It sounds like something out of a horror movie. A lab genius creates a substance that can help humans fight off nasty bugs. The product seems even more amazing when someone figures out that it can also be used to beef up our livestock and produce larger animals more quickly.
Because of this miracle of science we’re healthier and we have access to more protein without added cost.
Cue the frightening music…
It’s quite possible that this remarkable discovery has had a disturbing side effect – it’s making humans larger and fatter, too!
I’m referring to antibiotics – those being fed to cows, pigs and other meat-producing critters and those that are given to humans to fight off dangerous bacteria.
The Centers for Disease Control says over-prescribing antibiotics can put patients at risk. Yet this occurs far too often. A study finds that more than half of all hospital patients receive antibiotics – and doctors at some hospitals prescribe three times as many antibiotics as those in other hospitals.
An interesting Op-Ed in Sunday’s New York Times – The Fat Drug – takes another approach by looking at the changes in livestock and humans since antibiotics usage became widespread.
The piece by Pagan Kennedy notes, “Manufacturers brag about the miraculous effects of feeding antibiotics to chicks and nursing calves. Dusty agricultural journals attest to the ways in which the drugs can act like a kind of superfood to produce cheap meat.
“But what if that meat is us? New evidence shows that America’s obesity epidemic may be connected to our high consumption of these drugs.”
Freaky stuff, huh?
Sixty years ago, Alexander Fleming, the Scottish biologist who discovered penicillin, began to question the use of antibiotics to fatten animals.
The Times piece noted, “Fleming seemed disturbed by the thought of applying that logic to humans. ‘I can’t predict that feeding penicillin to babies will do society much good,’ he said. ‘Making people larger might do more harm than good.’”
Despite Fleming’s concerns, there was a test that involved antibiotics and humans – mentally defective kids, to be exact. The average yearly gain in weight for the supplemented kids: 6.5 pounds. The kids in the control group, meanwhile, averaged slightly less than 2 pounds of weight gain over the same year.
American children are prescribed antibiotics just about every year, mainly for ear and chest infections. It may be possible our metabolism is adversely affected.
According to an article that appeared last year in Mother Jones: "Microbes in our gut are able to digest certain carbohydrates that we're not able to," says NYU researcher Ilseung Cho. Antibiotics seem to increase those bugs' ability to break down carbs—and ultimately convert them to body fat. As a result, antibiotic-fed mice "actually extracted more energy from the same diet" as control mice, he says. That's great if you're trying to fatten a giant barn full of hogs. But what about that two-legged species that's often exposed to antibiotics?
Interestingly, the NYU team has produced another recent paper looking at just that question. They analyzed data from a UK study in the early '90s to see if they could find a correlation between antibiotic exposure and kids' weight. The study involved more than 11,000 kids, about a third of whom had been prescribed antibiotics to treat an infection before the age of six months. The results: The babies who had been exposed to antibiotics had a 22 percent higher chance of being overweight at age three than those who hadn't…
Weird But True: In 2002, Americans were about an inch taller and 24 pounds heavier than they were in the 1960s. More than one-third are now classified as obese. Diet and lifestyle are primarily to blame but some scientists wonder whether antibiotics might also play a role.
eDiets Chief Editor John McGran has an extensive background in online dieting and tabloid news. He covers the celebrity beat for eDiets.