Can Antibiotics Make You Fat?

There are all kinds of concerns running around with antibiotic resistant bugs. Headlines lately are claiming that the era of antibiotics is coming to an end and soon we will have nothing left to combat our infectious diseases. Rarely, if ever, do I hear the real story highlighted in the media or in the medical literature.

I firmly believe that the rampant use of antibiotics in our newborns, infants and toddlers is wreaking massive havoc on our short term and long term health. I can think of few things as devastating to the immune system than destroying or disrupting the development of the appropriate intestinal flora that begins the second that baby hits the birth canal.

It is difficult for me to describe how important healthy, normal bacterial flora is. There just are not the words to convey everything that the presence of the right blend of bacteria in your gut does for your health. The short list can include:

  1. Develops tolerance in the immune system so it attacks what it should (bacteria, viruses) and and doesn’t attack what it shouldn’t (our own tissues).
  2. Forms a layer along the entire gastrointestinal tract that breaks down harmful toxins to keep them from being absorbed.
  3. It curbs inflammation in the gut, leading to a stable membrane that improves absorption of nutrients and minerals.
  4. It produces natural antibiotics that keep disease-causing bacteria and yeast at bay.
  5. It allows for the proper hormonal messages to be sent to the rest of the body–the gut is considered the 2nd brain.  Would you want your first brain getting all screwed up as bad as your gut?

As I’ve mentioned, the list is long and can get very, very complex. The research backing these statements up includes published journal articles numbering well into the thousands if not tens of thousands. There is NO LONGER any valid excuse for a pediatrician or family practice doctor to write a prescription to an infant or toddler unless it is literally life-threatening. The damage is just too great.

If you think I’m a little to strong on this topic, consider a single study linking the development of an incredibly serious autoimmune condition of the gut. The use of antibiotics in the first year of life increased the risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease 551%. Yes, 551%.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg, but it clearly shows that antibiotics have a massive potential to completely screw up our immune system. And yet I can’t begin to tell you how many patients come in on a daily or weekly basis that were given antibiotics for things like an upper respiratory tract infection, for which there is no evidence that antibiotics should be used. On the contrary, probiotics have been shown to lower the risk of upper respiratory tract infections. This could, ironically, mean that antibiotics will actually make an upper respiratory condition worse.

All of this brings me to this particular article. This is not the first time there have been suggestions that the bacteria in our gut can lead to obesity. In this article, researchers looked at how the alteration of the gut bacteria in mice could play a role in markers of inflammation and diabetes (specifically fasting blood glucose, plasma TNFα and triglyceride levels).

One group was given the antibiotic vancomycin and the other was given a probiotic that was known to produce an antibacterial compound naturally (referred to as bacteriocin-producing Lactobacillus). While the researchers found that the vancomycin group had positive changes and the Lactobacillus group did not, I’m pretty sure this doesn’t mean that we should all run out and get a prescription for vancomycin in lieu of your lap band surgery.

What it clearly suggests is that destruction of certain bacteria in the gut led to an alteration of the way the body was responding in regards to diabetes and inflammation. To me, this would mean that, not setting up the scenario of the obesity-promoting bacteria in the first place (which leads us back to the antibiotics in infants and toddler scenario) is critical.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.