What Antibiotics are doing to your gut

antibiotics effect on the gut

One of the most amazing breakthroughs of the 20th century. They have saved countless people's lives and caused the end to many bacterial infections. However they are not without their side effects. Naturopaths have been advocating for years the negative effects of antibiotics on the gut microflora and mainstream medicine is now recognising the effects antibiotics have on disrupting the gut bacteria balance. In short, they not only kill the 'bad' bacteria but wipe out our 'good' bacteria too. 

As we know, antibiotics only target bacteria and don't work on viruses such as the common cold and influenza. Unfortunately, the continual overprescribing of antibiotics has created a crisis of antibiotic resistance, whereby many bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotic use. So great this crisis, the World Health Organisation stated in 2014, 'antibiotic resistance is now a major threat to public health..it is happening right now in every world region and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Without urgent, coordinated action...the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.... Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and change how we produce, prescribe & use antibiotics, the world will lose more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating'.

My particular interest is in the effects of antibiotics on the gut micro biome. I had countless ear, nose and throat problems as a kid so by the age of 11, I had received 52 courses of antibiotics. Although there is no recognised cause for ulcerative colitis, (see my story here), I definitely think such hectic antibiotic use set the stage for an inflammatory gut disorder.  

A recent study collected the feces of 66 healthy adults after exposure to either a placebo or four standard oral antibiotics. Researches collected feces samples before exposure, immediately after and 1, 2, 4 and 12 months after administration. Here's what they found:

  • The fecal micro biome was severely affected by most antibiotics for months
  • A microbial change in feces was seen in week 1, month 1 and month 2 in the both of the broad spectrum antibiotic groups (ciprofloxacin and clindamycin)
  • The most enduring, noticeable change to the micro biome which remained significant for up to 4 months was in the clindamycin group 
  • The diversity of the bacteria found in the feces of the ciprofloxacin group was significantly reduced for up to 12 months
  • Significant reduction was seen in the microbial species that produce butyrate. Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid used as an energy source for cells of the colon and known to exert beneficial, anti-inflammatory effects on the gut. 
  • There was an enrichment of genes associated with antibiotic resistance

The researchers concluded 'clearly, even a single antibiotic treatment in healthy individuals contributes to the risk of resistance development and leads to long-lasting detrimental shifts in the gut micro biome'. 

Alas. This shouldn't scare us off never taking antibiotics, of course there are times where they are necessary, however the key is they should be taken, only when absolutely necessary. In future posts, I'll be talking about all the good things you can do to look after your gut if taking antibiotics x

World Health Organisation 2014, WHO's first global report on antibiotic resistance reveals serious worldwide threat to public health, <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/amr-report/en/>
Zaura, E, Brandt, B et al 2015, 'Same exposure but two radically different responses to antibiotics: resilience of the salivary micro biome verses long term microbial shifts in feces', merican Society for Microbiology, vol. 6, no. 6, pp. 1093-15