Antibiotics – Should They Be Taken For Conditions That Are Not Life-Threatening?

July 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Health Blog, Nutrients For Life

Before you take a course of antibiotics in the future or you are thinking about giving them to your children or pets (unless the condition is life threatening), you may want to reconsider:

Antibiotics a Gut-Wrenching Lottery
Dr Karl’s Great Moments In Science
ABC Science – 5.7.11

The following article was taken from ABC Science (5.7.11):

“Last time I went on at length about antibiotics and bacteria. I mentioned how we carry 1.5 kilograms of bacteria in our gut, how some of our human cells make antibiotics and how they might be involved with inflammatory bowel disease, and how the gut of a chicken is already loaded with friendly bacteria before it’s hatched. So let’s talk antibiotics. Antibiotics have been around for nearly three-quarters of a century. When used to kill bad bacteria, they do a pretty good job. Mostly their good effects vastly overwhelm their remarkably few side-effects. But bearing in mind that our gut is chock-a-block with bacteria, and that antibiotics are used to kill bad bacteria, we need to ask what do antibiotics do to the good bacteria in our gut?

First, most broad-spectrum antibiotics (which attack a wide range of bacteria) do kill lots of your gut bacteria. They actually reduce their numbers (and mass) by a factor of 250–1000. So your normal 1.5 kilograms of gut bacteria could temporarily drop to just a few grams. But narrow-spectrum antibiotics (which attack a narrow range of bacteria) hardly reduce the numbers at all. However, they do reduce the diversity of the gut microbes. Second, following on, antibiotics change the relative populations of bacteria in the gut. Different antibiotics knock off different microbes.

In one study, the broad-spectrum antibiotic, ciprofloxacin, did change the make-up of the various communities of bacteria. The effects were both profound and rapid (happening within three to four days of taking the drug). However, within a week of finishing the one-week course, the gut microbiome had begun to return to its original state. But the return journey did not always go all the way back to the original starting point. Over the year-long duration of the study, one patient lost, and did not regrow, an entire common genus of gut bacteria. Third, some animals practice corprophagy, the eating of their own faeces. (For various reasons, this is definitely bad for humans and even a sign of madness, but it can be good for some animals.)

One study looked at such animals that had been given antibiotics. As expected, the populations of their gut bacteria changed. But when they ate the faeces of fellow animals that had not been given antibiotics, this helped their gut bacteria to recover back to normal. Perhaps, in those rare people whose gut microbiome was permanently and badly changed by antibiotics, is it possible that a faeces transplant might help? Your gut microbiome is a dynamic ecosystem, one of the most complex known ecosystems on our planet. It is also essential to our good health. Its composition oscillates a little from day to day, but it does have a stable average state. Taking antibiotics can shift the average to another stable state. Will this new stable state be better or worse for you? We don’t know, yet.
On one hand, antibiotics do a lot of good. Over the time since the first antibiotic, Prontosil, came onto the market in the early 1930s, we have found that the good from using antibiotics when needed vastly outweighs their bad side effects. I personally have had three cases of rapidly spreading cellulitis, a nasty infection of the superficial layers of the skin. I’ve had one in each hand, and one in my right foot. They were from car mechanic-ing on brakes, car mechanic-ing on an engine, and accidentally brushing my upper right foot against a cloth-covered sofa and not even breaking the skin. With rapidly spreading cellulitis, you have three options: amputation, death or antibiotics. In my three encounters, the cellulitis was spreading so rapidly that natural recovery was not an option. Thanks to antibiotics, I have four limbs, not one, and I’m still alive. And, thanks to my lucky gut, I have never had any gut problems, or any other side effects, from taking antibiotics. But I am in a lucky minority. However, some people do suffer gut problems (tummy pain, diarrhoea, etc.) when they take antibiotics. The side effects of antibiotics are usually minor, but can be serious. So each time you take antibiotics, you are in a lottery. The next roll of the dice could be the time that you lose an entire genus of bacteria, and shift your gut microbiome to a new stable state, which could be worse or it might be better. At this stage, we simply don’t know.
So the take-home message is: don’t take antibiotics unless you really, really need them. And conversely, if you need them, do take them”.

Sar’s Comments: Consult a qualified naturopathic practitioner for advice about disease prevention and ways to increase your immune system function so that you never suffer from bacterial infections (and therefore never need antibiotics). However, if you have had antibiotics in the past, and your health has never fully recovered – seek your naturopaths advice regarding appropriate probiotic species for your gut, which may help improve your immune function.

Have you ever had a bad reaction to antibiotics or any long-term health problems (that you know of) as a consequence of taking antibiotics?

Yours In Great Health,

Sar Rooney BHSc., ND., DC., DASc., GDSc. (Hons), MATMS, MNHAA, MHATO

Naturopathic Medicine Practitioner, Lecturer, Researcher 

Earth Medicine TM


Email: [email protected]


Helping you achieve optimal wellness, hormonal balance and disease prevention with personalised, professional naturopathic health care, clinical pathology testing and high-quality herbal medicines and supplements 

Sar Rooney is a Naturopathic Medicine Practitioner specialising in Anxiety and Depression |Women’s Health| Hormonal Imbalances | Thyroid Disorders | Digestive Health | Genetic Polymorphisms (MTHFR/Pyroluria) | Nutritional Medicine | Optimal Wellness & Disease Prevention 

Want to keep up to date on the latest in health and wellbeing? Join Sar on Facebook by clicking this link: and “Like” our page to receive updates

Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended to replace medical advice or treatment. Please note: I am not a medical practitioner.

Comments are closed.