It starts with a bacon sarnie – maybe our most addictive pleasure.
Super-bad for you of course, described by health experts as a “health time bomb in a bun“.
Ah yes, because it’s high fat and a major cause of atherosclerosis – bacon, butter, brown sauce and bread – overdo them and you’re dead.
Actually no – unless you pig out something stupid.
It’s how the bacon gets that way – solid, meaty taste you can’t resist. What happens out on the farm.
A disaster already happening
Antibiotics is how.
Because there’s a lot of money in pigs. So you’ll find them crowded together in high-intensity breeding sheds. Always dirty, often unhygienic – lots of pigs living close to each other, lots of pig poo – a real mission to keep healthy.
Which is where the antibiotics come in. Lots of healthy pigs, a sure-fire success.
Plus there’s a bonus. Antibiotics in their food makes pigs bulk up, especially from young. Bigger, heavier pigs – even more money.
It works the same with poultry – all those mega chicken sheds the size of aircraft hangers. Put antibiotics in their feed and you get bigger, better chickens – they even eat less too. Higher profits, lower overheads.
Which is why antibiotics are used across the board in all livestock production. Beef and dairy cattle. Lamb and mutton. A massive chunk of the food industry on an industrial scale – 65,000 tons a year world wide and rising.
One heck of a health time bomb.
Over-used and useless
Because when it comes to the purpose antibiotics were designed for – fighting disease in human beings – they’re beginning not to work any more. Over-use and abuse have trained bacteria how to be resistant. Our medicines are useless.
Mind you, we’re not exactly innocent ourselves. Jumping up and down with every minor ailment, demanding antibiotics from the Doc like they’re Smarties. Not finishing the course half the time when we get them – teaching bugs to be even more resistant.
“Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics.”
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies
Catastrophic, yes. But that’s not the time bomb.
The real one is ticking away in our kids.
Because what do antibiotics do? They either destroy bacteria, or slow down their growth – bactericidal or bacteriostatic.
Bacteria are us
But it’s a slowly dawning fact of life that we ourselves are more bacteria than human – colonised over our whole evolution and outnumbered 10 to 1. In our gut alone, there are more than 100 trillion of them – doing the heavy work of digesting, producing proteins and regulating our immune systems.
Hold that thought – regulating our immune systems.
Which means when that antibiotic capsule dissolves in our gut, it’s like a nuclear explosion. 100 trillion bacteria – boom! Yes, it gets rid of the bad guys, but there’s collateral damage too – good guys caught in the crossfire.
No wonder there’s side effects – cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea. All from fighting infection in a hip operation – what’s that about?
Yeah, that’s what happens when we take a pill. But that’s not the time bomb either.
You see, we’ve all of us been taking antibiotics continuously since birth – and even before.
They’re in the food we eat – the beef, pork, mutton and poultry. They’re in our vegetables too – from soil enriched by animal fertiliser. No getting away from it, we’re full of the things.
But hold it.
If bacteria regulate our immune system and antibiotics destroy them, what does that do to the rest of us?
System under threat
Plays havoc with our defences, right? Takes down our protective shield at exactly the same time that bad guy bacteria learn how to be invincible. Double whammy BOOM-BOOM!
Now flash-back to why those young piggy-wigs get antibiotics in the first place. Not the health reason, the money reason.
To bulk them up. Bigger, better, fatter pigs.
And don’t forget the “from young” bit. So their bodies LEARN to be fat.
Just like we humans do – and have been doing – more and more visibly throughout the last generation. Learning to get fat. Shaped that way by antibiotics. Hello Twenty-First Century obesity.
Yeah, you got it. We’ve done it to ourselves and keep doing it. Getting in deeper and paying the price.
We start as babies – our immune systems shaped and trained by our mothers’ own metabolism. Her bacteria teach ours – about good and bad. Some of her passive bad guys even teaching us about bogies we’ve neither of us met.
But she’s got antibiotics in her system from the food she eats – and so have we. Not even born and we’re already picking up bad habits.
It gets worse
There’s an even bigger hiccup if the birth goes iffy. Docs can save Mum and us by doing a C-section – a caesarean to get us out of trouble. It stops the bacterial learning curve though. Once that umbilical cord is cut, her system can’t teach us any more. We’ve got to go with what we’ve got.
Then whoops, what happens if she goes onto feeding us with formula? Any last-minute briefing sessions in her breast milk are denied to us – our bacteria have to make do with an incomplete picture. They don’t know how to recognise dangers, or what to do when they happen.
Yeah, yeah – but the world’s a healthier place than it was generations ago. Clean water, fewer diseases, better living conditions, less chance to get sick.
Except antibiotics have graunched our systems.
Our bacteria don’t see threats, so they make up phantoms. Reacting to things that aren’t there with very real symptoms – allergies, asthma. When you were growing up, how many kids did you know who broke out in hives from a peanut butter sandwich? Or went into full anaphylactic shock?
And now we’re getting fat, too. Never mind what we eat, we bulk up – like our bodies were trained to from birth.
We can’t live with them, we can’t live without them.
But not all bad
Except that’s not entirely true.
Inside our bodies we’re OK, protected by our own bacteria. It’s the outside nasties we’ve got to handle – viruses, bacteria and fungi, waiting to have a go at us.
Washing our hands is a start. Getting rid of germs on our skin we might ingest otherwise.
We may not stop the time bomb.
But at least we can try to slow it down.
Originally posted 2015-11-16 16:18:30.