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.

Picture Copyright: vatikaki / 123RF Stock Photo