Antibiotics: Too Much of a Good Thing?

I recently read a number of different articles that all came to the same conclusion: Antibiotics can be lifesaving but their overuse can have deleterious consequences.

We’re hearing some good stories in the media recently about the role that bacteria play in our bodies. A recent New York Times article by Michael Pollan entitled, “Some of My Best Friends are Germs” highlighted the fact that we are only 10% human- the other 90% of us are bacteria. And the most important bacteria are those that live in our guts.

This means that every time we swallow an antibiotic, we are killing some of the good bacteria that are living within us and performing important functions like helping us utilize food that we eat, making important vitamins like the B’s and fighting off bad-guy bacteria. And this antibiotic ingestion is not always intentional. Think of all the antibiotics used in the meats we eat!

Mitochondria are little mini-organs, or organelles, that exist within our cells. They have many important responsibilities to keep us alive and healthy. Among their many roles are the production of energy for cells and their antioxidant action. The intriguing thing about mitochondria is that it is believed that they are descended from bacteria that somehow found their way into cells and decided to remain there.

What does this mean? Well, it turns out that the mitochondria share a lot in common structurally with bacteria, and every time we take an antibiotic we are actually damaging our mitochondria! This effect is seen with many other types of drugs as well, and is likely one of the reasons we see so many pets with liver problems. We are still uncovering the vast array of diseases that result from mitochondrial damage.

In 2008, the International Journal of Cancer published a paper showing an increased risk of cancer proportional to antibiotic use in people. They found that in people who have taken 2-5 prescriptions of antibiotics, their risk of cancer was increased by 27%, and greater than 6 prescriptions led to an increased risk of 37%.

An earlier study (2004) showed that antibiotic use was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. For those taking antibiotics for more than 500 cumulative days, the risk of breast cancer doubled. The antibiotics included the fluoroquinolones (known to be carcinogenic) as well as tetracycline, erythromycin, penicillin VK and cephalexin. We use all of these in veterinary medicine.

How can we avoid these problems with antibiotics?

First of all, keep your gut as happy as possible. A happy gut leads to a healthy immune system which leads to less need for fighting infections. For pets, feeding as close to an archetypal diet as possible (raw is the closest way) should help to grow the healthiest colonies of bacteria. Consider giving your dogs raw green tripe 2-3 times a week to help achieve this goal.

Feed organic or at least antibiotic-free meats. This is a challenge, but I’m throwing this in here so that maybe you will at least consider eating this way for yourselves. For people, diets high in fruits and vegetables also help. Organic, of course.

Recognize that your health is intertwined with your pet’s health. Research shows that people who own pets have different bacteria in their systems than non-pet-owning people. Likewise,  if you ask for antibiotics every time you visit the doctor for a head cold or sore throat, problems that are likely viral anyway, you are exposing your pet to potentially resistant bacteria.

Correct imbalances in your pet’s body that may have occurred as a result of prior antibiotic therapy. Your pet may need probiotics to restore the good bacteria, or prebiotics that provide the food for good bacteria to grow. Your pet may need antioxidants or CoEnzyme Q10 to repair mitochondrial damage and resultant organ damage.

Look for alternatives to antibiotic therapy. Is the bacteria really the problem or is something not right in your pet that is allowing the bacteria to infect your pet? You may achieve longer-lasting results by addressing the underlying problems and strengthening your pet’s immune system.

At WAH, we offer many alternatives to antibiotics, including homeopathy, acupuncture, ozone therapy and a wide array of supplements to boost the immune system. You can read more at: