Negative Effects of Antibiotic Use

Antibiotics are perhaps the most successful pharmacologic therapy of our times. The discovery of antibiotics significantly diminished mortality from infectious diseases and reduced tuberculosis cases and deaths. Today, antibiotics are used to treat strep throat, tonsillitis and other common infections, and when used appropriately, they are relatively safe with few side effects. Unfortunately, they are also frequently overused or misused, and according to the CDC, the problem may be reaching crisis proportions. While antibiotics are intended to kill bacteria that are hazardous to our health, they also may damage healthy tissues and destroy the bacteria that keep our bodies balanced.

1. Creating an imbalance
Your body has trillions of different bacteria, and although a few may be dangerous, most are helpful bacteria that support your immune system and help you digest your food. These gut flora can be destroyed along with bad bacteria when you take an antibiotic, and the mutated strains of bacteria that are immune to the antibiotics will flourish. The incidence of C. diff., a potentially deadly intestinal infection, has soared in recent years, and some researchers have linked this increase to an increased use of antibiotics. In fact, nearly ¾ of children who suffered from C. diff. were found to have recently undergone a course of antibiotics.

2. Increasing drug-resistant bacterial strains
Recently, drug-resistant gonorrhea was making the news. Patients were contracting the common sexually transmitted infection, but the typically prescribed antibiotics were not working against it. Currently, only one class of antibiotics have been found to treat this form of gonorrhea, which has been associated with pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, ectopic pregnancy and infections in newborns. Other bacteria have also evolved to resist antibiotics and are passing their genetic protection to other bacteria much like school children pass colds.

3. Increasing the burden of disease
As more bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics, patients may need more expensive therapies to treat even minor infections. Patients who develop an antibiotic-resistant infection will be facing even more complicated and expensive drug regimens. The personal cost is high, and the financial cost affects us all. The U.S. loses billions of dollars in lost wages, hospitals stays and premature deaths each year as a result of antibiotic resistance.

If you have been prescribed antibiotics, ask your doctor about the most appropriate probiotics to take during treatment. Probiotics can restore healthy bacteria levels and protect your gut flora. Take the antibiotic exactly as prescribed, and do not stop taking it as soon as you feel well, which can allow the stronger bacteria to mutate into a more resistant form. Finally, do not take antibiotics for viral infections.