As a culture and as individuals, we need to be far more discerning when it comes to antibiotics.
These drugs save lives but should only be reserved for dire situations, when they are absolutely necessary.
However, most of us, myself included, are guilty of taking antibiotics when they are not truly required. This misuse of these important drugs results in harm to us individually and as a society.
As a society, the overuse of antibiotics has created drug resistant bacteria. This means bacteria that antibiotics do kill are mutating into bacterial that antibiotics do not kill, ultimately resulting in simple bacterial infections that prove to be deadly.
Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections, not viral infections.
The problem is most people are sick with a viral infection when we go to the doctor (or take our kids to the pediatrician) and are prescribed an antibiotic. The antibiotic has no effect on the viral infection.
Why then, do doctors prescribe antibiotics to their sick patients when most of the time those patients are sick with a viral infection, not bacterial infection?
Two reasons: patients put a lot of pressure on doctors to prescribe an antibiotic and the test to determine whether an infection is bacterial or viral takes too long, (1-3 days) so doctors tend to give everyone an antibiotic to cover the small percentage of patients who actually need one.
Individually, antibiotics can severely harm our ability to fight all kinds of disease. Antibiotics kill bacteria...all bacteria...good and bad.
Good bacteria? Is there such a thing? Yes! There are trillions of good bacteria in our intestinal system, called the gut. There are about 100 different species of bacteria that are responsible for our overall health.
When we take an antibiotic, we destroy many of the bacteria we desperately need.
For example, a recent study showed that antibiotics that kill gut bacteria also stopped the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a section of the brain associated with memory.
Researchers at the Max-Delbrueck Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, Germany compared lab mice fed no antibiotics to mice fed enough antibiotics to kill nearly all of their gut bacteria. The mice given antibiotics performed worse in memory tests and showed a loss of new brain cells in the hippocampus. Normally that area of the brain continually makes new brain cells.
The good news is researchers further discovered the adverse side effects of antibiotics could be reversed.
When mice who were given probiotics, good bacteria, or who exercised on a wheel, regained their memory and their ability to make new brain cells.
Senior study author Susanne Asu Wolf said, "We found prolonged antibiotic treatment might impact brain function, but probiotics and exercise can balance brain plasticity and should be condiered as a real treatment option."
This study, combined with what we alrealdy know about antibiotics and gut bacteria, leads to two conclusions: we should use antibiotics sparingly, and when we do use them, make sure to supplement with probiotics and exercise.
However, for optimal health we should be taking probiotics and exercising regardless of whether we're taking an antibiotic!