Was your last antibiotic really necessary?
It might not have been but let me explain. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) at least 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary.(1)
That’s a pretty significant number of antibiotics being prescribed if they aren’t going to help you especially when you consider the harm that antibiotics can also cause.
But why does this happen?
We are conditioned to believe that every time we cough, sniffle, or sneeze we NEED to run to the doctor for medication. As this is true in some circumstances, many times antibiotics can be avoided.
Now before I move on, I do want to say do not avoid going to see your physician if you are sick. Antibiotics are highly effective at treating bacterial infections so there are absolutely cases when antibiotics are helpful and necessary but always make sure you’re talking with your physician and asking questions about the absolute best course for treatment and your health.
So, what exactly is the problem with overprescribing antibiotics and what harm do antibiotics cause even while they are assisting our bodies in fighting off an illness or infection?
Antibiotic overuse is when antibiotics are used when they’re not needed. Antibiotics are one of the great advances in medicine. But overprescribing them has led to resistant bacteria (bacteria that are harder to treat). Some germs that were once very responsive to antibiotics have become more and more resistant. In fact, more than 2.8 million infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria occur in the United States each year, resulting in 35,000 deaths.(2)
There is also an issue with antibiotics that are prescribed being used over a long period of time. These can have long-term effects that can last up to two years such as the development of antibiotic resistance genes in the gut, decreased immune function, and poor nutrient absorption.
Of all the antibiotics, it’s the broad-spectrum antibiotics that are typically overused. These are the ones generally prescribed for bacterial infections as they target both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. These include amoxicillin (the pink one), tetracyclines, sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim), ampicillin and many others.
But it isn’t just overprescribing and long-term use that is the only problem. Antibiotics can also have short-term effects as well.
Typically, it will take the body time to balance the microbiome to healthy, diverse bacteria levels. In fact, research shows that it takes about 6 months to recover from the damage done by antibiotics. And even then, the body might not even be back to its pre-antibiotic state.(3)
Short-term effects include disturbances in the absorption of nutrients, metabolism, overgrowth of yeast (S. cerevisiae), and can actually increase your susceptibility to infections. Basically, it creates a revolving door of illness.
With all of this said, what are you to do if you do need antibiotics? The first thing to do is understand a bit about your microbiome which is extremely important as the gut has connections with multiple aspects of your body. For example, your gut sends chemical messages to your brain and these can be interrupted by the bacteria, fungi and viruses that are living in your gut.
Antibiotics may heal us when we are sick, but they do harm our gut health which in turn then harms our immune systems ultimately ensuring we become sick again. So, the first thing you need to do is make sure you are feeding your body with all the nutrients it needs to keep your gut health in check.
Focus your diet on whole food and try to eliminate as much processed food as you can. One of my favorite tips is to eat your fruits and vegetables with what is in season to give your body diversity and help keep your diet fresh.
In addition to your diet, there are a number of supplements you can experiment with to see what might work for you to help boost your immune system.
My top immune health supplements are:
Just remember, having clear communication with your healthcare provider about what your body needs is going to be the first key step in making sure you’re not taking an antibiotic you don’t need. After that, make sure you’re taking care of your body by doing all of the other biohacks I talk about that include focusing on your nutrition, exercising, optimizing your sleep, taking your supplements, etc. The better your body is functioning overall, the better your immune system will be.