bacteria use to fight other bacteria. She is currently experimenting with these proteins as a possible means to develop antibiotics that target only the specific bad bacteria and not the good. These experiments haven’t entered human trials, however.
The best options at the moment for people not wanting to contribute to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are to avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics and keep the immune system healthy. A healthy immune system is much better equipped to deal with potential bacterial infection when confronted. There are also antibiotic herbal alternatives like goldenseal that might be worth some research.
Another tip is to eat antibiotic-free meat or eat your meat well done. Animals can develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts and pass those on to humans if not cooked properly.
In the 1940s, penicillin was a wonder drug, but now we are starting to feel the effects of overuse of antibiotics. Perhaps something new and wondrous will come along soon.