Last updated April 12, 2017 at 2:13 pm
Antibiotics! We know them, we love them, we couldn’t make modern life work without them. Or, should that be – we terribly misunderstand them, we hate them, and we better stop relying on them. No matter where you stand, antibiotics are a big and complicated issue, so here’s a review of the very latest evidence.
First up, antibiotics in farms.
It’s well known that, in America and the UK, antibiotic use in farm animals is rampant. And back home on Australian land? Well, scarily enough, we’re actually not sure. But giving antibiotics to healthy animals just to be on the safe side (or to treat conditions inevitable to cruel farming conditions) doesn’t tend to pass the pub test with most people. So it might come as a surprise that the latest mathematical modelling suggests that just cutting these antibiotics out on farms wouldn’t directly benefit human health. We’d be better off tackling superbug resistance in humans directly.
Next on the antibiotic list: bowel cancer.
It looks like there’s a link between long-term antibiotic use, and suffering from the types of growths that appear in the colon and rectum before bowel cancer develops. This is the type of finding that gives scientists a direction to follow, rather than giving them answers. They can’t actually say from these findings that antibiotics cause cancer, but they can say that it’s worth studying further. And as we learn more and more about the wide-ranging benefits of a healthy microbiome, I’ll be watching what direction this story goes.
Speaking of the microbiome, this brings us to our last story, and it’s some potentially good news! It has to do with probiotics.
Probiotics aren’t (exactly) the opposite of antibiotics, they’re basically the teensy tiny good guys of the microbiome. You can encourage probiotics to populate your gut flora by eating things like leafy vegetables, or you can ingest them directly by eating yoghurt or fermented food. Or you can take them in a pill, because We Live In The Future. Which brings me to this latest research. which shows that pairing a course of antibiotics with probiotics could reduce some of the antibiotics’ negative effects. This study didn’t look at bowel cancer specifically, but there is evidence of improvement in immunity, social behaviour, and gut health.
So that’s the latest on antibiotics for now– there will certainly be more discoveries and more evidence before long thanks to dedicated researchers.