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Antibiotic overuse may be bad for body's friendly Bacteria

In our modern day society, we are acutely aware that antibiotics are important drugs. It would be difficult to overstate the benefits derived from penicillin and other antibiotics, which have played important roles in treating bacterial infections and in helping to prevent the spread of diseases.

However, there is also a huge problem with antibiotic medications and the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. All key factors in contributing to antibiotic resistance and more importantly, the elimination of all good bacteria along with the bad when antibiotics are taken.

Growing Antibiotic Use

In a developed country like U.S., the average child gets from 10-20 courses of antibiotics by age 18. Studies have also shown that doctors often prescribe antibiotics before they know whether an infection is viral or bacterial. And if the problem is a virus, antibiotics does not help. 

A good example is that of a study conducted in 2003, published in the journal of the American Medical Association, which showed that doctors prescribed antibiotics for more than 60% of adults with upper respiratory tract infections, which are usually caused by viruses.

And following that, a 2010 study, published in Infection control and Hospital Epidemiology, found that doctors sometimes kept their patients on antibiotics even after tests showed they had viral infections. 

Secondary antibiotic use is also rampant in our food source. Farmers had discovered decades ago, that antibiotic use in chicken, turkeys, sheep and cows treat their infections and helps the animals gain weight.

Disappearing Bacteria

Researchers and medical specialists are aware that antibiotic use has consequences and impacts, but are unclear as to how far these impacts go beyond. Some researchers have gone even further to suggest that antibiotic use, has contributed to obesity in humans, and beyond that, antibiotics may also be a factor behind the unexplained rise in allergies, asthma and type1 diabetes in children. Another research directed by the Human Microbiome Project, suggests that a bacterial environment that is out of balance in the esophagus and stomach is a contributing factor to cancer. 

As antibiotic use has increased, and coupled with the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in our developed world, studies have also shown that the kinds of bacteria we live with in our lives, are fast changing. In fact, it is thought that some bacterial species that used to live in our bodies are now, going extinct. A good example of this, is H.pylori. About a century ago, the bacterium H.pylori was the main microbe that people carried in their stomachs. 

Today, studies conducted, have shown that less than 6% of children born in the U.S. Germany and Sweden, carry that bacterium. This proves that the species is fast disappearing from its human hosts. 

Our body alone has over 100 trillion bacteria living in us. We have more bacteria than cells! Many of these bacteria are greatly helpful, they aid in our digestion, keep less friendly bacteria at bay and strengthen our immune system. Unfortunately however, when we have a course of antibiotics, many of our beneficial bacteria are also destroyed. It is thus, crucial to take supplemental premium probiotics during and after a course of antibiotics. This is to help replenish the good bacteria and reduce the side effects of taking antibiotics.

Additionally, when antibiotics kills the good bacteria in the gut, they leave the intestines open for the fast-growing candida yeast to take over. So, it is crucial to use premium probiotics to fill one’s gut with beneficial bacteria, leaving less space for Candida to grow.

Other research, directed by the Human Microbiome Project, which aims to catalogue and understand the microorganisms that live in the body, has suggested that a bacterial environment that’s out of balance in the stomach and esophagus may contribute to cancer. 

An out-of-balance bacterial environment in the digestive system may lead to inflammation, and inflammation may cause changes in cells that lead to cancer, Proctor says.

Protecting Good Bacteria 

Though such research is in its early stages, some experts say Blaser’s call to action is on target.

“There’s really only a limited number of studies that have been done on this so far, but I think we’re going to see more because I think it’s going to be a big deal for us to understand this,” says George Weinstock, PhD, a professor at the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis.

But "the evidence is all circumstantial," Alexander Khoruts, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, tells WebMD in an email. He says there is an "urgent need" to see if overuse of antibiotics are causing the problems Blaser describes, and that there is "little doubt that antibiotics have been overused in clinical and veterinary medicine, and farming practices." But Khoruts says he is "less than convinced that we have enough data to revise guidelines for solid indications for antibiotic usage." 

Because studies have already shown that antibiotic overuse is contributing to the problem of drug resistance, Blaser believes it’s not rash to act in advance of more definitive science.

“We all know that there’s antibiotic overuse early in life, and I’m giving us yet another reason why we have to control it,” he says.

Among measures he’d like to see in place are better diagnostic tests that would help doctors more quickly pinpoint the cause of an infection.

Blaser says it’s critical to swap the widely used broad-spectrum antibiotics, which can kill many different kinds of bacteria, for agents that more narrowly target the bug that’s causing the disease.

And he says effective probiotics are needed to replace lost good bacteria 

- By Brenda Goodman

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