Jun 22 2014

Antibiotics and The Fat Connection

Published by at 9:28 am under Antibiotics

Could Antibiotics be a factor in America’s obesity?

Every year, humans take over 250 million courses of antibiotics to treat a variety of bacterial infections from serious to not so serious. They are used to treat acne and also as a preventative measure against potential infection.4.

Before the discovery of antibiotics, there was little doctors could do to fight bacterial infections. Many lives were lost to streptococcus, tuberculosis, pneumonia, staphylococcus and others. Today, antibiotics play a vital role in modern medicine.

The first discovery of what would become antibiotics was in 1928, when a bacteriologist at London’s St. Mary’s Hospital, Alexander Fleming, discovered a mold on a discarded culture plate that exhibited antibacterial activity. First prescribed in the late 1930’s, this great discovery, penicillin, quickly reduced the number of deaths caused by bacterial infection in staggering numbers. Between the years 1944 and 1972, life expectancy increased by eight years, mostly as the result of the introduction of antibiotics.

But as consumers of antibiotics, we should be aware of the amount of antibiotics that we personally consume and make sure we really need them before taking them. There are important reasons for this. First, we need to be aware of the fact that antibiotics kill not only the bad bacteria but also the good bacteria. This changes the bacterial balance of our gut and can leave us with a compromised immune system. Secondly, there are studies that lead us to wonder if antibiotics could be a contributing factor in the scary obesity statistics in this country. It appears that prolonged use of antibiotics disrupts the metabolism of fat by altering the balance of microbes in the gut, thus leading to significant weight gain.

For years, farmers have been adding antibiotics to their feed. They found it resulted in fatter, and faster growing lifestock, as well as prevent infections. According to a New York Times article by columnist Pagan Kennedy, “…Decades of agricultural research has shown that antibiotics seem to flip a switch in young animals’ bodies, helping them pack on pounds. Manufacturers brag about the miraculous effects of feeding antibiotics to chicks and nursing calves. Dusty agricultural journals attest to the ways in which the drugs can act like a kind of superfood to produce cheap meat…”2 Back in the 1950s, “…Farms clamored for antibiotic slurry from drug companies, which was trucked directly to them in tanks. By 1954, Eli Lilly & Company had created an antibiotic feed additive for farm animals, as “an aid to digestion…”2 “…It was so much more than that. The drug-laced feeds allowed farmers to keep their animals indoors — because in addition to becoming meatier, the animals now could subsist in filthy conditions. The stage was set for the factory farm…”2

On a recent episode of Dr. Oz, he shared experiments done on two groups of mice which further illustrated this idea that antibiotics can help pack on the pounds. The first group was fed a diet without antibiotics. The second group was fed a diet with antibiotics. The group that was fed antibiotics was 15% fatter then the group without. They then fed the mice a typical American diet, one that is high in fat and carbohydrates. The difference was even more dramatic. And the female mice experienced a greater weight gain over the male mice.4

Though these studies show that antibiotics given to live stock fatten the cattle and chickens, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are getting fat from eating animals treated with antibiotics. It seems that by the time we ingest the meat, we are only getting trace amounts. These studies are more concerned with how humans, after undergoing multiple courses of antibiotics, are changing the microbiome, or the community of bacteria living in our digestive tract. And maybe, just maybe, this is one of the factors that is causing us to pack on the pounds just as it causes the livestock to gain weight.1 Antibiotic use “…is likely just one in the fusillade of causes behind America’s seemingly ever-expanding waistline…”3

According to Dr. IIseung Cho, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Associate Program Director for the Division of Gastroenterology at the New York University School of Medicine, who was interviewed on NPR, “…The volume of bacteria within our gut probably plays a very important role in both health and diseases…” and “…A single exposure to an antibiotic can significantly change the population of bacteria that live in the gut…”  And it shifts differently in every person. No one person is the same. If we count the number of cells in our body and the number of bacteria that live in our body, there are 10 times more bacteria than there are human cells. So bacteria, and the type of bacteria we have present are very important.1

One critical point to understand is that antibiotics are “…terrific, amazing, life saving drugs. If your doctor tells you to take antibiotics and you have an infection, you should…”1 But it is ok to ask questions of your doctor to make sure you absolutely need them. Because “…new questions are coming up in modern research about the effects of antibiotics on the microbes that live in the gut that help us maintain our weight and digest food…”

The obesity epidemic is one of the country’s most serious health problems. Adult obesity rates have doubled since 1980, from 15 to 30 percent, while childhood obesity rates have more than tripled. More than one-quarter of health care costs are now related to obesity. Obesity is challenging our health as a leading cause of many illnesses and diseases.5 Of course, there are a multitude of factors affecting obesity including media, social issues, poverty, food, environment, infrastructure, mental health and psychological issues, activity level, developmental issues as well as  medical and biological issue. But there may be one more attributing factor, and that could be the persistent consumption of  antibiotics. For more on this subject, there are many articles and an interesting debate which you can listen to at reference number one below.

Lastly, if you have taken or are taking antibiotics, make sure to supplement with BODY BIOTICSâ„¢ SBO Prebiotics/Probiotics Consortiaâ„¢. BODY BIOTICS â„¢ help restore the friendly bacteria that your body needs to get your gut back in balance and your immune system back on track.

I hope you have found this information helpful.

Healthiest wishes,



  1. http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/03/11/anti-biotics-food-meat-obesity
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/09/opinion/sunday/the-fat-drug.html?_r=0
  3. http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/03/13/are-antibiotics-making-americans-fat
  4. http://www.doctoroz.com/episode/fat-drug-how-antibiotics-make-you-gain-weight
  5. http://healthyamericans.org/obesity/


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