Devastating, yes. But that’s not the direction the fireball is coming from.
And we cannot escape because it’s in every mouthful of the food we eat – every swallow of the liquids we drink.
No, not from any deadly bacteria – even though our defence is weakening against them.
It’s our own bacteria-killers that are doing the job. The ones the bugs are immune to. Those very same antibiotics that are supposed to protect us.
All you can eat and more
You see, antibiotics aren’t just prescribed as medicines. Beyond miracle germ killers, they’re miracle growth boosters too. Administered to animals and plants to make them, grow bigger, fatter, faster. 240,000 tons of them shovelled in every year.
And that’s where the Armageddon comes in. Accelerated by our own dinosaur thinking.
And our own numbers.
Since antibiotics were first started as growth boosters, the world’s population has multiplied three times over. From 2½ billion in the 1950s to 7½ billion today.
And without antibiotics to boost growth for food production, we wouldn’t be able to exist.
There’s antibiotics in feedstuff for beef cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry, fish – you name it. And they’re fed to plants to improve yield – cereals, grain crops, fruit and vegetables. Either directly as injections or additives. Or indirectly, from the manure of the animals fed antibiotics in the first place.
Which means antibiotics are in the soil too, leached in from the manure – down into the water table and out into our streams and rivers. Turn on your tap for a glass of water and there’s traces of antibiotics right there.
Big, like the dinosaurs we are becoming
Result, every mouthful, every swallow, we are ingesting more of the most efficient growth booster the world has ever known. And like the animals, we too grow bigger, fatter, faster. Not helped by too little exercise, a couch potato lifestyle and an increasing appetite for more and more food.
Look around and the proof is everywhere. Two thirds of adults are already overweight or obese – and one third of our kids. And we’re going to keep getting bigger – with everything that obesity brings: diabetes, cancer, heart disease – unless we get off antibiotics.
OK, but that means getting the animals off too. Which we can’t do because modern intensive farming systems are so intensified that regular antibiotics are necessary just to keep them alive.
Which itself is a Catch 22 – because just as antibiotics stop working against germs in humans, they stop working against germs in animals too. Like us, they are no longer protected.
But they have to be fed antibiotics anyway or they won’t grow fast enough and big enough to sustain the food supply.
Back to the Dark Ages
So we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. Both us and the animals.
The antibiotics don’t kill germs anymore, so we’re more at risk than ever. And the animals we eat are at risk too. Less and less of them are going to survive, which means less and less for us to eat.
Like it or not, we’re going back to how it was before antibiotics ever existed.
Which means no growth boosters in the food chain – and only enough animals to support 2½ billion people.
Uh huh. A shortfall of 5 billion.
So if we don’t succumb to the slow onset of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and all the other dangers of serious obesity, we’re going to go hungry.
5 billion people wiped out at a stroke. Just like the dinosaurs. And every bit as devastating as our poor Earth getting hit by a 1 kilometre sized piece of rock out of the blue.
Miracle lifesavers, antibiotics. But like Fleming predicted back in the 50s, a double-edged sword.
Because yes, antibiotics did what that they said on the tin – kill bacteria. Except they bounced back if you didn’t kill enough of them.
A bit like bombing an ants’ nest, which all the pest control guys can tell you about. Make sure you get ALL the ants – because if there’s any survivors, they’ll be back.
Not only that, they’ll be uglier and tougher – better able to withstand the next bomb you chuck them. Tougher resistance, a new strength to breed into all future generations.
Exactly like bacteria – which develop antimicrobial resistance if not clobbered hard enough. Mutating to a new superbug that antibiotics can’t kill.
And because bacteria can interact with each other, passing on their immunity to other bacteria types. Antibiotic resistance out of nowhere, even though never exposed to them.
Wrong and wronger
All of which is now rubbished by new research just published in the British Medical Journal – that antibiotics should be used sparingly – until the patient is better and not necessarily until the fully prescribed course runs out.
Like swallowing only one paracetamol capsule for that thumping headache instead of two – so there’s more left when it’s needed. How does that work?
Frankly if there’s bacteria giving you grief and you’re at death’s door, common sense says keep going to make sure you get rid of all of them. No pussy-footing round with half-measures that let your symptoms recur.
Exactly like if you’re painting a floor, you buy enough to cover the whole thing – not just a small tin that does half of it.
Yeah, but – the research boffins are going to say. There’s no evidence to suggest that under-dosing causes antibiotic resistance.
Sure guys, whatever.
But there’s a MONUMENTAL stack of evidence that under-dosing DOES boost body growth. Fleming and his team came across that from the get-go. A phenomenon that farmers have been relying on for the last 50 years – to produce enough food to support the nearly THREE TIMES population explosion the world has had since.
OK, good – so there’s enough food. Achieved by making animals grow bigger, faster.
But now the tail’s wagging the dog.
Because the boffins haven’t twigged it yet, but it’s staring us in the face.
With antibiotics already being gobbled up by animals, that means there’s antibiotics in everything we eat. Not big doses, meant to kill bacteria. But little drip-drip doses, deliberately used to make bodies grow fatter.
In other words, ours. Because – surprise, surprise – we’re animals too.
Better include Australia, Canada and all of Western Europe too – it’s become an epidemic. Because fact: two thirds of British adults are already seriously overweight or obese – and so are one third of our kids.
Uh huh, the writing’s on the wall, so listen up BMJ readers – antibiotics cause obesity.
It starts with childhood, where the first antibiotics we get trigger infant obesity. Followed up by steady antibiotics throughout adolescence, so that by the time a teenager reaches 20, they’ve been exposed to antibiotics at least SEVENTEEN TIMES.
And all the time we’re all getting drip-drip under-doses of antibiotics every day. In the meat we eat. In the vegetables grown with manure from the same animals, or in soil enriched from the same source. They’re even in our water supply, leached in through the soil to our streams and rivers.
Right now the medics are worried about antibiotic resistance and that 700,000 people will die.
But obesity leads to… Fleming would turn in his grave.
And it’s not going to stop, because antibiotics are essential to sustain food production for the 7½ billion people that inhabit the planet today. Pull the plug, and food levels go back to the 1950s and 5 BILLION people will die.
Which is why our top-level medics are going crazy. Because antibiotic resistant superbugs are constantly turning up in our food. We eat the food, and those superbugs are inside our systems.
Sometimes they strike immediately, sometimes they take their time. But all the while, they’re there – and there’s no drug in the medicine cupboard that doctors can use to stop them.
How did it get like this?
Well, amazing as antibiotics are at saving lives – they’re even more amazing at making animals fat. From an egg to a roasting chicken in 6 weeks. From newborn calf to an Aberdeen Angus steak in 14 months.
Pumped full of antibiotics themselves, the animals are the start of a whole food production nutrition chain. The manure they make is used to fertilise plants and food crops – all natural, so that even includes organics.
The manure leaches into the soil too, so it finds its way into the water table. From there into streams and rivers – into our water supply and irrigation systems – and into the kitchen tap.
Most diseases and infections happen quickly. Days or weeks to incubate, usually only months to claim their victims.
But obesity is a slow killer.
First the complications from carrying all that weight. Weakened bones, muscular problems, structural failure.
Then respiration issues, gulping for air, heart double-timing for more oxygen, breathing problems and asthma.
Next, it’s fat secretions around the pancreas. Insulin deficiencies leading to diabetes. Heart disease and cancer inevitably follow.
Slow, slower, slowest…
But not quickly.
All this happens slowly over tens of years. Without our bodies feeling it happen – yet all the while, driven by antibiotics. Eating more than we should, putting on more and more weight. Not even conscious that we’re doing it.
Until one day, hello Size Eighteen and a body that’s 20 stone plus.
Often in pain, feeling weaker, less capable- wheezing and waddling our way through the day. Until we collapse on the bed that’s harder and harder to leave. Lapsing into deadly but unwitting suicide, every bit as successful as a .38 calibre bullet.
Miracle life-savers – yeah right.
Without our knowing it, antibiotics are bringing the death sentence to every one of us.
OK, so our doctors are worried about antibiotic resistant superbugs. Hoo-ray.
Meanwhile, our obesity epidemic spreads unchecked. Dismissively put down to junk food and sedentary lifestyles. Fat people are vilified for a condition they did not ask for and cannot control.
And nothing gets done.
Suicide, plain and simple.
I overeat, you overeat, he/she overeats, we overeat, they overeat.
Either we have a medical condition. Or something makes us that way.
Basically eating too much. And our bodies absorbing it without need.
Except nobody is fat by choice. Going for the most fattening foods and scoffing double helpings.
Most of the time, we’re not even aware of it. Unconsciously chowing down more than we should.
Not knowingly, or of our own free will. Just driven by our bodies.
So what makes our bodies demand more than they should?
The hunger feeling is real and won’t go away – yet we’ve already had enough to satisfy us.
It’s like we’re being fattened up. Like turkeys before Christmas, fattening up for market.
There is a difference.
We’re just eating – or at least think we are.
But turkeys are deliberately dosed with growth boosters along with their feed. The same growth boosters fed to all commercial livestock – chickens, cattle, pigs, sheep, even fish. Stepped up and more concentrated over the last twenty years. But used by livestock farmers worldwide since the early 50s.
Which means so are we. And our daily exposure to antibiotics is total – the most successful growth boosters of all time.
The real Hunger Games
Drip-drip, the ghrelin hormone that switches on our hunger is super-stimulated, permanently set to ON. At the same time, the OFF hormone leptin is over-ridden, so we never know when we’ve had enough.
On top of that, the accelerated digestion in our gut works more efficiently, extracting more nutrients than our systems are able to process, storing the excess as fat. We still excrete the extra nutrients we don’t need, but retain far more than we should.
The cows and pigs and chickens do the same. Pooing out around 80% of the food value they eat – along with traces of all the vitamin additives and medicines in their systems, including antibiotics.
Their poo becomes manure, used directly or indirectly as fertiliser to enrich the soil and stimulate plant growth. Cereal crops, grain, fruit and vegetables are all accelerated in the same way. So there’s antibiotics in them too.
As there is in the grass, mown hay and feedstuff crops fed BACK to the same animals – more antibiotics micro-doses to quicken their systems and bulk them up faster.
Which means continuous micro-doses of antibiotics in all of our own food – meat and vegetables – the most successful growth booster of al time. Constantly ingested by our bodies with every meal we eat.
Fattening up like turkeys? That’s exactly what we are.
External influences changing our bodies without our knowledge – and certainly without our permission.
The blame game
So who should we sue for being fattened against our will?
The farmers? The antibiotics manufacturing companies?
Possibly, though they’re only doing their job. Our personal concerns are not even on their radar.
They are to our health authorities though – and they’re hardly unaware of the problem.
Not a day goes by without somebody from Public Health England or DEFRA or the Food Standards Agency voicing alarm about antibiotic resistance.
Our miracle drugs aren’t performing as well as they did because superbug bacteria are becoming immune to them. They’re learning resistance through overuse and abuse of antibiotics across the board.
Over-prescribed by doctors and used in industrial quantities by agriculture. 240,000 tonnes a year worldwide – accelerating to nearly another 70% by 2030.
Which says, yes – our health authorities KNOW about antibiotics used as growth boosters. But their focus is on the medical implications of antibiotic resistance.
Cue much hand wringing and corporate crocodile tears.
Our health authorities also KNOW we have a fat problem. From their own statistics they alert us to a growing epidemic – that two thirds of British adults are already overweight or obese, as well as one third of children.
They also KNOW the implications of obesity. The long, slow slide towards asthma, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Snowballing costs for the NHS accounting for 30 million deaths currently – versus just 700,000 for antibiotic resistance.
30 million deaths – half the population of the country – isn’t anybody minding the store?
And they know it’s a problem. Our Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies herself, warns that obesity is a threat as serious as terrorism.
Stack that up against the 30 million likely to die from obesity they are carrying right now.
Which gives us a lot of leeway, deciding who’s answerable.
Because though it never occurs to us, a lot of people know that antibiotics make us fat. And they can’t evade that responsibility, just like the tobacco industry can’t claim smoking is not a health risk.
The truth is that antibiotics make us fat.
Health authorities know, government knows, drug companies know and farmers know.
Just possibly supermarkets know and fast food chains as well. It’s the fashion now to claim foods are antibiotics-free.
One thing’s for certain though. We’re off the hook blaming ourselves for being fat.
We might be oversize, but this is a blame game we’re not playing.
Not good enough is why. Doesn’t do the job. If you want to bulk up proper, use antibiotics.
That’s what farmers do. Micro-doses of antibiotics in the feed – the most powerful growth boosters ever invented. To make animals WANT to eat more. And to make them absorb more food value than they normally do – which is how they put on weight.
Super-duper growth boosters
Works great with cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, even fish. From egg to a roasting chicken in 6 weeks. From newborn calf to an Aberdeen Angus steak in 14 months.
Overnight maturity. Instant obesity.
The same with plants. Faster seeding, stronger shooting, quicker yielding. From antibiotics applied directly, or absorbed from the soil in animal manure.
Oh sure, sugar has an effect – but mild alongside antibiotics. Feeble. The farmers’ secret to fast fat for at least the last fifty years. Exploding to industrial levels in the last twenty – with the introduction of factory farms or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).
Exactly when our current obesity epidemic got started. Two thirds of British adults now overweight or obese – and one third of children too.
But not from sugar. Fifty years ago we had sugary Coke and junk-food pizza, just like we have now – and people didn’t get fat. Now they do. From the same antibiotics that the animals get fed.
How does that work?
All in the poo
That’s the messy part. Very ewey.
You see, animals don’t absorb all the food that they eat. Around 80% is pooed out again as waste, nature’s way of providing on-going fertility to plants and smaller animals like birds and insects. And not just nutrients either, but residual amounts of those antibiotics.
Some of it falls on the grass in animal grazing areas, to enrich the soil and promote healthy growth. The animals eat it, re-ingesting those same antibiotics all over again. Or they eat cereal straw and grass dried after cutting – or silage made from cereal crops like maize and wheat.
Again, grown with fertile manure from those same animals. And again with residual amounts of antibiotics – exactly like the micro-doses added to their feed in the first place.
So even if antibiotics are withdrawn from their food because they’re getting ready for market, they’re still getting their daily hit. Still with their appetites turned full throttle.
Our daily dose
And still with antibiotics in their bodies. Which become the beef, lamb, pork and poultry offerings on our supermarket shelves – ready for us to eat, antibiotics and all.
With the same effect of making US want to eat more than we usually do – and absorbing more nutrients than normal. What works for the animals works for us, so WE get fat too.
Fatter and fatter. Because we don’t go to market at an early age – we’re here for the long haul. So we pile on the pounds – meal after meal, day after day without realising it. Until suddenly we look in the mirror and we’re a hulking Size 20.
Yes, sugar has a bearing on it. We eat too much of it, of course we bulk up. Two two-litre Cokes instead of the 350ml bottle our grand-folks chugged. Double burger with extra fries – and muddy Mississippis to follow.
Too much food altogether, that’s why we get fat.
But sugar’s not the cause. Not everyone who puts two spoonfuls in their tea is a porker. Nor is everyone who chows a Mars bar dangerously overweight.
The info that we’re over the top doesn’t reach the brain because the bacteria in our gut mix up the signals. We over-eat without realising it – until reality hits us in the mirror.
So putting a tax on sugar is not exactly going to help. It’s treating symptoms, not cause.
Yes, we eat too much sugar. And too much bread, and too many chips, and too much cheese, and too many eggs, and too much jam, and too much cake, and too much ice cream, and too much curry and rice.
It’s not the sugar that’s the problem. It’s the too much.
And the only way to stop it, is to stop us getting these micro-doses of antibiotics in everything we eat. Meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy – even water. Everything is laced with them – right through the whole food production chain.
With more coming all the time. 240,000 tonnes of antibiotics currently get used worldwide in agriculture – with totals set to hike nearly 70% by 2030.
Which means it’s not sugar we have to tax, it’s antibiotics.
Not exactly wise – because without them, world food production would stall completely.
From eating and absorbing too much, billions of people would starve and wither. And there would be nobody to eat the sugar anyway.
Ever get the feeling our “experts” don’t know what they’re talking about?
This article first appeared on the Vitamonk website It is republished here by kind permission of the author.
What do you know about blood sugar levels?
Depending on your experience, you may associate them with kids who have had way too much candy and are frantically running around the house.
Or, if you suffer from diabetes, you probably think of regularly jabbing yourself with a needle to make sure you don’t need to immediately consume a candy bar.
It can be a confusing topic if you don’t know the terms or what normal levels look like. That’s where we come in. In this article, we’re going to give you the what and why of blood sugar. We’re going to dive into what causes blood sugar levels to get high or low, and what what a normal blood sugar level should look like.
Consider this a layman’s guide. It won’t give you every detail (you really should talk to your doctor), but it will guide you through the major points and help you understand what to keep an eye on. Let’s get started.
What’s The Difference Between Sugar and Glucose?
What comes to mind when you think of sugar? Probably the white granular stuff that you would secretly eat when you were a kid, right? But it’s actually more complicated than that. Sugar is the general name given to sweet carbohydrates that dissolve in water.
There are a number of different types of sugars. Your body most frequently uses glucose. Fructose is found in fruit and lactose is found in milk. When you guzzle a big glass of milk or eat an apple, your body takes the lactose or fructose and converts it to glucose. Once everything is converted to glucose, your body can use it for energy.
Starches, like those found in white bread, are sugars stuck together and are converted by your body into glucose.
So far so good, right?
Now, this is important. When people say “blood sugar”, they mean “blood glucose”. The terms can be used interchangeably.
If you really want to be annoying, you can correct them every time they say, “Blood sugar,” and then proceed to give them the above explanation. You probably won’t have many friends after that.
How Is Blood Sugar Measured?
Now we need to discuss how blood sugar is actually measured. In the United States, blood sugar is measured in terms of milligrams of glucose per decilitre of blood (mg/dl). Why couldn’t they put it on a simple 1 to 10 scale or something like that? Because scientists wouldn’t be able to feel important.
But that’s beside the point.
A milligram is a tiny, miniscule amount, around 0.00018 of a teaspoon. A decilitre is only 3⅓ ounces.
In Canada and the United Kingdom, they measure things on a different scale. Of course they do. In the United States they do everything differently.
Canada and the UK measure blood sugar in terms of millimoles per liter (mmol/L). If you happen to be reading a comment or study from those countries, you can multiply the numbers by 18 to get the American numbers.
So, to recap:
In the United States, blood sugar is measured in terms of milligrams per decilitre (mg/dl).
In the UK and Canada, blood sugar is measured in millimoles per litre (mmol/L).
Still with me?
What Are Normal Blood Sugar Levels?
Now let’s talk about normal blood sugar/glucose levels.
First, the levels will vary throughout the day. If you’ve been fasting or just woke up, your levels should be under 100 mg/dl.
Before a meal, your levels should be somewhere between 70-99 mg/dl. Two hours after meals, your levels should be less than 140 mg/dl.
(The UK recommendation for healthy individuals is between 4.0 to 6.0 mmol/L (72 to 108 mg/dL) before meals and up to 7.8 mmol/L (140 mg/dL) 2 hours after meals. For people with diabetes, that changes to 4 to 7 mmol/L for type 1 or type 2 diabetes before meals – and under 9 mmol/L for type 1 diabetes or under 8.5mmol/L for type 2 diabetes after meals.)
To state the obvious, eating increases blood sugar levels. After you eat, your blood sugar levels will be higher than before you ate. Failing to eat causes the levels to fall.
How Does Diabetes Affect Blood Sugar Levels?
To break down sugars and turn them into glucose, your body uses insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. In a person with diabetes, the pancreas either produces too little insulin or none at all. Or, the body is unable to use insulin effectively.
When this happens, blood sugar levels rise and the body is deprived of the energy it normally would receive from glucose.
If you have diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends that you keep your blood sugar levels between 80-130 mg/dl before meals and under 180 mg/dl 1-2 hours after meals.
Ideally, you should try to keep your blood sugar levels close to those of a person without diabetes because it will protect your body against the complications often caused by the disease.
But (and this is crucial), you have to carefully measure and monitor your diet to accomplish this. This is possible but it probably means gorging yourself at the local Chinese buffet is out.
What Happens When Blood Sugar Levels Get Too High Or Low?
Is it really a big deal if glucose levels get too high or too low?
Yes. It really is.
If your glucose levels get too high, you’ll start to get inflammation in your blood vessels and nerves. The longer this inflammation goes unchecked, the more damage it causes to the body and the more complications it creates.
Those without diabetes are able to keep their glucose levels in check automatically through the production of insulin. If you have diabetes, however, your pancreas isn’t producing insulin properly, which means glucose levels can quickly get too high or low.
If your blood sugars fall too low, a condition called hypoglycaemia sets in. This can result in dizziness, confusion, and fainting.
The moral of the story? If you have diabetes, you really MUST regularly monitor your blood sugar levels. If they get out of control, it can cause serious damage to your body, or even death.
How Can You Monitor Your Blood Sugar Levels?
Okay, this is where things get a bit annoying for those who have to monitor blood sugar levels.
One option is to regularly use a fingerstick blood test, which involves pricking yourself with a tiny needle and then using a little strip and a glucose meter to test your blood sugar levels.
If the thought of needles sends you into a sweaty panic, you have the option of a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A little sensor is inserted under the skin and constantly monitors your blood sugar levels to ensure everything is where it should be.
Neither of those options are particularly fun, but they’re better than the alternative, which is having wildly varying blood sugar levels.
The frequency of testing depends on your circumstances. If you take a fast acting insulin, you’ll want to test regularly. If you take the wrong amount of insulin, your blood sugar can drop too low, which can cause you to get dizzy, confused, or faint.
You don’t want to faint. Especially when driving a car and/or skydiving.
If you have Type 2 diabetes and aren’t taking insulin, it’s up to your doctor on how frequently you will need to test. If you’re trying to keep your blood sugar levels within a tight window, you’ll want to test in a variety of circumstances to see how they affect your body.
For example, test after eating a big meal, after exercising, and after sleeping. Keep records so you can compare these different situations.
If you make any big changes, such as taking a new medicine or beginning a new diet, pay close attention and always tell your doctor.
How Can Diabetes Be Managed?
Thankfully, diabetes isn’t the end of the world. Yes, it may mean you can’t eat an entire box of Milk Duds at the movie theatre, but if you follow a few specific guidelines along with the instructions from your doctor, you’ll be okay.
Pay attention to what you eat. Eat well-balanced meals and pay careful attention to how many carbohydrates you consume. Avoid sweetened beverages (sorry soda lovers) and be sure to carefully coordinate your meals and when you take any medications.
Ketogenic Diet. Many at risk individuals see great results when doing the ketogenic diet for a few months. (and here are a few ketogenic breakfast recipes for you)
Exercise regularly. Consistent physical activity causes your body use insulin more effectively and causes your muscles to use glucose. Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan.
Take medication with the help of your doctor. If you can’t manage your levels through diet and exercise, you can take insulin and other medications. Work closely with your doctor to ensure you’re getting the right medicine.
Avoid stress when possible. Stress can cause a rise in blood sugar levels and can also make it tougher to stick to your carefully planned diet and exercise routine. If you regularly encounter stress, be sure to learn effective coping techniques.
Be careful with alcohol. When your liver is metabolizing alcohol, it can’t counteract falling blood sugar levels. Talk to your doctor to make sure it’s okay for you to drink.
See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Now you understand blood sugar levels, how to manage them, the consequences of not managing them, and how to manage diabetes.
Yes, it can be a pain to carefully monitor your levels, but it’s important for those with diabetes. Failing to do can create significant long term effects that can seriously damage your body.
Now, go eat that candy bar you’ve been craving. Or don’t. Measure your levels first and do what is best for your body.
Serious, yes, because she’s talking about antimicrobial resistance (AMR). One by one, savvy bacteria have developed immunity to our miracle life-savers. Modern medicine is at the brink of a new Dark Age. No more heart transplants, hip replacements, or even C-section births.
So doctors are scared, but not poop scared.
But they should be.
Because all of them – the government, Public Health England, the General Medical Council, the NHS, everybody – they’re already in deep poo, and don’t even know it.
Sure AMR is serious. But alongside other concerns with antibiotics, it’s only the beginning.
Dame Sally puts that on a par with terrorism too – though it’s actually worse. Obesity that leads to diabetes, heart disease and cancer – around 30 million deaths and accelerating like crazy.
Yes, fuelled by sugary drinks, junk food and a couch potato lifestyle. But not triggered by them.
Our current slo-mo tsunami of accelerating obesity is from antibiotics in the FOOD we eat. Micro-doses in everything we put in our mouths – meat, vegetables, milk, water.
Down on the (factory) farm
Because micro-doses of antibiotics are exactly what farmers feed their animals to bulk them up and make them grow quicker. To obese-ify them.
They’re not supposed to, of course. Overuse of antibiotics by agriculture is a major cause of antibiotic resistance. And farmers use 240,000 tons of them worldwide every year.
Which is why antibiotic growth promoters are banned in the UK and EU – to prevent AMR from getting worse.
And we can thank antibiotics for that too.
At the end of World War II there were only 2½ billion of us on this planet. Today we are 7½ billion. Antibiotics lowered the death rate so more of us could survive. No longer just the fittest – but also the weak, those rescued from disease and infection. Another 5 billion of us.
Which is why farmers NEED antibiotics. To produce enough food to sustain us in such numbers. Except the planet hasn’t got any bigger, there’s no new land they can use for farming. So the only way to go is industrial.
Enter the CAFO – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or factory farms. Thousands of animals, concentrated in every available space. So many of them on top of each other that antibiotics are essential for keeping them alive.
Antibiotics not as growth promoters, note – that’s illegal. Strictly therapeutic. Ultra necessary in the close and unsanitary slum conditions these poor animals have to live in.
The effect is the same though. Antibiotics fed to animals every day in regular doses. All above board and within the law. With exactly the same obese-ifying effect.
So we eat them and we get fat too – from the residual antibiotics in their bodies?
You got it.
Although actually, farmers are supposed to withdraw antibiotics from feedstuff up to a month or more before slaughter. And keep strict records that they’ve done it. To ensure no antibiotics get into our own food chain.
Except they can’t always do that, can they? Their animals might die.
So there ARE actually maximum residue limits (MRLs) of antibiotics in our food – tiny doses of course. But it’s tiny doses that get fed to animals to obese-ify them in the first place.
All of which is before the REAL poo happens.
You see, it’s a fact of life that animals do not absorb everything they eat. Around 80% of it is excreted as waste. Which is how come manure has high nutritional value – it’s full of unused food.
So here we are – up to our necks in manure.
Because manure is used to grow crops of all kinds – including feedstuffs for livestock. So even though animals might not be dosed with antibiotics along with their food, they’re getting them anyway – from the grass, hay, maize, soya or whatever it is they’re being fed.
Better include fruit and vegetables too – and everything else. The entire food spectrum we get in our local supermarket.
Plus of course, manure leaches into the soil and into the water table – eventually into our streams and rivers. Swig a glass of water out of the Thames and it’s also full of antibiotics.
Oh, you want to get rid of the antibiotics before you eat them? Aside from any cooking you might do, you have to boil everything for at least 30 – 60 minutes. Though what your cauliflower cheese will taste like after an hour on the gas flat-out is anybody’s guess.
All of which means that our obesity epidemic is going to snowball – not go away. And that’s on top of the AMR superbug casualties we’re already taking. Millions of us face a long slow death thanks to illnesses brought on by antibiotics.
Dark Ages 2.0
OK, so suppose we get tough and ban antibiotics altogether?
Straight away we get Dame Sally’s Dark Ages. Forget to wash your hands and you could die from a paper cut.
But how are farmers going to sustain enough production to feed 7½ billion people without the power boost of antibiotics? No more factory farms, no more mass production.
Looks like medics will have to add malnutrition and starvation to the presenting symptoms they have to deal with.
Up to their necks in the brown stuff.
So when Dame Sally says wash your hands, we’d all better listen. Our only defence with antibiotics gone.
Soap and water. More than at any time ever in our history, our lives depend on it.
Public Health England might want to rethink this one. Because shrinking sweet sizes to cut obesity will most likely achieve nothing.
Nothing except irate sweet eaters who eat double to compensate.
Oh sure, the sugar in sweets DOES contribute to making us all fatter.
But one Snickers bar a week is not exactly going to blow us up like an elephant.
It takes several a day – on top of pigging out on everything else – to do that.
Gorging ourselves stupid. Eating too much – of everything. Absorbing too much for our bodies to take, so they bulk up.
Exactly what farmers do to get animals ready for market. As quickly as possible – money, money, money.
Gut bacteria on the fritz
Which is why they feed them drugs to fatten them up. Deliberately obese-ifying them. From an egg to a roasting chicken in 6 weeks. From newborn calf to an Aberdeen Angus steak in 14 months.
And the drugs they use are antibiotics. Added to feedstuffs in small doses. Just right to tip animals’ gut bacteria into always wanting food. Becoming more efficient at extracting nutrients from it too. The proven way to bulk up fast.
Because aren’t drugs frequently tested on animals before they’re let loose on humans? To see if they work properly – or head off any Frankenstein side-effects?
Yes, well. Farmers worldwide have proved the case well and truly – and do so every day. As they have done since antibiotics were discovered 50 years ago. Today they’re using 240,000 tonnes of the stuff a year.
Which is how they produce the 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle, 1 billion pigs and 1 billion sheep that keep us fed.
And how they pushed food production to feed us all. From the 2½ billion people we were 50 years ago – to the7½ billion we are today. All off exactly the same available land.
Get the picture? The planet isn’t any bigger since back then – what’s different is the antibiotics.
So yes, proven. Antibiotics obese-ify animals, which means they obese-ify us too. The world’s most efficient super-fattening growth boosters. Which is how come today two thirds of us are porkers.
Proven beyond doubt.
Which sort of says that cutting sweet sizes down by a fifth isn’t exactly going to crack it. People will get fat anyway, from the other stuff that they eat. Fat and getting fatter, even if they’ve never chomped a Snickers.
Now of course, the powers that be will tell you this isn’t possible. That there aren’t any antibiotics in the foods we eat. Farmers feed them to their animals, yes – but doses are withdrawn weeks before market and all meat is antibiotics-free.
If only. Because to feed 7½ billion people requires factory farm methods to sustain enough food supply.
OK, so health authorities know this. And they’re concerned too, for the effect any antibiotics in the meat might have on humans. Specifically carcinogenic, toxic or allergenic effects.
Antimicrobal resistance & MRLs
And of course superbugs. Harmful bacteria that have become immune to antibiotics and cannot be treated. Top of the list being carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), neisseria gonorrhoeae, clostridium difficile, multi drug-resistant acinetobacter – and the only one most of us have heard of – methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
All of which raise the scary reality that modern medicine is back to the Dark Ages. Soon heart bypass surgery, C-section births and hip replacements will no longer possible because the drugs won’t work against infection.
That said, there’s still antibiotics in our food. Because while levels are reduced to make it safe for us to eat, they’re not removed entirely. Trace residues are still allowed as long as they conform to legal Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs).
Still there in our food, but only in little bits.
Precisely the way antibiotics are administered to livestock to obese-ify them.
And precisely the way we ingest them when we eat animal meat. Little drip-drip doses, just enough to tip our gut bacteria out of balance and our appetites jammed on full throttle.
If only it stopped there.
You see, most animals only absorb 20% of the food value that they eat. The rest is excreted as waste – Nature’s way of providing nutrients to enrich the soil and promote plant life.
Manure and fertiliser for plant crops. Vital at today’s population volumes. So that antibiotics-laden enrichment finds its way into everything else that we eat. Grains crops, cereals, vegetables, fruit – often in higher concentrations than with animal meat.
And not monitored either because nobody twigs there’s antibiotics in their food source.
It’s also how antibiotics in animal meat sneak back – in higher volumes than regulations allow.
Not all meat is monitored and tested, the logistics are impossible. Any checks are intermittent and random.
Meanwhile, the calf that’s eating grass or feed from sugar beet is still chowing down its daily dose of antibiotics. Grown back into its food by the very manure it pooed out in the first place.
And in water too, because the stuff seeps down into the water table, to be carried in streams to our river system. So when our drinking water comes from the Thames, it quite probably has antibiotics in it.
Sugar tax or sugar hoax?
Harsh reality, huh?
And we haven’t had a Snickers or a Coke since the start of this page – yet already we’re full of antibiotics making us fatter.
Not good, PSE. Not good at all. And there’s a sugar craving coming on.
Better watch the Great British Bake Off.
We can’t eat sweets, so we’ll have to get our hit some other way.
Because if all the things that are supposed to make us fat were around all those years ago, why are we only ballooning up now? Our current epidemic of fatness only started in the late 90s, so what was different in the 40 years before?
Yes, well those were the days before factory farms were invented to feed the world’s exploding population. 2½ billion back then, versus 7½ billion now. Farmers needed a magic bullet or all of us would starve.
The miracle they chose was antibiotics.
First, antibiotics would keep animals healthy, all crowded together in the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) needed to supply large numbers.
Second and more amazing, antibiotics would make them grow faster. Bulk up quicker, be ready for market sooner. From egg to roasting chicken in six weeks. From new born calf to Aberdeen Angus steak in 14 months.
Fatter and fatter
Though scientists had known about the growth phenomenon ever since antibiotics were discovered in 1948 – overnight they rocketed to became the ultimate growth booster. Round the world, antibiotics were shovelled into animal feedstuffs like there was no tomorrow.
An industrial volume so staggering that medics attribute it as the major cause of antibiotic resistance. The rise of superbugs – harmful and often lethal bacteria that have mutated to become immune to treatment by antibiotics.
Officially, antibiotics are therefore banned from animal feedstuffs as a growth booster – certainly throughout the EU. They’re still used to keep animals healthy though. Their daily dose is still administered – but not as food, as medicine.
Manure from these animals is used to enrich soil and fertilise plant crops. It’s full of nutrients – and residual antibiotics. Because as part of nature’s life balance, most animals excrete 80% of what they eat – to become a food source for plants and other living things.
Which means animals are still EATING antibiotics anyway. Not added to food, but already in there – grown from the earth in the grass, straw, soya, maize and corn they’re fed.
And that means, you guessed it, they’re laced full of antibiotics when they’re sold and wind up on our supermarket shelves. Food that we will eat, charged with these same super growth boosters – more and more with every meal. Deliberate fat-makers we don’t even know we’re eating.
It’s not just in meat either.
The same animal fertiliser is ingested by plants of all kinds – grain crops, fruit and vegetables , fruit trees, everything. They’re full of antibiotics too.
So is our water. Antibiotics from manure leach into the soil and down to the water table. They’re in our streams and reservoirs, including the Thames. Every turn of our kitchen taps is another partial dose.
Deliberately fatter, without our permission
And there’s the truth of it. Every meal we eat, every morsel, every bite – contains a residual dose of the most efficient growth booster in human history.
We’re getting fat because our bodies respond just the same way that animals’ do. We crave power foods because our hunger switch is always on. Our bodies never know when they’ve had enough. They even extract more food value than they should, absorbing more nutrients, accelerating the fattening process.
That bacteria are rapidly becoming immune to our cure-all wonder drugs.
That soon doctors will not be able to treat even everyday infections. Superbugs will have won the day and medicine will return to the Dark Ages.
An antibiotic apocalypse
Yes, very true. And it’s right that we’re warned. An “antibiotic apocalypse” as Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England calls it. A threat on par with terrorism and climate change.
She’s not wrong. Except that alarm about antibiotics failure is the big stick medics are using to obtain funding to develop new ones.
Government money, that is. Drug companies won’t finance it themselves – there’s no money in it. Widespread resistance means new drugs must be used as little as possible. They’re kept for emergencies when the older drugs fail.
So the whole business of developing a new drug and bringing it to market as soon as possible no longer has legs. Bacteria can become resistant in as little as six months, and the whole investment is down the tubes.
So the idea is to push the scare tactic.
Shake the government tree for around £890 million of taxpayer’s money. An incentive for some developer to take a gamble on a new product with an unmet need. Basically a bribe.
Not going to happen, is it?
Too public, too obvious, and too fraught with failure.
The 240,000 tonne money maker
Besides, why should a drug company take risks on new products when they’re already making a fortune on the old ones?
No, no, not as medicines. As growth promoters in agriculture. Because since researchers first noticed it in the 1950s, antibiotics have become the most phenomenal growth boosters worldwide.
In the last twenty years particularly, antibiotics in animal feed have reached industrial levels. 240,000 tonnes currently and set to rise another 70% by 2030. Prompting the rise of the factory farm or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). Vital support for rocketing world population, which itself has risen threefold to 7½ billion.
Yeah, so new drugs? Forget it. Ker-chunk, ker-chunk factories are working flat out all they can to keep pace with demand for the old ones. Sorry, no time for research, too busy making money. 240,000 tonnes worth of it.
And why weren’t we warned? Because it had nothing to do with us? Has nobody noticed we’re getting fatter?
Yes, they have. And they’re all keeping schtum about why.
Super-duper growth boosters
You see, twenty years is the same time scale in which our horrendous obesity epidemic has reared up. Today, two thirds of adults are either overweight or obese – so are a third of our kids.
And all of that time we’ve been eating from food sources deliberately laced with antibiotics to boost growth. From egg to roasting chicken in six weeks. From new born calf to Aberdeen Angus steak in 14 months.
On top of which manure from the same animals is used to enrich soil and boost plant growth. So that everything we eat, animal or vegetable, contains residual antibiotics. Every mouthful we take includes traces of the most successful growth booster of all time.
We ourselves are all eating antibiotic fatteners!
Uh huh. So why aren’t we warned?
Why aren’t we told that the reason we’re fat is not junk food, or sugary drinks, or a low exercise lifestyle?
Not natural gluttons
In thousands of years, the human body has regulated itself according to conditions. Wasting away in famine, yes. But seldom ballooning out in times of plenty. And certainly never in an epidemic like we have now.
So why aren’t we warned that just like animals, antibiotics send our food demands into overdrive? That they make appetites insatiable? And that just like animals, antibiotics make our systems absorb too much? Extracting too much nutrition and making too little waste?
We’re not naturally gluttons. Not naturally addicted to high octane, quick energy food and drink – which is what we’re accused of.
But that is what we have become. Our gut bacteria twisted by antibiotics into never being satisfied and always being hungry. Always on the lookout for a quick hit for our induced addiction.
Because pigging out on lettuce leaves will just not crack it. We’re strictly on the mainline stuff. Burgers, chips, kebabs, pizza, ice cream, chocolate, cake – all the good Mary Berry things. And all the no-nos on Jamie Oliver’s list.
Fat and fatter, that’s us.
Yet never once are we warned, despite the evidence on food farms worldwide. Though doctors already know that antibiotic medicines at a young age frequently trigger obesity by four or five.
We get blamed, it’s our fault. And our indulgent lifestyle that’s pushing us further into obesity. To the long-term killer consequences of diabetes, asthma, cancer and heart disease.
Thought antibiotics were lifesavers? We should have been warned. Made aware of a health hazard, just like cigarettes. With big bold death notices on the front of every box.
They might rescue us today – from a chest infection or surviving a heart transplant – if the bacteria don’t become resistant first.
Dead, or dying
But twenty years down the line we get the bill. A bulbous hunk of blubber on intravenous drips and breathing oxygen. Going down for the last time because of something we never knew was happening to us.