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The Link Between Obesity and Antibiotics

December 15th, 2015

Antibiotics can disrupt gut health and lead to weight gain if you don’t counteract them with probiotics

Antibiotics can have an extremely beneficial impact on health, helping to kill off strains of bad bacteria so that the body can fight off disease.

However, this is the short term benefit of antibiotics. Over the long haul, antibiotics can actually have unhealthy effects because they alter the body’s microbiome, killing off some of the good bacteria along with the bad. This disruption in the normal balance of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live inside the body—particularly in the gut—has been linked to a variety of health problems, including obesity.

The fact that antibiotics can cause weight gain is nothing new. After all, we’ve been giving antibiotics to farm animals to make them gain weight for decades. And in 1955, an article appeared in the Journal of Nutrition stating that military recruits who received antibiotics over a 7-week period gained weight.

What is new is our increasingly detailed understanding of what goes on inside the microbiome, or the ecosystem of roughly 100 trillion microbes inside the body, and how this affects our health. In fact, this has become one of the hottest topics in medicine in recent years.

Researchers have discovered that antibiotic use can trigger a cascade of effects that ultimately influence hormones that participate in fuel storage, such as ghrelin, a fat storage hormone. One part of the problem is that antibiotics can allow gut yeast to proliferate to the point where the yeast “leaks” out of the GI tract and begins to affect tissues were it is not normally present, stimulating appetite (especially for carbs and sugars) and impairing thyroid function. The end result: weight gain.

Tests on mice confirm that antibiotic use can impact body weight. In one study, mice who received frequent doses of antibiotics increased their body fat by 15 percent and showed unusual activity in genes linked to breaking down carbohydrates and regulating cholesterol.

What is perhaps more disturbing is the possibility that antibiotic use can cause metabolic changes that continue to affect an individual for years after the initial round of treatment. According to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, kids who receive 4 or more courses of antibiotics before age 2 are 11 percent more likely to become obese than kids who did not receive antibiotics at all. Kids who receive a broad-spectrum antibiotic are 16 percent more likely to become obese.

How to Safeguard Your Gut Health Against Antibiotics

While cutting down on over-use of antibiotics could be one important step towards fighting our national obesity epidemic, there may be times when you legitimately need to take antibiotics. Fortunately, you don’t have to gain weight afterwards—as long as you make an effort to restore a healthy balance to your gut bacteria after your antibiotic course is complete.

For starters, make sure you eat bland foods and avoid anything fried, spicy, or fatty that could further irritate a digestive system already weakened by antibiotics. Then, use a quality probiotic supplement (such as we offer in our online store) to restore populations of healthy bacteria to your gut. You can support the growth of these healthy bacteria by eating probiotic foods. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kefir, tempeh, and kombucha are all excellent choices. Some dairy products are also probiotic, but make sure not to choose products that are also high in sugar as this could undermine weight loss efforts.

If you would like special assistance and guidance with the challenge of eating right and maintaining a healthy weight, please contact Renew Woman™ for a healthy living consultation.

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