Antibiotics are necessary in many cases, but they are more often overprescribed. When we go to the doctor, we want answers, and antibiotics have become the quick-fix. It’s hard to go to the doctor and hear, ‘wait,’ and taking antibiotics feels like we’re doing something. But we underrate our bodies’ incredible abilities to self-heal and the long-term negative side-effects of antibiotics.
Antibiotics are widely available and generally seen as low-risk, but they disrupt your microbiome (the ecosystem of bacteria in your gut), create resistant bugs, and leave an array of side-effects. When they are needed, antibiotics can be life-saving, but when they aren’t, they can cause harm.
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons. Next time your doctor prescribes antibiotics, have a thoughtful discussion with your provider about whether an antibiotic is absolutely necessary. And discuss these 5 things to consider before taking an antibiotic:
1. Only infections that are caused by bacteria can be effectively treated with antibiotics.
Up to 50% of all antibiotics prescribed are neither helpful nor effective. Most infections are viral like the common cold, runny nose, most coughs, flu and Covid. Treating these infections with antibiotics does not work and leaves you dealing with side effects that can linger for years. It’s important to make sure that an infection is bacterial (and not viral) before taking antibiotics.
#2. Antibiotics have many serious and long-lasting side effects
Is there much morbidity (sickness, disability and even death) from antibiotic use? Yes!
A partial list of some of the side effects of antibiotics includes weight gain, gastrointestinal upset, nausea, vomiting, bloating, tendonitis, photosensitivity, tooth discoloration, seizures, irregular heart beats, vaginal yeast infections and gnarly rashes. This list does not even include the life threatening allergies that can result from unnecessary antibiotics.
Up to half (46.2%) of all pediatric visits to the ER are related to antibiotic use! Understanding the risks and side effects of an antibiotic, can help you make an informed decision about whether it’s necessary. You will also know what side effects to look out for and other ways to support your body when you do need an antibiotic.
#3. Antibiotics can cause an overgrowth of a very weak bacteria in our gut that causes a deadly infection.
This bacteria is called Clostridioides difficile infection (CDI, C. Diff), and these infections have caused deaths among the geriatric population, and sadly the incidence is increasing in our children. This infection is not only difficult to treat but can be lethal, causing 15,000 deaths per year according to the Cleveland Clinic. The use of antibiotics is the main reason why the illness developed. Many of these infections could have been prevented by reducing unnecessary usage of antibiotics.
#4. Antibiotics cannot distinguish between helpful bacteria and harmful bacteria, so they kill off the “good” bacteria as well as the bad, disrupting the intricate balance of our gut’s ecosystem.
Antibiotics impact the gut microbiome in many important ways. In a healthy body, there is harmony between the microbes and the body’s cells in the gut. They work together to digest food and manage intruders like viruses, bacteria, and parasites. The disruption of this complex collaboration by antibiotics contributes to inflammation, autoimmune disease, and disruption of metabolism. Ultimately, this may lead to weight gain, chronic diseases, and energy loss. Early antibiotic use in children has been associated with weight gain as an adult.
When you or your child do need to take an antibiotic, you can help build back your good bacteria in your gut by eating probiotic foods such as yogurt (with live cultures), sauerkraut, miso, and other fermented foods.
#5. Overuse of antibiotics is leading to the creation of “superbugs.”
Superbugs are resistant to some or all antibiotics. These infections are incredibly difficult to treat and even lead to death. Antibiotic resistance is a major public health concern. By using antibiotics responsibly (only when they are absolutely needed), we can slow the growing resistance to these medications and help them retain effectiveness for years to come.
Most importantly, have a discussion with your medical provider anytime there is the possibility of antibiotic use. If your provider gets annoyed or does not give you enough time for a thoughtful discussion, seek another provider. There is no tolerance for prescribing antibiotics unless it’s really necessary. We found a pediatrician with the lowest prescription rate of antibiotics in our state. Does he prescribe antibiotics? Yes, but only when it’s necessary and only when it will be helpful.
A “take it just in case” scenario can sometimes be more dangerous than forgoing the antibiotic. Antibiotics aren’t always bad, but you should only take them if it will outweigh the negative impacts it could have on you or your child’s bodies. And if necessary, eat that yogurt to build up the healthy bacteria in your gut.