Are Antibiotics Making Us Fat?

We take antibiotics to treat bacteriological problems of all types. It may be surprising to learn that ranchers use antibiotics to stimulate rapid growth in farm animals. Could antibiotics be stimulating unwanted growth in our bodies too?

About 80% of the antibiotics consumed annually are administered to farm animals. No, they aren’t extremely sick; they are getting a jump-start on their way to the grocery store. The biology is unclear as to why antibiotics make animals grow faster, but it is common knowledge among ranchers.

New research was recently published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature that examined whether the antibiotic growth effects that are so obvious in farm animals might have a similar effect in other animals (and even people). Under the direction of Dr. Martin Blaser at the New Your University School of Medicine, lab mice received drinking water laced with antibiotics from an early age. The dosage was very low, similar to the dosage per pound used for cattle. This continued until the mice were mature, about 7 weeks.

The treated mice grew to have substantially more body fat than their peer mice that did not drink the antibiotic-treated water.  The treated mice were not heavier than their pure water brethren, just fatter.

The antibiotics did not reduce the number of microbes in the mice’s digestive system. Rather, the type of bacteria shifted. It is possible that this shift to a bacteria group called Firmicutes is responsible for the increased fat layer.

So can early treatment with antibiotics lead to obesity in later life? This one medical study does not prove that. This does show that antibiotics change our digestive system, which could lead to more efficient creation of fat deposits. Should you keep antibiotics away from your child? Certainly not until much more research is done on the issue. Better to have a bit of a tummy bulge than suffer from raging, untreated infections!

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