Antibiotics - Our Path to Extinction
Imagine your large intestine like a beautiful forest with a plethora of different species growing, thriving and living symbiotically together. Now imagine a mountain lion enters that has the potential of harming some of the species. So you light a forest fire and wipe out every beautiful organism. A few seedlings survive and maybe a few animals, but it takes 2 years for it to look like a forest again and unfortunately, some species will never return.
That is what taking an antibiotic does to your gut.
You may not think these bacteria living in your body are amazing, as I do, but they ARE your immune system and they ARE what make you healthy, happy, and disease free. In fact, we are 90% microbial cells, and only 10% human cells, so unless you want to perish, you must stop trying to kill 90% of your body.
Science is unraveling the fact that antibiotics are wiping out our immune systems and leading to the path of our gut bacteria extinction. Yes, extinction is a scary word, but the fact is that some of the beneficial bacteria we need to thrive may never come back.
Triple therapy, a PPI plus double antibiotic, widely over-used for H. pylori and other non-threatening gut bacteria can completely annihilate the species of bacteria known as oxalobacter formigenes. This may seem trivial to you, however this particular species of bacteria breaks down oxalates in your dark leafy greens, soy, and beans. Oxalates prevent you from absorbing calcium, and people without the bacteria that breaks down oxalates often suffer from kidney stones.
Unfortunately, antibiotics are over-used, overly strong, and devastating to the health of our immunity. The World Health Organization has added antibiotic resistance to be a threat to global health security and declared this the post-antibiotic era. I can't say we were wrong to create antibiotics, because any doctor who has protected someone from serious infection can tell you that these medicines save lives. However, the CDC says that 1 of 3 prescriptions are unnecessary and I would bet it's more. Also according to the CDC, not only are bacteria becoming smarter and stronger, but they are responsible for numerous antibiotic resistant deaths each year.
How is this possible?
The beneficial colony of bacteria, (the other 90% of us) is defending against harmful pathogens. This micro-biome is what connects us to our environment and allow us to thrive in it. When we take too many antibiotics, we lose this layer of beneficial bacteria protecting us and we become vulnerable to the antibiotic resistant strains growing in volume.
Although, these are the same medications that have saved lives in surgical procedures and obviously have their place in our world, this is a very important topic that we, especially as parents, need to take seriously. Our ultimate health depends on the diversity of our bacterial species. When we wipeout a species, we have no way of passing on that species to our children. We are already seeing the effect of this over the last 3 generations. Whereas some colonies of people, like the Hadza, for example have 3,000+ species of bacteria, we Westerners have only 1,000 and decreasing.
To see how diversity matters, let's look at the increasing rates of asthma. The research shows an increase in 400% risk of asthma for babies given antibiotics before 12months of age, an increase in obesity risk if given antibiotics under the age of 6 months, and every antibiotic on the market damages our gut bacteria, sometimes to the point of no return. If people knew how badly they were harming their bodies or their children's, they may reconsider, especially knowing there are alternative solutions.
Is there any hope?
Luckily, yes. Although the damage from antibiotics is devastating, not all of your species are wiped out. You were probably told to take a simultaneous probiotic which can help protect some of your indigenous species, however it will never grow new species.
Think of probiotics like fertilizer...
Adding fertilizer to your garden after a few rounds of Roundup will not grow tomatoes, peppers, and kale, but it will nourish the nettles that were hearty enough to survive.
Scientists, such as Erica and Justin Sonnenberg from Stanford, are currently researching this range of bacteria and write about it beautifully in their book, The Good Gut. You can catch a discussion of it here. Companies such as 23 and Me, Ubiome, and The American Gut Project are busy in the current studies, testing and sending out maps of your micro-biome, and alternative practitioners are testing fecal transplants from healthy indigenous tribes, to try and improve barren guts of Westerners.
Fecal transplants may sound like a disgusting last resort, but they are the only proven measure to restore strains of beneficial bacteria and simultaneously succeed antibiotics in treating serious conditions like clostridium difficile. In some cases, they are the only hope for survival.
The only natural method of transferring species is from mother to baby. The first inoculation occurs as the baby passes through the birth canal and comes into contact with faecal matter at birth and the second transfer is through breastmilk.
It doesn't take a genius to see why our species of bacteria has dropped from 3,000+ to 1,000 and falling. The rates of c-sectioned babies has skyrocketed, and sadly many mother's are choosing formula instead of the nature's gift, breast milk.
If you or your baby did not have the benefit of a vaginal birth or were not breast fed, it is your responsibility to take care of these 90% the body and nourish what is left. You will have to work with the species you have and you will have to nourish them and help them thrive.
Here's how to grow a healthy unique micro-biome and pass it on to your children.
How to Nourish Your Micro-biome
1. Avoid antibiotics, proton-pump inhibiting antacids (Pepcid), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (Advil). They are overly prescribed and often for the wrong reasons. 20-70% of PPI prescriptions are incorrect.
2. We were wrong to develop hand sanitizers that kill off our natural bacteria on our skin. We are over zealous with our disinfectants full of toxins that kill our bacteria when soap and water works beautifully. Return to washing your hands with soap and water and teach your kids how to do it properly.
3. Include a diet rich in a variety of prebiotics, the food that nourishes your beneficial bacteria such as whole plant foods, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, cacao, green tea, soaked oats, and probiotic foods such as fermented vegetables and dairy.
4. Choose grass-fed over conventional meats. We were deadly wrong to introduce antibiotics into our food chain. You may be avoiding the medication, but unless you are very careful to avoid conventional meats, you may be exposing your family to antibiotics in your food on a daily basis.
5. Take a probiotic instead of an antibiotic next time you have a minor ear infection or viral disease that will end at the same time it would, whether you were on an antibiotic or not. Take enzymes to help you digest your food instead of a PPI that prevents you from digesting, and take an omega 3 instead of aspirin to help un-inflame your tissues.
Better than all these tips, is to just eat a healthy diet in the first place. Research shows that if you can eat a diet full of plant foods, you will provide a nourishing environment for the growth of your micro-biome.
So, I am setting forth a challenge for the week:
Please make a list of your plant foods including colorful vegetables, leafy greens, starchy tubers, beans, grains, spices, herbs, and all things grown on a plant or a tree. Try to eat 40 different plant species in one week and post your list below or on the Food Foundation Facebook page.