Gut Bugs Rule!



Antibiotic use hits the headlines these days about as often as a badly behaved celebrity. Nobody is suggesting they should be discarded entirely, but the case against overuse is persisting. However, it tends to come down to the concern about creating ‘world-wide antibiotic resistance’. And I’m wondering if that really is the most helpful way of thinking about the problem.

If you become ill and there’s a question in anyone’s mind – either yours or your doctor’s – that antibiotics could help, I suspect that the possibility of creating superbugs could seem a bit removed from your immediate concerns about your health. I’m not saying the potential superbug problem isn’t real, but your priority may be to recover quickly enough to earn a living, look after your family and/or enjoy your social life.

This week The Times quoted the WHO director-general, Margaret Chan, saying that “superbugs would mean ‘the end of modern medicine as we know it’ if the world did not cut back drastically on the use of antibiotics to slow the rate at which bacteria develop resistance.”

Do you see the problem here? I know there’s a connection but it’s a bit of a challenge for me to see how I’m contributing to a global healthcare meltdown. I might think, okay, maybe a course of antibiotics can’t do anything for my viral infection, but why not give it a try?

There is, however, another side to this story, which is all about the effects that antibiotics have, not on global healthcare, but on you. Once again, nobody I know is suggesting they should never be taken in any circumstances. Antibiotics have saved millions of lives, but there are downsides that are rarely discussed.

And this is not about common side effects such as diarrhoea, while taking them. This is about the growing evidence of the development of more serious health problems that may not show up for weeks or even months after taking a course of antibiotics.

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  1. Chancery

    What a weird coincidence – right now I am in the middle of a health ‘crisis’ in the shape of sudden onset of what has been diagnosed as IBS (a medical term which is not legally binding!). Not too many months before it started, I had to go into hospital with low blood sodium and a very virulent UTI. I was put on antibiotics for the infection, which was, indeed, unavoidable – absolutely the only course available, as the low blood sodium, which was life-threatening, was caused by me drinking water to try and stop the UTI pain which had been unrelenting for about five days.

    Anyhow, some months later (about two, I estimate) I started having a grumbly painful gut, and oesophagitis. The latter was not new to me, but the gut pain was. I drastically changed my diet (went low carb and cut out wheat entirely) but still no relief. Eventually I went onto the FODMAP diet, which I’m still on now, and although there has been some improvement it’s very far from well. I am in daily pain.

    I’ve asked my doc if I can have SIBO testing, because it seems to be the most likely suspect (it actually feels like I have food poisoning – to me that suggests gut ‘bugs’ that are where they shouldn’t be), but it’s a controversial treatment for IBS so I expect a fight. But the long and the short of it is I believe that the antibiotics were the catalyst.

    For the record, to show that many environmental factors play a role in this kind of thing, my health was rundown at the time, because of the infection obviously, but I also had very poor white blood cell count (due to taking anticonvulsants) and I have partial IgA deficiency anyway (this means you’re more susceptible to skin and gut infections). On top of this, I was in a very stressed condition, and in a hospital, where I may possibly have picked something up. All told, I’d say it’s tilted my gut microbiome off completely and it’s proving exceedingly difficult to correct.

    The most depressing thing about it is because docs use IBS as a diagnosis it tends to mean you don’t actually have your problem teatted. IBS isn’t a diagnosis, it’s an umbrella term for a collection of very variable symptoms. But it does mean that when antibiotics do their damage people are often left, like me, floundering around trying to sort it out themselves while docs dispense antispasmodics and Imodium.

    I will just add that I don’t take antibiotics if I can help it (I think I last had some, for H. Pylori treatment, about seven years ago) and would never request them, but as in this instance, sometimes your back is up against the wall and if you are unlucky, as I was, to have a lowered resistance, they can do no end of harm.

  2. Denise

    Do you think that probiotics could help make your gut better and/or build up your immunity or don’t you believe in probiotics?

    • The people I listen to, such as Dr David Perlmutter and Chris Kresser, use and recommend probiotics, so that’s the advice I’d pass on to you. I’ve not seen anything about any negative side effects. The probiotics you take in capsules don’t stay inside you and colonise, so the idea is to take them every day. And it’s recommended to pay extra for the best, those with a vast number of species, such as PrescriptAssist.

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