Michael Byrne, ND, MA
Psychotherapist, Naturopathic Physician
Seattle Healing Arts Center
6300 9th Ave. NE, Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98115 [map]
(206) 428-2067
Treat your bugs right!

Treat your bugs right!

There was a great article in the New York Times today titled, The Fat Drug. In it Pagan Kennedy discusses the effects of antibiotic use on livestock and on humans. It seems that the use of antibiotics may be a major contributor to weight gain and our obesity epidemic. And the reason may be that these medications kill the good bacteria that live within us.

It has long been known, and touted by many in the agricultural industry, that antibiotics (as well as byproducts of antibiotic production) increase weight gain in farm animals without increasing the amount of food provided. What hasn’t been given as much attention is the effects of antibiotics on humans. Kennedy cites many studies in this well written article, and some of the results are concerning.

It has been shown that in humans, even just an occasional dose of antibiotics for, say, an ear infection, increases body weight over time. It has also been shown that combining antibiotic use with a high-calorie diet (like the standard American diet), accelerates weight gain even more.

Evidence seems to be pointing toward the helpful role that normal gut bacteria play in modulating metabolism, the immune system and many other aspects of our health. Antibiotics, which can be a life-saver in addressing a bacterial infection, also kill the “good” bacteria that live within us. These bacteria (found mainly in our intestines) are really as much a part of “us” as the rest of our body. In fact we are actually outnumbered. There are 10 times as many bacteria as there are cells in our body. Many of the species of bacteria that live within us have been with us since birth. Curiously, it has also been found that children born by C-section are more likely to be obese later in life. The thought is that those babies which do not make the trip through the birth canal are not inoculated with healthy bugs from their mothers.

Dysbiosis (the state of imbalanced gut flora) has been implicated in many physical and mental conditions, including: obesity, allergies, a number of autoimmune conditions, numerous digestive conditions, eczema, psoriasis, depression, and cancer. Future research may even discover that certain bacteria help protect us from certain diseases. In the meantime, it makes sense to use antibiotics responsibly. It also makes sense to eat foods which will help to restore and maintain the good bacteria in our gut.

Many long-standing traditions from around the world have encouraged the use of fermented foods like yogurt, milk kefir, sore cream, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, relish, miso, tempeh, kimchi and chutneys. When of good quality, they contain a variety of live bacteria known to be healthy for humans. Homemade or handcrafted versions will be better than overly processed versions which may not have any live bacteria in them at all. Another consideration is to take probiotic supplements. These come in the form of pills, powder or liquid and can contain very high quantities of healthy gut bacteria. There are many on the market, and not all are of good quality. I would recommend seeing a healthcare provider familiar with using probiotics, who will know reputable brands and a good dosage schedule for your needs.

Happy bugs make a happy gut, which can make a happy person too.


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