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Antibiotics in the Food Chain

Antibiotics in the Food Chain

Treating viruses with antibiotics is like putting a screen door on a submarine. It’s ineffective and can cause lots of problems when a battle begins. But, according to the CDC, that hasn’t stopped doctors from writing tens of millions of prescriptions for antibiotics annually to “treat” viral illnesses against which they have absolutely no effect.

That misuse contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And it unnecessarily exposes you to problems associated with taking antibiotics: They deplete good intestinal bacteria while KOing bad ones and you end up losing bugs you need for a healthy digestive tract and immune system. (We suggest taking a spore-form probiotic when you take an antibiotic.) And according to a new lab-based study, antibiotics may turn epithelial cells lining your intestine into a screen door. Ideally, those cells help transmit liquid and nutrients into the bloodstream while maintaining a disease-preventing barrier between your internal organs and potentially harmful bacteria in your gut. Apparently antibiotics damage that barrier.

But the effort to reduce the misuse of antibiotics shouldn’t be directed only at doctors and patients. About 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the US are used in meat and poultry production—and enter your system that way. So let’s lobby for changes in food production. And if you eat meat, poultry, milk and eggs, make sure they’re antibiotic-free. Or better yet, eliminate red meats, eggs and whole dairy from your diet and double up on fruits, veggies and 100 percent whole grains. Save the antibiotics for their life-saving role.

Medically reviewed in August 2018.

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