Why Antibiotics Can Be Deadly and What To Do

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2013-09-05 08:49

Experts have warned us that antibiotics can be dangerous, even though they are prescribed to kill harmful bacteria. Now Stanford University School of Medicine researchers have made a discovery about why antibiotics can be deadly, a finding that potentially could save lives.

What happens when you take antibiotics?

Let’s say your doctor has diagnosed you as having a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, cellulitis, or food poisoning, and prescribes a 10- to 14-day course of oral antibiotics. What happens once you take the medication?

The positive news is that the antibiotics should begin work on eliminating the pathogens that are causing your illness. However, the negative news is that within 24 hours of beginning treatment, two unhealthful activities take place: an excessive amount of carbohydrates populate your gut, and the number of beneficial or good bacteria in your gut declines.

The presence of beneficial bacteria (also referred to as probiotics) in the gut is critical, as they perform a variety of tasks, including maintaining and balancing the immune system, assisting in regulating blood pressure, and synthesizing vitamins. When the microbial population in the gut—consisting of both beneficial and “bad” bacteria—is in balance, it can usually protect the body against bacterial infections.

The combination of events that occurs within one day of antibiotic treatment, however, can open a door of opportunity for two potentially deadly bacteria—namely Clostridium difficile and Salmonella typhimurium—to quickly reproduce in treated individuals. Once these bad bacteria reach a certain level, they cause inflammation, a situation that further supports their growth.

Good bacteria and antibiotics
A research team under direction of senior author Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, explored how and why dangerous pathogens set up residence in the gut after antibiotic use. They used a mouse model to look at this relationship.

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