We’ve been told for years to tread with caution when it comes to antibiotics. Most of the time the message has to do with concerns about antibiotic resistance. Meaning, if we all take antibiotics every time we feel a smidge of sickness, the bacteria we want to treat will mutate to the point where nothing can stop them – antibiotics included.
Modern medicine has already bred a whole raft of such superbugs that doctors can’t treat, or can treat only with great difficulty.
That’s enough cause right there to stay away from antibiotics unless you absolutely need them. But new research shows even more reason to steer clear of them – especially if your ultimate goal is to prevent diseases like cancer. Here are the details on this new side effect. . .
They can make you crabby and bloated
There’s a lot that goes into the antibiotic-cancer connection. I’m going to start with anxiety. If that sounds strange, please hear me out. Ever greater numbers of people are reporting that they find themselves more anxious and depressed than usual while taking a course of antibiotics.
I’ve written at length about the link between gut microbes and the nervous system. More and more research is pointing to the connection between your nervous system and the type of bacteria you have in your gut. Ideally, our gut is loaded with good bacteria that can process enzymes that help your digestive system.
In a gut that isn’t balanced, there’s not enough good bacteria to carry out the work of digesting key nutrients. This has a cataclysmic, domino effect on your bodily processes, contributing to inflammation – sometimes chronically so – and trouble with mood regulation. Don’t be surprised by this connection between the gut and the brain. It’s an exciting new field of research and the links are well-established.
One study showed that both long-term and short-term regimens of antibiotics resulted in a decline in bacterial diversity. This messes up your gut flora, which can lead to excessive bloating along with mood problems like depression and anxiety.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University found that even a single course of antibiotics can boost your risk of depression by roughly one-fourth. And as they reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, if you undergo between two and five courses of these pharmaceutical microbe-killers, your risk of depression goes up by almost 50%.
It all comes back to your gut health. These same experts pointed out that when you disrupt your gut bacteria, it actually harms the way brain cells communicate. Without your gut bacteria manufacturing the chemicals that keep your brain functioning, the grey matter between your ears operates at subpar standards.
In addition, neuroscientist Dr. Susanne Wolf of the Max Delbruck Centre for Molecular Medicine in Berlin found that loss of gut bacteria as a result of antibiotics reduces your white blood cell count. Those white blood cells are one of your first lines of defense against inflammation and the diseases it leads to, including cancer and Alzheimer’s.
This risk is circular
The risks of anxiety and depression can’t be discounted when it comes to long-term disease prevention. It’s a fact that people who are worried or depressed are less likely to exercise and more likely to binge on unhealthy foods. They’re also less likely to engage in positive self-care, like meditation and massage, and are less likely to sleep well.
Stress and anxiety can lead to a number of health problems that trigger cancer. For example, people who are feeling anxious or stressed are more likely to smoke, drink, and overeat, which are significant risk factors for different types of cancer.
Considering that self-care, eating well, good sleep, and exercise are your number one defense against diseases like cancer, it’s crucial that you’re in the right state of mind to be able to do them.
Besides that, some antibiotics are used to treat certain agents that lead to cancer. Heavy courses of antibiotics are relied on to treat Helicobacter pylori, the main bacteria that causes peptic ulcer disease and gastric cancer. A study published in PLOS One found that even one week of a common antibiotic regimen for H. pylori resulted in significant disturbances to the gut microbiome.
As we know, that imbalance in the gut can lead to other long-term health consequences.
Everything comes back to fruits and vegetables
Before taking antibiotics, make sure your problem is actually caused by a bacterial infection. Colds and flu are not bacterial diseases; antibiotics do no good. And beware of doctors who urge you to try an antibiotic just to see if it does any good for a medical problem whose cause they can’t figure out.
Bad idea. In rare cases a doctor can’t avoid this kind of speculative antibiotic treatment, but in most cases it can be avoided. You want to know what you’re treating or at least narrow down the possible causes to a point where it’s more likely than not your medical condition is a bacterial infection.
If you have to take antibiotics, make sure you balance that intake by taking probiotics, which will help restore the healthy microbes in your gut. Just don’t take both pills at the same time. Probiotics should be taken at least two hours before or after taking an antibiotic pill, otherwise the two cancel each other out and neither does you any good.
Besides probiotics in pill form, you can get them in powdered or even liquid form – intended to be mixed in with your food. Or you can increase your probiotic level by eating foods like yogurt and kefir, or fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, and tempeh.
Of course, we should take probiotics all the time, not merely wait until we have to go on an antibiotic. This should ramp up your colon health – and your overall health — and increase the chances that you can weather a course of antibiotics if you have to.
Just as important as taking probiotics is eating multiple daily servings of fruits and vegetables. The fiber in these foods is highly beneficial to gut bacteria and will help you build your gut force back to full protective potential.
- “Are Antibiotics Making You Anxious Or Depressed?” By CureJoy Editorial, 25 January 2018.
- “Asking your doctor for another antibiotics prescription? How just ONE course raises the risk of depression.” By John Naish for the Daily Mail, 23 May 2016.
- “Big Ag + Big Pharma = Big Problems.” By Diana Gitig, 3 December 2017.
- “Short-term antibiotic treatment has differing long-term impacts on the human throat and gut microbiome.” By Jakobsson, Hedvig E., et al. PloS one 5, no. 3 (2010): e9836.
- “Stress and anxiety do not cause cancer.” Cancer Council of New South Wales.