18 Apr

Antibiotic Overkill

Medicinal Overkill

If you haven’t learned about the antibiotic-over-medication disaster we are in the middle of, it is about time you did.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

Somewhere from the 1950s, incidents of several autoimmune diseases in the US started growing steadily. That is also when an uptick in obesity and autism was first observed. After much of research, the most probable suspect seem to be this:

In 1944, the world started using antibiotics.


Antibiotics are drugs that are used to kill disease causing bacteria. Often, they end up killing the friendly bacteria that live in us too.

Before antibiotics came alone, the micro-organisms, including bacteria, were felling populations like fleas. Here is some statistics that will freeze your blood:

  • 30% of the population killed by Antonine Plauge (AD 165-180)
  • 40% of the population killed by Plague of Justinian (AD 541-542)
  • 60% of the population killed by Black Death (AD 1346-1350)
  • 80% of the population killed by Cocoliztli (AD 1545-1548)
  • 50% of the population killed by Cololiztli (AD 1576)
  • 90% of the population killed byUnknown disease outbreak (AD 1616-1619)
  • 75 million people killed by worldwide flu epidemic (AD 1918)

Note: See this Wikipedia page for more details

Compare that with the worldwide flue outbreak in 2009, which was worst we have had in the 21st century so far. It killed 14,286 people, according to Wikipedia (or 18,500 people according to this CNN page). Media, and us, couldn’t stop talking about it when it happened.

Antibiotics was a blessing to the entire human race. Without antibiotics we would have lost many more Srinivasa Ramanujans to the lowly bacteria  (we watched helplessly as Ramanujan’s body and brain was being eaten away by tuberculosis bacteria). And the humankind would have never made the kind of progress that we made in the last 75 years.

Antibiotic Overkill

But there is a dark side to antibiotics that we are beginning to understand only now: Prolonged exposure to antibiotics, or even relatively brief exposure during the childhood, permanently damages the diversity of the bacteria living in our gut.

When we lose diversity of the gut bacteria, chances are that the population of pathogenic bacteria increases.

Whenever the body senses the presence of harmful bacteria in the gut, the gut walls open, rush water into the intestine and flush its content out. We call this diarrhea. Diarrhea is the body’s attempt to flush out the toxic contents of the intestine.

When the toxins or harmful bacteria in the gut are present in large quantities, full blown diarrhea occurs. When these insults are present in smaller quantities, the gut opens up just a tiny bit. Through these slivers, the harmful content of the intestine (pathogens, toxic chemicals, food particles) escape into the bloodstream. Our immune system picks up on the intruders in the bloodstream and starts attacking them.

When these minor insults are caused by what we eat on a regular basis, or how we live, or what kind of bacteria we harbor in our stomach, the insults never end. With the intruders being present all the time, the immune system gets into overdrive.

When the overactive immune system attacks our own body tissue, we call it an autoimmune disease. Depending upon where or how the immune system attacks our body, the symptoms vary from asthma to allergy to irritable bowl syndrome to whole lots of other things.

Many of these autoimmune diseases reverse when the gut microbiome is re-balanced.

Unfortunately, in some cases like with Type-1 diabetes or autism, autoimmune disease causes irreversible damage.

What Should You Do

Here are some things you can/must do to protect yourselves from antibiotic overkill:

  • Take antibiotics only when your life depends on it.
  • This is more for kids:
    • Their microbiome is under developed. So, they are more susciptible for damage.
    • If you damage the microbiome of infants and toddlers, there is not much you can do to restore it
    • Damaged microbiome in infants and toddlers can result in irreversible disaster situations like Type-1 diabetes or autism.
  • If you must take antibiotics
    • Ensure that you combine it with a “good” probiotics. Stagger the probiotics and antibiotic. Otherwise, the antibiotic will kill all the good bacteria in the probiotics.
    • Ask your doctor to prescribe you narrow-spectrum antibiotic that acts on your particular villain, rather than the broad spectrum antibiotic that nukes every bacteria at sight.
  • At the earliest you can, start eating a diet that is friendly to the beneficial microbiome. If the damage to your gut flora is extensive, I suggest you take help from someone like Food Clinic to tweak your diet right.
  • Understand that some diseases for which doctors prescribe antibiotics are made worse by, well, taking antibiotics! Examples are
    • Clostrodium Difficile infection
    • Presistant Acne
  • Be dirty, but in a healthy way (whatever that is)

What Else Should You be Watchful Of

Antibiotic usage becomes particularly destructive on your gut bacteria if you are already doing something that makes your microbiome fragile and vulnerable. Some of them are:

  • You have been on acid blocking drugs for a long time
  • You have been on some steroid medication for a long time
  • You have not been feeding the good bacteria in your stomach
  • You were being too much of a hygiene Nazi

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis


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