by Lisa Keilhofer

Antibiotics. Short term effects – long term affects.

Antibiotics. Short term effects – long term affects.
Antibiotics not only increase the risk of resistance, but have many other unpleasant consequences. (Picture: © alkov –

In December 2018, Martin J. Blaser, New York University School of Medicine, published a short article in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine (12/2018) on the state of the art in microbiotic research and his personal evaluation of it.

Not only is he director of the Human Microbiome Program, but also is he very capable of putting things in a way that also non-professionals get his point. This makes him one of the most important players when it comes to bringing the complex microbiome contents to the normal people – besides us.

He starts off with a few most shocking numbers on the topic. Statistics released only recently (November 2018), prove a breath-taking 40% of Americans to suffer from obesity. If you count in also the “normal” overweight people it adds up to even three thirds of the population of the United States. Also, the incredible rate of 20% of obese children and juveniles almost doubled in the past twenty years. Compared to developing countries, America has had their obesity rate already 30 years ago – a more than doubtful lead.

A healthy bacterial variety is more and more lost

Blaser identifies clearly the limited number of bacteria in our microbiome as the main reason for this alarming situation. Our microbiome is individually compound. Mothers initiate the building up of a healthy microbiome when giving (natural) birth and the consolidation takes place within the first three years of life by environmental influence (breast feeding, skin contact, kissing, nutrition… up to a plain acts as playing in the mud). This base of bacteria is considered to be vital for the rest of the human life. Negative influence on the process of building up a stable microbiome, such as excessive measures of hygiene and above all unnecessary doses of antibiotics, have massive impacts.

And, what is even worse, if a girl cannot build up a proper base of microbial bacteria, she will not only have a less effective immune system and digestive functions, but moreover will she not be able to pass on a proper set of bacteria to her own offspring throughout generations. A constantly decreasing variety in microbiome bacteria is the fatal consequence (the expression “fatal” meaning deadly is chosen deliberately here. A limited microbiome affects life expectancy by higher obesity rates and increased probability of allergies, diabetes, and further diseases of civilization, even if the effects can maybe be cured by further medical measures).

Antibiotics as killer medicine

The main culprit is in Blaser’s opinion clearly the use – and in his words “abuse” – of antibiotics. Again, he turns up with impressive figures. An annual 73 billion (that is 73 thousand million!) doses of antibiotics are prescribed worldwide, which is ten per single individual living on the planet. Based upon the assumption that there are still a few lucky ones living afar from so-called civilization and not receiving that doses, one can only estimate the actual amount of antibiotics for parts of humanity. (Read more about: Antibiotics alternatives)

Again, the USA serve as a negative example. A scary 50% of all women receive antibiotics during pregnancy or delivery. This is impeding the development of a full-set microbiome from the very beginning of life. Of course, these numbers vary greatly from country to country. Sweden, for example, shows a prescription rate 60% lower than America, which – at the same time – proves that the prescriptions are no medical necessity but simply common habit.

Antibiotics as hidden toxics in food

Blaser furthermore names the appearance of antibiotics in food as source of additional intake. Again, the USA should be one of the countries with the highest rate in usage. Perfidious enough, the reason for using antibiotics in food production is the exact reason harming the customer: gaining weight is promoted – a fact that is far more appreciated on animal farms than it is with consumers (who are not aware that the affect shows only with a delay).

Mice testing proves that even small doses of antibiotics in early life impacts the gut microbiome and with it the gaining of weight and ability of the immune system. Even short time courses show long term affects. In parallel, a study in children shows a negative impact on the microbiome by antibiotic courses, for example a greater likeliness for inflammatory bowel-disease.

So, Blaser’s plea to physicians – above all to pediatrists – is to cut down on the use of unnecessary antibiotic courses. In addition, science is obliged to decipher the microbiome as quickly as possible, as to understand what exactly is being destroyed and possibly being able to reshape it.

Lisa Keilhofer
Lisa Keilhofer

Lisa Keilhofer studied at the University of Regensburg. She works in internationalization and as a freelance editor.

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