Treatment of infections with antibiotics is, of course, one of the great achievements of medicine, but this case requires a very careful and responsible approach. What can excessive use of antibiotics lead to and what can be the consequences of overdoses?
Unfortunately, antibiotics are often used excessively, not for their intended purpose, not only by patients with self-medication, but also – alas – by doctors. Probably, you have had to deal with the appointment of antibiotics for the symptoms of a cold or flu.
Meanwhile, the use of antibiotics will not help with a viral infection, their action is directed at bacteria. The symptoms of viral and bacterial infections partially overlap, so diagnosis can be difficult. It is believed that some otitis media, severe sinusitis, sore throat, urinary tract inflammation, wound and skin inflammation call bacteria, and viruses are responsible for colds, flu, most of the otitis media, acute respiratory diseases, bronchitis, viral gastroenteritis, commonly called gastric or intestinal flu.
Excessive use of antibiotics
If antibiotics are often used for other purposes, they become ineffective, because over time, the bacteria present in the body mutate, and a resistant, i.e. antibiotic-resistant strain develops. The same thing happens with improper use of the drug, when the patient does not finish the course, feeling an improvement on the second or third day of admission.
The antibiotic has not completely cleared the body of infection, and the remaining bacteria mutate in the manner described above. A person becomes a carrier of such a resistant infection, spreads it, but first-generation antibiotics do not help the sick, and the risk of complications or even death increases. The irony of the situation is that being a revolutionary breakthrough in the fight against infections, antibiotics become the creators of new infections, which require new, even stronger antibiotics. Such a vicious circle was foreseen by Alexander Fleming, who discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin, in 1928. In his lectures, he repeatedly warned against the use of these strong drugs without a well-established diagnosis.
However, the development of highly resistant bacterial strains is not the only unpleasant consequence of excessive use of antibiotics. Another very common complication of antibiotic therapy is dysbiosis. Broad-spectrum antibiotics (amoxicillin, doxycycline, levomycetin, etc.) are very effective against a number of infections, but they also kill the beneficial intestinal microflora, on which the work of our gastrointestinal tract, our immunity and all metabolic processes of our body depend. It is no coincidence that in modern medical literature the intestine is called the second brain: its role in the functioning of all organs and systems, including the central nervous system, is difficult to overestimate. And this is another serious reason not to prescribe antibiotics without a diagnosis that definitely indicates their absolute necessity.
Overdose with antibiotics
The first symptoms of dysbiosis are diarrhea or constipation (often intermittent), excess gas formation in the intestine and bloating. In the absence of useful flora, pathogenic bacteria and yeast develop in the intestine, causing putrefactive and fermentation processes. At the same time, the patient begins to crave sweets and flour, because pathogens require food, and they feed on sugars and starches. Gradually, other symptoms appear, so serious that intestinal problems seem to be minor troubles against their background. Often the patient turns to a neurologist, complaining of chronic fatigue, migraines, depression, without associating them with their intestinal disorders. His immune system is weakened, he suffers from frequent colds, against which, again, he is very likely to be prescribed antibiotics. So we found ourselves in another vicious circle.
Dr. Martin Blazer, professor of microbiology at NYU Langone Medical Center, in his article published in the August issue of the journal Nature puts forward an unexpected hypothesis. He believes that the change in the microflora of the human body as a result of the excessive use of antibiotics entails not only allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma and gastroesophageal reflux, but is also the cause of obesity. But most importantly, in his opinion, not all microorganisms that we are accustomed to consider as pathogens are exclusively pathogenic agents.
The human gut is the habitat of billions of bacteria, but how much do we know about this ecosystem hidden from us?
Take Helicobacter pylori, a well-known causative agent of chronic gastritis, ulcers, and possibly stomach cancer. Many doctors, having found these bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract of a patient, immediately prescribe antibiotics, even if at the moment the patient does not complain about the symptoms of these diseases. Dr. Blazer believes that if Helicobacter has been living in the human body for tens of thousands of years, then there must be serious reasons for such a symbiosis. His laboratory has conducted a number of studies, from which it follows that after getting rid of the Helicobacter bacteria, the stomach behaves completely differently.
After eating, the level of ghrelin, the hunger hormone secreted by the stomach, should drop. Surprisingly, in patients who got rid of Helicobacter, the level of ghrelin in the blood after eating remained stable and, thus, gave the brain a signal to continue eating. Moreover, the mice in Blazer’s experiment, after doses of antibiotics comparable to those given to children with otitis media and sore throats (which are quite sufficient to kill all the Helibacter pylori in more than one patient), gave weight gain even without changing the diet. Indeed, farmers have long started giving antibiotics to cattle bred for meat, precisely because they noticed that they contribute to weight gain without increasing calorie intake.
The results of Blazer’s experiments are linked to the facts revealed by Peter Turnbaugh, a geneticist at Harvard University and Dr. Jeffrey Gordon, a gastroenterologist at the University of Washington. They found that the ratio of different types of bacteria in the intestines of both mice and obese people differed significantly from the corresponding indicators of the control group, respectively, mice and people with normal body weight. Changing the balance of various bacteria in the intestinal microflora as a result of the use of antibiotics, according to researchers, increases the risk of obesity for the patient.
Excessive use of antibiotics. What’s next?
Epidemiologist from New York University Yu Chen found an inverse correlation between the presence of Helibacter pylori in the gastrointestinal tract and diseases such as asthma, hay fever, skin allergic reactions. The destruction of these bacteria increases the risk of developing diseases such as gastric reflux, which itself is associated with asthma and esophagitis.
Dr. Barry Marshall, professor of clinical biology at the University of Western Australia in Perth, who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2005 for the discovery of the bacteria Helibacter pylori and their role in the development of gastritis and peptic ulcer disease, reacted quite calmly to the news. “I have not killed anyone yet by giving my patients antibiotics against Helibacter pylori, but there are many cases when people were killed in the absence of antibiotics by Helibacter,” he said. At the same time, he agreed that antibiotics are used excessively in developed countries and even suggested that in the future a detoxified strain of Helibacter pylori could be used to treat patients with asthma and obesity.
Martin Blazer’s work is recognized as extremely important by the US National Institute of Health, which has awarded him a grant to continue research on the role of symbiosis of the human body with various microorganisms. The results of this study can make a new revolution in medicine.
Rules for the use of antibiotics
- First of all, do not prescribe an antibiotic to yourself and your loved ones yourself on the basis that this medicine helped someone from your friends in a similar situation. Similar symptoms can occur with various infections, and only the doctor will correctly select the appropriate drug.
- Be sure to ask your doctor to tell you your diagnosis. Ask if it is possible to confirm it with the help of tests or other studies, and if the answer is positive, try to pass these studies.
- If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, ask how important it is to start taking it immediately, whether it is possible to wait and see if your body copes with the infection on its own. Of course, there are cases in which procrastination can cause serious complications, sometimes associated with a risk to life, and antibiotic therapy is an absolutely necessary measure.
- If you suffer from allergies or other chronic diseases, do not forget to inform your doctor about it. When choosing an antibiotic, the doctor should also know about those medications that you take regularly, for example, antihypertensive or anticonvulsant medications, in order to take into account the interaction of medications taken simultaneously.
- If no more than a year has passed since the last course of antibiotics you took, tell your doctor about it, name the antibiotic you took, as well as what exactly it was prescribed for. Often, the dentist prescribes antibiotics, not always interested in what and for what purpose you took before.
- Always finish the course. The traditional course of antibiotics lasts 7 – 10 days. Not so long ago, the practice of single — triple use of high doses appeared. In any case, it is necessary to strictly observe the dosage and duration of the course indicated by the doctor.In the Western popular medical literature, there is a recommendation to throw the remaining pills in the trash so that neither you nor other family members will be tempted to use them in the future without the doctor’s instructions. It is quite reasonable advice, and it is easy to follow it if the medicine is paid for by the state or an insurance company. Alas, we most often have to pay out of pocket, drugs are by no means cheap, and the elasticity of the budget for most of us leaves much to be desired. Therefore, just keep in mind that it is not worth taking this medicine in the future on your own initiative without the doctor’s instructions, which brings us back to the first rule.
If you have taken a course of antibiotics, then you should take care to restore the beneficial intestinal flora with the help of biologics (probiotics). Ask your doctor to pick up a probiotic for you and prescribe a course.
Following these recommendations, you will not only keep yourself and your loved ones healthy, but also help prevent the emergence of new drug-resistant infections.