The Consequences of Antibiotic Use, Part 1

witch hazel botanical pic

The Consequences of Antibiotic Use, Part 1

How many times have you been prescribed an antibiotic in your life? Whether it was for strep throat, ear infections, bladder infections, or other mild infections. Most of the time, people blindly accepted their doctor’s recommendation without second-guessing the necessity of using antibiotics. As a Naturopathic Doctor with a practice in Vancouver, I can tell you that optimizing the microbiome is a fundamental part of my practice, particularly during and after antibiotic use.

What do antibiotics do to your gut health?

Our bodies are full of living organisms called bacteria. Some of the bacteria are harmful if allowed to grow and proliferate (like Salmonella or E. Coli), but others are actually essential to good health and the proper function of various bodily systems.

The composition of bacteria in our gut, and how it impacts our overall health, has become a very popular field of research as more people understand the importance of what is called the gut microbiome (or the community of bacteria living in our bodies).

A healthy microbiome is essential for proper immune function, for example, and disruptions to the gut microbiome have been associated with conditions like obesity, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, metabolic diseases, asthma, arthritis, and more.  Addressing the health of the gut microbiome may help prevent childhood obesity, fight depression, and even improve symptoms of autism.

Antibiotics kill bacteria, the good and the bad

Antibiotics help treat infections because they kill off the bacteria causing your symptoms. The problem is that they aren’t specific to the harmful bacteria that infect you; they wipe out the other, beneficial bacteria in your body, too. In this way, antibiotics disrupt the balance between good and bad bacteria, which can lead to significant health problems.

Unfortunately, antibiotic use can cause lasting damage to the gut microbiome, altering both the quantity and diversity of bacterial communities. Studies show that antibiotics certainly do alter the gut microbiome in healthy people, and that these disruptions can last for several months; it can take six months after stopping antibiotics for the changes made by the drugs to return to normal.

Antibiotic use in young children can be especially detrimental, as the balance of bacteria in the gut at certain developmental stages is particularly important for good health.

Serious consequences of antibiotic use

Now you know how antibiotics can wreak havoc on your gut health, and how this might have far-reaching effects on your body. In Part 2 of this series presented in next month’s newsletter, I’ll present the association between antibiotic use and diabetes risk. You’ll also learn what questions to ask your doctor to avoid unnecessary antibiotics, and what to do if you decide antibiotics really are the best option.


[1] Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:214021.

[2] PLoS Pathog. 2015 Jul 2;11(7):e1004903.

[3] Nutr Rev. 2015 Aug;73 Suppl 1:32-40.

[4] ISME J. 2015 Sep 11. [Epub ahead of print]

[5] Nat Commun. 2015 Jun 30;6:7486.