We Kill Germs at Our Peril

Photo credit:The New York Times

Antibiotics have been helping to cure bacterial infections since the 1940s, but could overusing them do more harm than good? In his book “Missing Microbes,” Dr. Martin J. Blaser, a New York University School of Medicine professor, cautions that the overuse has led to an increase in infections that are resistant to antibiotics, and that in turn has serious health consequences.

The problem is that antibiotics not only kill harmful bacteria, but the good bacteria that helps to keep our gastrointestinal tracts healthy. And we’re now up against even stronger infections because of it. Dr. Blaser cites the example of a diarrhea causing condition known as Clostridium difficile colitis. It occurs most commonly after antibiotics deplete the good gut bacteria. It can sometimes prove deadly when there aren’t any medications strong enough to combat it.

He also points out that we’re not just ingesting antibiotics prescribed to us, since they are also used to fatten up the livestock that we eat. Add to that the concern that young children are sometimes given antibiotics unnecessarily for ailments that don’t require them. Some research indicates that early exposure to these drugs can contribute to health problems later in life including inflammatory bowel disease. Dr. Blaser’s own research with infant mice found evidence of a link between antibiotics and changes in metabolism that could increase the risk of obesity.

Good for You Note: It’s worth remembering that antibiotics should only be taken for serious bacterial infections. They do not combat viral infections like colds and flu.

The New York Times, 4/28/14

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