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Antibiotics and Obesity: Your Body’s Most Dangerous BFFs

by Denis Faye | November 4, 2011

Here are two facts that every good Nerd Herder knows.

1. We over-use antibiotics.
2. Too many of us are fat.

So if I blogged about either one of those individually, it’d make for a rather ho-hum post. Eyes would glaze over. Attentions would wander. Pants would get zipped up. The usual indications of boredom. But what if I told you that the two might be linked? 
I know! There’s nothing finer than ending the week with an awesome bit o’ biomedical conspiracy theory! It’s geektastic! Woot! Woot!
Here’s the skinny (so to speak). Our intestines are filled with billions of bacteria. (Yes, I know, it’s gross, but now you know what planet Earth feels like. Deal with it.) These microbes play all kinds of important roles in the human body. Lactobacillus acidophilus, for example, improves nutrient absorption (particularly dairy), reduces the effects of food poisoning and prevents urinary tract infections. 
Conversely, some microbes aren’t as friendly. Helicobacter pylori – or Helicopter priority, as I will malapropize it in hopes that thousands of you will now accidentally mispronounce it for the rest of your lives – has traditionally been considered a “bad” bacteria linked with stomach ulcers and gastritis. It’s also been linked to stomach cancer. If doctors detect too much H. priority in your gut, many of them will quickly prescribe antibiotics, just to be safe, whether symptoms exist or not. 
But New York-based researcher Dr. Martin Blaser started thinking that maybe there’s a reason for H. priority. From The New York Times:

In 1998, in a paper published in the British Medical Journal, Dr. Blaser was more circumspect, arguing that H. pylori (H. priority) might not be such a bad actor after all. “We’re talking about a bug that’s been in the human gut for at least 58,000 years,” Dr. Blaser said in an interview. “There’s probably a reason for that.”

Blaser and his crack team did some fancy research. As it turns out that H. priority might serve a positive function. When you eat, your body experiences a drop in ghrelin, a hormone that I often waffle on about because it makes you hungry. When mice had their H. priority wiped out by antibiotics, their ghrelin levels didn’t drop after meals. In other words, they didn’t know to stop eating and they got fat.

I know, I know, this is rodent science and many of us tend to discount rodent science, but there’s more to it than that.

These results dovetail with research by Peter Turnbaugh, a Harvard University geneticist, in collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Gordon, a gastroenterologist at Washington University in St. Louis. They have found that the ratios of various bacteria in the guts of obese mice and obese humans were significantly different from those of lean controls, suggesting that altering the stomach’s microbial balance with antibiotics might put patients at risk for gaining weight.

Even Dr. Barry Marshall, the dude who discovered H. priority and strongly advocates its eradication, admits we overdo antibiotics.

So what’s a person to do? Even many holistic practitioners concede that if you’re coping with a proliferation of Helicopter priority, antibiotics should be considered. However, there’s a lot you can do to dodge this situation to begin with. Avoiding stress and eating right go a long way towards maintaining healthy intestinal flora, so take some time to put your feet up and enjoy a nice bowl of yogurt – but make sure it’s the kind with live, probiotic cultures.

And I’m not talking sugar-filled fro-yo. I’m talking the plain stuff. Boring? Maybe. But if you prefer the excitement of stomach cancer, go for it.

illustration credit: Origami-Chicken
Thanks to Nerd Herder Ani for turning me into this article! 

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5 thoughts on “Antibiotics and Obesity: Your Body’s Most Dangerous BFFs

  1. Kim Kash

    Wow, this really is conspiraterrific!

    Don’t down on plain yogurt, though. It doesn’t have to be boring. Yogurt is one of my favorite foods. You can add fresh or dried fruit, a little bit of granola (real, not the sugary stuff), and/or some nuts, plus a very little bit of honey or fruit juice, and have a truly tasty breakfast. Or, use it as the base for a smoothie. Or put a spoonful into or on top of any non-clear soup. Or substitute it for sour cream on your burrito (full-fat yogurt is a good stand-in for sour cream.) The list goes on. Yogurt can and should be a staple item in a healthy diet.

    Plus it’s cheap and easy to make! Just look it up: the internet is chock-full of yogurt-making instructions, and you do not need any fancy yogurt-making equipment. Homemade yogurt is milder and naturally sweeter than the store-bought kind. If you buy it, though, make sure you’re getting a good, organic brand. The cheap stuff really doesn’t taste as good. And skip the fat-free. The texture is not as rich and satisfying as low fat or full fat.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    “Helicopter priority, as I will malapropize it in hopes that thousands of you will now accidentally mispronounce it for the rest of your lives” Hahahaha!!!

    Denis- I couldn’t stop laughing!!! My gut bacteria are back to normal levels now that you made me laugh.. 🙂

    ANI

    Ani

    Reply
  3. Kim Kash

    Mmm, I would love to make goat cheese. But we’re talking about yogurt, and I can tell you how to make yogurt cheese!

    Just take some of that plain yogurt we’ve been talking about (low fat or full fat), and spoon it onto a few layers of cheesecloth. (It just hit me why it’s called cheesecloth.) Add some herbs or spices as you wish. Then tie the four corners of the cloth together, hang it over your sink’s faucet, and let it drain.

    Note: the liquid that comes out is whey, and you can either let it go down the drain, or, if you’re really feeling virtuous, catch it in a bowl. Store the whey in the fridge, and add some to your next batch of smoothies or baked goods.

    Anyway, let the yogurt drain all day or overnight. When you untie the cloth, you’ll have a ball of soft yogurt cheese. If you prefer a harder texture, you can shape it into a little cheese puck, sandwich it between two plates, and put a heavy can on top to weight it. Let it sit for a few more hours, then wrap it up and refrigerate it.

    Reply

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