No amount of sugar can sweeten the truth – it’s ANTIBIOTICS that make us fat

Plus size girl cutting fat off
We can cut out sugar, starch or all of them – truth is, we’ll still be fat unless we cut out antibiotics

The truth is certainly that we’re all getting fat.

Two thirds of adults are already overweight or obese. So are one third of children.

Our couch potato lifestyle, junk food addiction and sugary drinks are to blame say the experts. We’re bringing this misery on ourselves.

The truth is equally that we never used to be like this. The Swinging England of the Sixties was stick thin by comparison. So were the Seventies, and the Eighties.

People slouched in front of the telly in those days too. And ate junk food. Wimpy hamburgers from Coventry Street in 1954. Pizza Hut from Islington in 1973.

And of course Coke from 1926, starting at Selfridges.

Uh huh.

The disastrous miracle

Looks like there’s more to the truth than meets the eye. Our Mums weren’t fat, so how come we are?  How come if we want to look slim, we have to be Photo-shopped that 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.

Today, according to a government report, 240,000 tons of antibiotics a year are used on farms around the world. By 2030, that could nearly double.

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.

And in the super-crowded, unhealthy slum conditions of CAFOs, antibiotics are essential to keeping them alive.

Fatter vegetarians too

It doesn’t stop there.

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.

Thanks to antibiotics, we eat too much.

Can’t face the truth? Easier to live with than the mumbo-jumbo we’ve  been sold about diets all these years though, isn’t it? Which, it seems, is not exactly the truth either.

Besides, it means it’s not our fault we’re fat.

We’re the only ones who can fix it though. And it can be done. Simple physics. We’re eating too much, so we all have to eat less.

Not easy. To succeed takes hard work and will power.

And that’s no lie.

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Why aren’t we warned that antibiotics can make us fat?

Doc holding ABX
Not the lifesavers we think they are – they’re why we’re fat, and why we’re going to die in twenty years’ time

We get warned about other issues.

About antibiotic resistance, for instance.

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.

We never were – and we aren’t now.

Why aren’t we warned?

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Medics are worried antibiotics don’t work – but if we stop using them, we’ll all starve

Glam surgeon
Antibiotics aren’t working, people are going to die. They make people fat too, which also makes them die. The same with the animals – and if they die, we’ll all starve. But at least we’ll all be thin.

Yes, starve. At least 5 billion of us, two-thirds of the world’s population.

That’s the price tag, if we stop using antibiotics.

Not just in health, but in food production.

Where 240,000 tonnes of antibiotics are fed to livestock every year. To the 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle, 1 billion pigs and 1 billion sheep that currently feed us.

Which in turn generate the fertile manure to produce wheat, rice and maize – mega-crops that deliver 50% of our plant food energy. As well as the sorghum, millet, potatoes, sweet potatoes, soybean and sugar that provide the next 25 percent.

Antibiotics in everything

Food for us, food for the livestock that feed us – and all laced through with residual antibiotics.

Why?

Because antibiotics are the most efficient agricultural growth boosters ever.

In the 1950s when antibiotics were first discovered, the world population was just 2½ billion. Today – supported by exactly the same land space since the planet hasn’t got any bigger – that figure currently tops 7½ billion.

Only possible by the phenomenal growth-enhancing side effects of antibiotics in animal feedstuffs. Wonder drug medicines for us – boom time jackpot for farmers. From egg to roasting chicken in six weeks. From new born calf to Aberdeen Angus steak in 14 months. Jackpot!

So why would we pull the plug on the miracle that feeds us all so effortlessly?

Because the bacteria-clobbering MEDICAL miracle of antibiotics is fast not working any more. Bacteria have become resistant to them and developed immunity to them. They have become ineffective – and our own chief Medical Officer for England, Dr Dame Sally Davies, says so.

Pan resistant bacteria

As if to emphasise that point, last week the exploding medical hand grenade was the 70-year-old American patient who died of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) – a bug resistant to ALL antibiotics. Pan resistant bacteria are now a reality.

Antibiotics that don’t fight germs? It’s the end of modern medicine. No more heart transplants or hip replacements. Nor births by caesarean section either. Or any one of the thousands of routine operations and treatments impossible without infection protection.

It’s the end of a lot more besides.

What about all those billions of cows and chickens – and the daily dose in their feedstuff?

To breed in numbers like that, they have to live on crowded and disease-prone factory farms. Antibiotics make them grow faster but also keep them well. Essential for survival in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)

So yes, farmers will keep shovelling antibiotics at them. With 7½ billion mouths to feed, they can’t afford not to. Antibiotics or starve.

Except that just like with us, antibiotics will start failing for them too. And when one animal dies, the rest will follow in quick succession. A bushfire epidemic ripping through a slum – exactly what a CAFO is.

No more miracles

Which puts us between a rock and a hard place. Antibiotics can’t save our lives any more – and can’t save us from starving either.

Oh, but ironically for maximum misery, antibiotics make us fat too, just like the cows. So we have the rewards of obesity to look forward to as well – diabetes, asthma, cancer heart disease. Not a happy future.

But just maybe, a pretty one. Because antibiotics are so heavily part of our diet through our food, two thirds of Brit adults are already overweight or obese – and so are a third of our kids. So at least if we starve, we won’t go out fat.

For as the glamorous Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor once said “you can’t be too rich or too thin”.

Pass the streptomycin.

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Hey, give yourself a break – it’s not your fault you’re fat

Plus size businesswoman
Too much of a good thing – and through none of your own doing

First off, you’re not alone. Around two thirds of us are fat too – sharing the same problem, suffering the same angst. Already overweight or clinically obese.

We never used to be like that. Twenty years ago, most people our age were comfortably Size 12. Size wasn’t an issue – and we ATE THE SAME THINGS WE DO NOW. In the same amounts.

So what’s changed?

We’re stressed, every hour of the day, trying everything to lose the pounds. Which works for some – but who wants to live on rabbit food, or spend every day in the gym?

And who says we’re all couch potatoes – pigging out on chips and Coke in front of the TV?

Wrongly accused

We don’t chug sugary drinks, or guts burgers ten at a time. We’re ordinary people, trying to lead ordinary lives and something cruel is ballooning us against our will.

Yes, it’s a fat epidemic – but nobody’s twigged the cause.

Doctors tut-tut about BMI. Politicians and celebrities rabbit on about sugar tax. Meanwhile nobody has a clue. Because if they had, we would know about it, so all we’re doing is getting fatter.

Well maybe ONE person has it figured. In a speech to the House of Lords back in June, Lord McColl, emeritus professor of surgery at Guys Hospital, said, “It is impossible to be obese unless one is eating too many calories.”

Wise words. But hmmm – that doesn’t jell with those of us eating like birds in desperation stakes. Sure, we’ll lose weight if we stop eating altogether. And then? A one-way ticket to oblivion.

Eat too many calories, maybe. But ABSORB too many calories, definitely. Extract too much out of the food we eat, and so we pile on the pounds.

But how is this possible?

Unwanted additive we don’t even know is there

Look no further than your favourite supermarket.

All those shelves are loaded with food in quantities far greater than 20 years ago. Well sure, there’s more of us. More mouths to feed – the pressure is on to keep those gaping warehouses topped up.

Which puts the pressure on food producers to grow more crops and rear more livestock. Picture-book country farms have now become massive factory farms, getting everything to market in as quick a time as possible.

Uh huh, you’re right. Not possible without something to speed up the process. To boost growth in a way that makes everything fatter, quicker. From egg to roasting chicken in 6 weeks. From new-born calf to Aberdeen Angus steak in 14 months.

That’s the amazing and unexpected bonus of antibiotics.

See what a factory farm looks like and antibiotics are essential anyway. Overcrowded, often unsanitary, those miracle drugs are necessary to keep animals alive.

Result. Antibiotics are shovelled into animal feed around the world at the rate of 240,000 tonnes a year. And the tons of manure they make become fertiliser for every kind of vegetable, seed and fruit crop. So that residual antibiotics are present in every kind of food you can think of.

Growth boosters in our diet

With every mouthful, you’re ingesting small amounts of the same amazing growth boosters used to accelerate food production across the board. Like the animals bulk up, so do you. The fat drug makes you squeeze more nutrients out of the food you eat, you just can’t help yourself.

Without your knowing or doing anything, fatness has sneaked up on you to burst you at the seams.

It’s not fair, it’s not right and it’s endangering your health. Because pushed over into obesity, there’s nasties like diabetes, heart disease and cancer waiting for you. Our life-saving miracle drugs have become killers.

What can you do?

Not a lot. We all have to eat – but pretty well everything we buy in the supermarket will have traces of antibiotics, continuing our unwanted “treatment”.

One way is to go organic. But while food produced by organic farmers might tick all the boxes, there’s no guarantee that “natural” manure used to nurture their products are free from antibiotics.

Most cows excrete 80% of the food they ingest, Nature’s way sustaining life down to the smallest microcosm. That means 80% of their dose winds up in the soil.

To be taken up by plants or leach down into the water table – so that even the stuff in your tap includes traces of antibiotics.

Will power versus drugs

Uh huh. So grow your own at home. Without fertiliser, without anything. Using only rainwater.

Or just bite the bullet and deliberately try to eat less. We’ll always be hungry, but at least our minds will be razor sharp. We might be fat, but we’re not fatheads.

Let’s save that category for the long list of experts, do-gooders, authorities, celebrities and health freaks who know about the problem but do nothing about it.

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Eek, not food poisoning! Keep calm and cook food thoroughly

Woman butcher
Hygiene and common sense – we’re not utterly defenceless

Relax, nobody’s going to die. Or get the collywobbles . Or anything.

As long as everything is properly cooked, we’re all going to be fine.

Because unless you’re into sushi or steak tartare, nobody eats meat raw, do they?

And if whatever you’re preparing is affected by any bacteria or something, most germs are destroyed by the high temperatures of cooking – everybody’s safe.

Take our current scare with chicken.

There’s all kinds of  official bodies jumping up and down because nearly three-quarters of the chicken in any supermarket is contaminated with campylobacter. Nasty upset tummies with that one, some people can get quite seriously ill.

Inconvenient truths

But here’s a fact of life. Pretty well most poultry has campylobacter. It occurs naturally in birds and may even be necessary for healthy existence. So chickens aren’t contaminated, they’re colonised. Cooked thoroughly, they’re perfectly safe.

It’s like we don’t eat fish with scales, or prawns with the blue vein. They could make you ill too if you were careless enough. It’s part of proper food prep, like shelling eggs, skinning oranges or peeling potatoes.

Of course you DO have to clean everything thoroughly as you do it. Knives, chopping boards, prep surfaces and all utensils need a good scrub after working with chicken. So do your hands, to avoid any risk infection.

But you were going to do all that anyway – WEREN’T you?

It’s the same with Danish bacon. Still about the best you can buy anywhere – but these days unfortunately nearly three-quarters of all Danish pork is afflicted with MRSA.

Well, with so many mouths to feed around the world, we were the ones who pressured farmers in Denmark and elsewhere into boosting production with antibiotics. Shovelling the stuff into livestock in industrial quantities too – 240,000 tonnes a year and skyrocketing.

Superbugs everywhere

Small wonder then that with hundreds of thousands of pigs, any bacteria they were carrying developed resistance. So now we have LA-MRSA (Livestock Associated Methicillin Resistant Streptococcus Aureus) THREATENING us, just like campylobacter.

Well, yes. Except that just like campylobacter, cook that Danish pork properly and all trace of LA-MRSA is removed – the bacon is safe to eat, just like previously.

And right there are two examples of highly popular food types that on the surface present a hazard, but with proper precautions are really nothing to worry about.

Yes, it is disturbing that superbugs like MRSA are in our food. But with antibiotics being used by agriculture in such astronomic quantities, we should heed and take precautions anyway. More than likely all kinds of food types are laced with other superbugs and we need to be on our guard.

At least we can turn up the heat and get rid of most of them – part of the cooking we are already doing.

Worse than superbugs

Much more worrying are residual traces of the antibiotics themselves, which heat cannot get rid of unless you boil your food for hours, losing all taste and appeal.

All those animals were fed antibiotics to keep them healthy in the super-crowded environment of factory farms (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). With the money-making side effect that they fattened up for market in a quarter of the time.

Yeah, well – we eat those animals, we swallow the same antibiotics, we fatten up too. On the one-way road to obesity with all the inevitable complications – diabetes, heart disease, cancer. Literally to a dead end.

Getting rid of the antibiotics – that’s an issue all of us face and none of us are ready for.  A headache for governments and health authorities for years to come.

Superbugs in our food though – they’re a problem too, but we can make them go away.

Guess that answers the question, hey? Would you prefer rare, medium or well-done?

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Why taking antibiotics is like chopping off your leg

Crazy girl with knife
Without knowing it, we’re doing ourselves more harm than good

Crazy, right? Round the twist. Who in their right mind would want to chop their leg off?

But that’s how crazy we are when we take antibiotics.

We don’t think so, of course.  But without knowing it, we’re doing ourselves serious harm.

Because antibiotics are prescribed to do one thing – kill bacteria.

Killers as life-savers?

And surprise, surprise, though none of us ever realise it – our own bodies are more bacteria than human, our cells outnumbered by more than 10 to 1.

Seems impossible and about-face, but that’s actually a good thing.

Bacteria are one of the longest-lasting life forms on Earth. Amazing survivors too. Capable of withstanding fierce high temperatures. Triple-figure sub-zero freezing temperatures. Even living and breeding in acid.

Our bodies are colonised by hundreds of trillions of these remarkable creatures. They’re vitally necessary to handle our digestion, produce proteins and manage our immune systems – among thousands of other functions. They live with our human cells in harmony – and we could not exist without them.

So yeah, we take antibiotics to kill bacteria that are harming us. The WRONG bacteria in the WRONG place, running amok among the RIGHT bacteria that are who we are.

Oh dear – chop, chop, chop.

A bomb in the guts

Because in targeting harmful bacteria, those same antibiotics inevitably kill some of our good bacteria too. Their killer action is spread wide to be sure of effectiveness. So our own systems take a hit – though we may not know it at the time.

The bacteria inside us know it though, particularly in our gut. To the trillions and trillions that live in our insides, a dose of antibiotics is like exploding a hydrogen bomb.  Millions get the chop.

Sure some of them regrow, reproducing themselves sometimes in as little as 20 minutes. But not all. Some are damaged and can’t do their job. Others –  the rarer ones – might be lost altogether. Our gut population depleted, our bio-diversity gone.

We might feel the same when our illness passes – back to normal and our usual selves.

But we’re not.

Biggest of the known side effects of antibiotics is growth promotion. The body bulks up very rapidly, putting on weight overnight . Damaged or missing bacteria cause the metabolism to gorge on food more than normal. And to extract a higher proportion of nutrients, directly accelerating the body’s over-development.

Fatter and fatter

See what happens with kids aged two, put on antibiotics. By the time they get to five they’re already overweight, well on their way to increasingly chubby childhood.

It’s this quality that has revolutionised the food industry, enabling factory farms to pump out THREE times the world’s meat and plant crop output in little more than 20 years.

Such weight gain doesn’t happen to everybody.

But it’s already a fact of life – and a key reason why two-thirds of adults are already overweight or obese.  Not just from medical treatments – frighteningly made worse by one third of all prescribed antibiotics being completely unnecessary – but from daily exposure through our FOOD.

You see, spectacular growth boosting in food production has exploded antibiotics use all over the world. Currently 240,000 tonnes annually and rocketing.

That means that through direct dosing with feedstuffs – and even more through indirect absorption of manure used to fertilise, enriching all plant life and those same feedstuffs – all of us receive a small daily intake of antibiotics with every meal we eat. Exactly the way to make us bulk up fast.

Fatter and sicker

Animals and plants quickly get eaten, so their life expectancy is not very high – a few years at most. But we go on for decades, getting steadily fatter, deeper into obesity. More prone to illnesses that obesity brings – diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many others. All long goodbyes.

Not the same as chopping off a leg – but equally unpleasant. And a lot more life-threatening.

Nor is it just getting fat that antibiotics threaten us with.

Damaged or missing bacteria deny us any immunity to serious illness we may have inherited from our parents. Our kids are denied them for the same reason, they’re no longer there to be passed on.

Worse, our bodies start reacting to conditions that aren’t there. Misreading normal signals as hostile, confusing everyday reality with phantom attacks against us.

Which is how, out of nowhere, we develop allergies. Hay fever, eczema or asthma. Or how about urticaria, anaphylactic shock or gluten reactions? People never had them 20 years ago –not in the snowballing number we have now.

Superbugs rule

And then of course – really chopping off our own leg – our undisciplined and wild overuse of antibiotics has triggered the development of superbugs.

Our cure-all miracle drugs are starting not to work any more because bacteria have become immune to them. Antimicrobial resistance.

Yes, well – we wanted to kill off bacteria, But nobody thought we were chopping off bits of ourselves.

So now we sit with life-savers that don’t work, medical surgery brought to a standstill, and all of us steadily getting fatter.

Not a survivable future

Though count on it, the bacteria that brought us down will still be around, long after we’re gone.

Oh yeah, and that antibiotic resistance superbug thing?

Wait till that runs riot across factory farms. Flash pandemics among livestock. No more food for most of us. Death by hunger is not a nice way to go – and we’re probably already too late to stop it.

Chopping off a leg, huh? Looks like we’ve already done it.

Time to reverse this antibiotics debacle now, to get off the train and find alternatives. Other solutions like bacteriophages – something, anything.

Either that, chop, chop – or we’re limping towards a future that doesn’t exist.

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Why we’re all going to die from antibiotics – unless a young Malaysian PhD student succeeds first

Girl in cemetery
Let’s hope antibiotics are NOT in our future

OK, most of us know that antibiotics kill bacteria.

Except it’s a shattering revelation to most of us that We are 90% bacteria. Only 10% of our bodies are human.

Yeah, life-saving antibiotics fight infection and make us well again.

But there’s always collateral damage. We never quite return to 100% ourselves again afterwards. Our personal bacteria are depleted or damaged.

All thanks to antibiotics.

A killer legacy

Miracle drugs they certainly have been, until now. But evidence is mounting that our unswerving faith in them may be misplaced. That they are in fact about the most deadly threat we face today.

Three major challenges they throw at us, all of them deadly:

  • Superbugs. Bacteria can and do find ways to resist antibiotics. They become immune, untreatable – life-threatening superbugs. The threat is so serious that the UN convened their first ever general assembly to address the issue only last week. Superbugs are expected to kill 10 million of us by 2050.
  • Obesity. We’re fat and getting fatter – two thirds of us are already overweight or obese.  Again, thanks to antibiotics. A staggering 240,000 tonnes are fed to livestock every year to accelerate growth and weight gain. Their manure fertilises crops, so that our entire food chain is laced with the most phenomenal growth booster ever. Our food bulks us up, we become obese, triggering diabetes, heart disease and cancer – together killing 500 million of us by 2050.
  • Famine. Farmers won’t stop feeding animals their biggest ever money-maker. Which means antibiotics on farms will nearly double in the next 15 years.  HALF A MILLION TONNES A YEAR gives bacteria plenty of practice to become superbugs. Which means widespread disease is inevitable – a collapse of the food supply to non-antibiotic levels. 6 billion of us can expect to starve to death.

More than two thirds of the world’s population gone. All thanks to antibiotics – the invincible superbugs they create, and the ballooning bodies they force on us that our systems cannot withstand.

Doom and gloom worldwide

An effective alternative

Except in a research lab at the University of Melbourne – where 25-year old PhD student Shu Lam from Batu Pahat in the state of Johor, Malaysia, is working on a game-changer.  Star-shaped molecules of peptide polymers that destroy superbugs WITHOUT antibiotics.

The star-shaped polymers rip bacteria walls apart WITHOUT harming the body. Destroying them in much the same way as oxygen atoms do outside the body – annihilating harmful germs in living spaces.

Shu Lam’s work is still in its infancy, but already the results are impressive. Effective against six strains of drug-resistant bacteria in the lab, and on one superbug in live mice.

Bacteriophages

Her work parallels the largely forgotten efforts of others looking for alternatives to antibiotics – particularly the use of bacteriophages.

Using a germ to catch a germ, phages are tightly targeted viruses that attack bacteria by injecting DNA and fragmenting their cells.

The practice of deploying viruses to kill bacteria became widely used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War – a practical alternative around embargoed Western antibiotics.

Meanwhile the rest of the world is still at committee stage, endlessly debating antimicrobial resistance while the rest of us fatten up daily.

Time to realise that antibiotics are not all they’re cracked up to be. Life-savers in an emergency, but killers long term.

Let’s hope the penny drops soon.

Two thirds of us could be dead by the time the gurus make a decision.

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Why AMR on farms will be our biggest killer yet

Vet with calf
One way or another, our miracle life-saving drugs are going to kill us

Sounds all very innocent, doesn’t it? AMR on farms.

Yet within our lifetime, it could be the cause of 5 BILLION deaths – the biggest single calamity in our history.

Three little letters – AMR. Antimicrobial resistance, the increasing immunity of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi to any medicine we throw at them.

Already a global health issue, this week its superbug effect on humans became the focus of world leaders at the United Nations.

The largely British initiative was driven by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, who targeted AMR as “the greatest future threat to our civilisation.”

The real villain

And top of the list of medicines most susceptible to AMR, is our previously unequalled group of miracle wonder drugs – antibiotics.

Because they’re so amazing, antibiotics have become almost the cure-all for any kind of illness or infection.

Major surgery? Yup, they’re essential. And little Jimmy’s cough? Start him on these and come back in a week.

With this kind of “infallible” hype among doctors and patients, they’ve become over-prescribed and over-used in almost a third of all cases – dramatically accelerating the opportunities for bacteria to develop immunity.

More chance to practice, more chance to succeed. Easy-peasy when you’re a versatile organism and high survivor, able to reproduce every twenty minutes

Armageddon in the making

So yes, AMR is a global nightmare. But a midget alongside the Armageddon of AMR on farms.

240,000 TONNES of antibiotics are shovelled into farm livestock every year. Industry will assert it’s to keep animals healthy. Reality is that antibiotics promote growth like nothing on Earth. Animals develop bigger, better and faster for a fraction of the cost and time.

The growth rate is so fantastic that in the 50 years since antibiotics were discovered, world food production has expanded to support a population more than THREE TIMES THE SIZE. And even more amazingly, off exactly the same amount of land – our planet is still as big as it was, half a century ago.

To do this of course, farming has become astronomically more intense. Expanding from the quaint pastoral myth of our childhood to the factory farms of today.

Ever heard of CAFOs?

That’s what industrial-scale factory farms are – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Google for images of “CAFO” and you’ll see what we mean. Production so concentrated, it’s like animals herded into an over-crowded block of flats.

Such environments are so unhealthy that antibiotics are vital to keeping animals alive, let alone fattening them up. They compensate for the unnatural and unhealthy conditions – the everyday “veterinary” excuse for an industry that bucks against limiting antibiotics precisely because of AMR.

And as you’d expect, AMR on farms happens on an industrial scale – just like the farms themselves.

Superbug factories

No wonder. Bacteria are the oldest and most successful living organisms on the planet. Capable of surviving intense heat, intense cold, and even heavily acid environments. No antibiotic has stood up to them for more than 25 years.

Bash bacteria all you like, they always win. So that factory farms become superbug factories.

Which means that total AMR on farms is a fast-approaching reality. By numbers alone, accelerating faster than among us humans.

And what happens when AMR on farms becomes “pan-resistant” – responsive to no antibiotics at all?

In their concentration camp environments, the animals will sicken and die. Contagion will spread among them like wildfire. Infecting neighbouring farms through contaminated manure, ground seepage and water supply.

Overnight famine

Like all epidemics, it will happen suddenly. Overnight, millions of animals will be lost. 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle, 1 billion sheep and 1 billion pigs. Most of the world’s food supply – gone.

No food. Not for the 7½ billion we are now. Precious little for the 2½ billion we were 50 years ago, before this antibiotics disaster started. A one-way ticket for at least 5 billion of us – famine and death.

But we’re already dying anyway. Because of those same antibiotics.

Yes, from disease caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

And more frighteningly, from the drip-drip sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics we ingest every meal through our food.

All this, and obesity too

Antibiotics fatten up animals. We eat them, we fatten up from the same antibiotics. If not directly, then from their manure used to fertilise crops and other animal feed. Inescapable even if we’re vegetarian. Which is why two thirds of us are already obese.

But there’s a difference. Animals only survive fourteen months before they go to market.  Bigger and fatter – a kind of short-term obesity.

We go for the long haul. Living on for decades, getting fatter and fatter, more and more obese. And paying the inevitable price for obesity – asthma, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The long, slow road to painful and miserable death.

The UN meeting wants us to develop new antibiotics, use them more responsibly and cut down on the need for them through better hygiene.

Not good enough if we read the signs.

The ultimate price

Change or no change, all antibiotics will:

  • Inevitably succumb to AMR, generating killer superbugs
  • Push increasing numbers of us into accelerating obesity
  • Unleash AMR on farms, triggering wide-scale disease, rapidly followed by famine

Three outcomes, all ending in death. Our miracle life-savers have become mass killers.

Enough tinkering with antibiotics now.

It’s time our leaders found some serious alternatives.

What’s up, Doc?

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Five reasons why antibiotics are suicide

Doctors eyes
Yes, we know antibiotics are life-savers, but they work by killing

Doctors already know antibiotics are killers.

That’s what antibiotics do, they kill bacteria. Hopefully whichever strain it is that’s making you ill.

But inevitably they kill other bacteria as well. The good bacteria unluckily alongside. Antibiotics don’t know how to tell the difference.

Working with killers

So be aware, when your doctor prescribes antibiotics, she knows she’s prescribing a killer.

A pretty momentous decision when you realise that our bodies are more bacteria than human. We might think we’re in charge, but it’s the 90% bacteria colonised inside us that call the shots.

Which means that clobbering a few million bacteria unintentionally might be more hazardous than it seems. Collateral damage with sometimes serious consequences. Suicide option 1.

Gut bacteria usually take the hit, so that’s where the trouble starts. How many of us haven’t complained of nausea or diarrhoea while taking antibiotics?

Sometimes it’s worse than that – and unexpected. Torn Achilles tendon (levaquin), mood instability (fluoroquinolone derivatives), bruising and bleeding (augmentin) or eczema, wheezing, and asthma in children under two (all types).

Not good, when you remember that gut bacteria are there to process digestion, create proteins, regulate the immune system and many other functions.

Gut damage

Then there’s the damage you can’t see, but there’s plenty of evidence.

Antibiotics somehow suppress the control that tells us when to stop eating (leptin hormone). Even more critical, they cause the digestion bacteria to extract more nutrients from food than they should. Energy is over-absorbed instead of passing as waste, so the body stores it as fat.

The slippery slope to obesity. Suicide option 2.

Yes, the gut recovers from an antibiotic hit – likened by some researchers to releasing a hydrogen bomb. But it never comes back 100% to the way it was.

Some bacteria types can regenerate. Others, the rarer kind, might disappear altogether – and whatever their function was, is lost. Which seems to be what happens with putting on weight. Obese people find it next to impossible to get the weight off – their stomachs are jammed at full throttle.

Boosted weight gain

Which explains why antibiotics are used as growth boosters in agriculture. In quantities that boggle the mind. 240,000 tonnes a year currently and set to rise nearly 70% in the next 15 years.

The growth boosting and weight gain is truly phenomenal. From egg to full-grown roasting chicken in 6 weeks – or from new-born calf to Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak in 16 months instead of four years. All achieved by low sub-therapeutic doses added regularly to animal feed.

Which means we get the same low dose of growth boosters as well. We eat them, we ingest the antibiotics in their systems – even though antibiotic additives are withdrawn from feed by law for a set period before going to market.

They’re still laced with them because their bodies work the same way ours do. Remember how antibiotics make our stomachs over-absorb nutrients? Well most livestock animals only absorb around 20% of the food value they chew.

The rest is excreted as manure – to enrich the soil and be taken up by plants. To leach down into the water table too, out into our rivers and into our water supply. And folded back to the animals in the grass they graze, or the soy, maize or whatever in their feed.

In everything we eat

Which also means everything we eat or drink is laced with antibiotics too – meat or veg. Some of them added to boost plant growth and control blight – but most ingested directly or indirectly from the fertile soil.

Waiting for us to come along and innocently nosh it, thinking that a vegetarian diet will save us from the perils of eating meat.

Which brings us back to obesity – if not already triggered by medicine, then activated drip-drip, by the daily intake with every meal. And it’s happening too.

Look around. Already two thirds of UK adults are overweight or obese – and a third of children. The fat epidemic is upon us – quite independently of pizzas, burgers and sugary drinks. Keep up there, Jamie – this is important.

And what does obesity bring? A long, slow decline as the body subsides into complications – asthma, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer. A one-way ticket to long term misery. Suicide option 3.

Doctors recognise the epidemic – a time-bomb set to swamp the NHS as us fatties deteriorate into long-term repeat patients. They’ve got their hands full with a more immediate crisis though – antimicrobial resistance.

Rise of the superbugs

The miracle live-savers we trust antibiotics are, are fast becoming useless as bacteria adapt and become immune – turning into superbugs. Right now, today, there’s hardly a drug in the cupboard that bacteria haven’t found a way to resist.

MRSA, acinetobacter baumannii, CRKP, e.coli, ESBL, NDM-1, pseudomonas aeruginosa, streptococcus are all bugs that have learnt – and create genes that teach other bugs how survive too. Suicide option 4.

Which means, when you come down to it, that all antibiotics are only temporary. They might last two years, they might last ten. But sooner or later, bacteria will learn how to survive whatever we throw at them – and we’ll go back to being vulnerable.

Because you can’t beat bacteria. Don’t forget, we’re 90% bacteria ourselves. And they’re the most successful life form the world has ever seen – learning to survive for billions and billions of years – among the very first living things.

So the big thing that doctors are worried about is when ALL antibiotics fail altogether. Because then modern medicine falls apart. No more heart transplants, hip replacements or caesarean births – we’re back to the Dark Ages, our failsafe is gone.

The day when that happens is hurtling towards us too. With animals gulping down 240,000 tonnes of antibiotics a year, bacteria are getting plenty of opportunity to try, try, try until they succeed at finding a way to survive them. Superbugs are on the rise.

So ban antibiotics

Big pressure is mounting, among doctors and health gurus, to have antibiotics banned from agriculture altogether. Fat hope of that – quite literally.

Thanks to antibiotic growth boosters, world population now is THREE times the size it was since they were first introduced. So is food production – off the same-sized planet. Banning them would cut food production, triggering worldwide famine and two thirds of us would die from starvation. Suicide option 5.

Just possibly though, bacteria will do the job for us.

Antimicrobial resistance doesn’t only sick superbugs on humans. It sicks them on animals too. Our miracle drugs will stop working on them, same as us. So they will die anyway. And world famine will happen just the same.

Because you can’t beat bacteria, it’s like beating ourselves. We’re 90% bacteria anyway, so even trying it is suicide. A demonstration that if we can’t do things naturally, we will get zapped.

There’s too many of us anyway, so this is Nature correcting a speed wobble. Chop the numbers, we read you – and we got the email.

We’ve had the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, the super-volcano of Yellowstone, the Black Death, two World Wars, the global flu of 1918 – now it’s time for suicide.

Stay healthy!

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World’s next big crunch. Push antibiotics, or face famine. Dump them, or face obesity.

Girl makes chilling choice
Not a choice any of us wants to make – but this is now, and we have to

Forget all you ever thought about antibiotics being medicine. Here’s a crunch issue bigger than any we’ve ever faced.

Bigger than global warming, bigger than thermo-nuclear war, maybe even bigger than a massive asteroid strike.

Already impossible to stop

It’s a crunch we face now, with repercussions going on for the next 30 or 40 years. All caused by antibiotics – or more accurately, our own shocking misuse of them.

Because, no, no, no, not medicine. Around 80% or more of world production goes into agriculture. Shovelled into plants and animals in industrial quantities – as the most phenomenal quick-acting GROWTH BOOSTERS of all time.

And we mean phenomenal. Bigger, better, faster – a money-making miracle too.

50 years ago, when the growth boosting side-effects of antibiotics were first discovered, the world’s population was 2½ billion. And every inch of farming land was flat-out, producing food to feed them. Even then, it wasn’t enough. There were shortages, with millions going hungry.

Today, our world population has swelled to a whopping 7½ billion. But the world hasn’t got any bigger. The planet is still the same size as it was 50 years ago. THREE times the people feeding off exactly the SAME land space.

Impossible?

No.

Because the miracle difference is antibiotics, particularly in the last 20 years.

Growth boosting by numbers

Amazingly, just by boosting animal and plant growth worldwide, the same land can now support a population that’s THREE times bigger.

But it’s not going to stop is it?

By 2050, world population will be bursting at the seams with a massive 9.7 billion of us – rising to 11.2 billion by 2100.  Numbers in Africa alone are expected to double – reaching 4.2 billion by the end of the century. That’s the same as the entire world population in 1977, barely 40 years ago.

Which means don’t expect the use of antibiotics in agriculture to slow down any time soon. With ANOTHER 3.7 billion of us to feed  by the end of the century, factories are going to be blasting round the clock to keep pace.

It’s going to be with all the regular antibiotics our doctors know and love too. Trimethoprim, oxytetracycline, ciprofloxacin, azithromycin, cefotaxime, doxycycline, sulfamethoxazole, erythromycin, clarithromycin and ofloxacin are all regularly used by the JCB-load.

And not just the regulars, it’s the emergency ones too. Even colistin – regarded by medics as the ultimate medicine of last resort – was being pumped into pigs at 11,942 tonnes per annum at the end of last year.

There’s only one problem.

Antimicrobial resistance

With that kind of consumption, currently around 240,000 tonnes a year,  the bacteria they’re being used against have had ample opportunity to develop resistance. Already, so many have developed immunity to antibiotics, that doctors are now looking at an Armageddon where ALL of them stop working.

And here’s the crunch. Well, Crunch 1, at any rate.

Thanks to this antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the world-wide move to limit antibiotics in agriculture is gathering ground – a tadpole going up against a whale.

Because it’s not going to happen is it?

Pull the plug on antibiotics in agriculture and suddenly there’s not enough food. Enough for only 2½ billion, not the 7½ billion we are today. Which means 5 billion people are going to go hungry. TWO THIRDS of the world population.

Famine on a scale never seen before. And what government, anywhere, is going to want that on their hands?

Like it or not, antibiotics are a train we cannot get off. Which means thanks for jumping up and down, Doc, we’re going to carry on as is.

The “bigger” problem

Which brings us to Crunch 2.

Only this time, Doc, you’re not jumping up and down enough. Not nearly enough.

Because right now, thanks to antibiotics, we’re also staring at the biggest medical crisis of all time.

Two thirds of adults are already at the start of this slippery slope. So are one third of children. And it all comes back to why antibiotics are used in agriculture – they make living things fatter.

Since we’re all chowing down food that contains the most phenomenal quick-acting GROWTH BOOSTERS of all time, we’re getting fat too.

Which means serious obesity. The kind that leads to type 2 diabetes, heart disease or cancer. A slow motion disaster of misery and death.

All triggered by antibiotics. Which all of us – unknowingly – are already on. A low background dose in every food we eat – meat, fish, vegetables, fruit. Milk too. Even the water we drink.

Impossible, surely?

Over-absorption

Think again. Surprisingly, farm animals only absorb around 20% of the nutrients they eat. The rest is excreted, to become the manure that fertilises plant crops and enriches the soil. Rain soaks it deep into the earth, leaching through into our rivers.

So we’re getting the antibiotics alright. In sub-therapeutic doses with every meal, just like the 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle and 1 billion each of sheep and pigs that currently feed us.

And if antibiotics can boost metabolisms from an egg to full-grown roasting chicken in 6 weeks – or from new-born calf to Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak in 16 months instead of four years – what are they doing to us?

Yeah, maybe we’re fat like the gurus tell us, because we lounge around playing computer games all day, glugging Coke and pigging out on pizza. And sure, that kind of couch potato lifestyle has got to have an influence.

But ask yourself, how come so MANY of us have got so large in the last 20 years? The same time period that antibiotics in food production have ramped up Big Time.

Those phenomenal growth boosters are working on us too, through the food we eat – and we’re paying the price.

Which means, face it – we’re going to get fatter and fatter. And lumps of lard, we’ll all fall victims to too much nutrient intake – making ourselves candidates for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and worse.

It doesn’t happen to the animals, their lives are too short. Which is why there’s no scandal or outcry, the issue is invisible.

But us humans have decades ahead of us. Plenty of time for the slow, debilitating effects of obesity to take hold, for the complications to set in, ready to drag us down to an unpleasant and premature death.

If in doubt, panic

Crunch time, world wide. In an epidemic that has crept up on us with such stealth, our watchdog heavies have yet to respond to beyond the odd rumblings about sugar tax and collectively throwing their hands up.

But yes, it’s happening – and two thirds of us are already on the slippery slope.

It will keep happening too, even if antibiotics are removed altogether from medical use, because they don’t work. Our daily dose will come through in our food and drink, continuing to overstimulate our absorption processes.

We won’t even know it’s happening, till we tip the scales further than we ever used to – and waistbands somehow expand larger than we ever dreaded.

Even going vegetarian won’t avoid antibiotics exposure, because the damage will already have been done. Jump-started by antibiotics fed to us for childhood ailments – fat by the time we’re five, with an even fatter future on the way.

So there we have it. Crunch, crunch.  Famine or obesity.

Pandora’s Box

And it’s our own fault too. We opened the Pandora’s Box of antibiotics by our own choice. We wanted to go bacteria-bashing and failed to think through the consequences.

Now we have no options. The issue is too big to address because we’ve never learned – all nations together – to unite in the face of a common cause.

Unless we do though, we’re going to wind up either very hungry – or big, bulky and helpless, like the dinosaurs.

The end is nigh.

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