Which do you think is worse, a runny nose or a life-threatening disease?
You might laugh at that question, Of course, you’d rather have to wipe your nose with a tissue than face a medical procedure for a disease that could kill you.
Well, studies have found that many people go the other way – insisting their doctors write prescriptions for antibiotics they mistakenly think will cure problems like a mild earache or stuffy nose.
Researchers find that many doctors will give in to patient pressure to prescribe a pill, even when the doctor knows the medical problem is probably not something the antibiotic can cure.1
Doctor and patient alike are making a terrible mistake.
And this time I’m not referring to how the overuse of antibiotics has bred super-bugs that are resistant to drugs. That’s old news. Now there’s something new: antibiotic use has been linked to cancer and to developmental problems in children.
New evidence indicates that using antibiotics can make you more susceptible to colon cancer.2
When researchers at Harvard analyzed the health records of more than 16,000 older women taking part in a study called the Nurses Health Study, they found that those who had taken extensive rounds of antibiotics in middle age had an increased risk of developing growths in the colon and rectum called colorectal adenomas (polyps).
These polyps are well-known to be a first step in the onset of bowel cancer.
The analysis showed that taking antibiotics for two months in your 20s or 30s increased your risk for these polyps by 36%. Taking them for two months in your 40s or 50s increased the risk by an even more substantial 69%.
The researchers believe that the increased chance for colon problems arises because the antibiotics wipe out friendly (probiotic) bacteria that help protect against cancer. The loss of probiotic bacteria opens the way to the growth of resistant, inflammatory bacteria that enable cancer cells to reproduce. Your colon is much like a garden where the weeds take over if the good plants aren’t nurtured.
Antibiotics Continue to Be Over-Prescribed Despite Warnings
For years, experts have been urging doctors and patients to avoid antibiotics when possible. You should avoid them even when a cold is making you miserable. Cold are caused by viruses, not bacteria, and antibiotics are useless against viruses.
Unless a lab test shows your problem is caused by bacteria – and not one of the viruses that cause the common cold – taking antibiotics won’t clear your discomfort. But they can help antibiotic-resistant bacteria spread. Even for bacterial infections like strep, I think the use of antibiotics is dubious.
Another part of the problem lies in the antibiotics that farmers give their livestock and poultry.
How extensive is the use of antibiotics in the meat and chicken we eat? And how much antibiotic residue ends up on our dinner plates?
According to a Federal report, nobody knows. And the Food and Drug Administration, which is trying to put together an analysis of the problem, so far doesn’t have a clue.3 Call me a cynic, but I doubt if they’re trying very hard.
The latest estimates of farm use of antibiotics shows that more than 34 million pounds of antibiotics are given to US farm animals every year.4 That’s triple the amount American humans consume. But exactly which antibiotics are going to which animals is still a mystery.
And that is another reason you should eat organic meat – it comes from animals that aren’t fed antibiotics.
Better Bacteria in The Digestive Tract
When antibiotics disrupt and kill probiotic bacteria in the intestines, it not only makes some people more susceptible to cancer, but it can also have damaging effects on other parts of the body for years. Especially in children.
Experts estimate that three of every four American children have received two rounds of antibiotics by the time they are two years old. (I find that appalling.) Lab research at McMaster University in Canada demonstrates that those drugs may lead to behavior problems (with changes in brain chemistry) as children get older, as well as immune system difficulties, weight gain and other health issues.5
So don’t turn to antibiotics unless you really need them for a serious situation. Otherwise you’ll just be encouraging the development of bugs for which modern medicine has no treatment.
Oh, and another benefit of avoiding antibiotics – staying off these pharmaceuticals helps your immune system cope with invading pathogens more effectively. Research in Portugal shows that the overuse of antibiotics can interfere with immune cells’ ability to swallow up and eliminate invasive bacteria.6Keep away from these drugs, and your immune system functions better.