Why Taking Antibiotics During Pregnancy is a Bad Idea
By Dr. Mercola
According to recent research1 from Denmark, children whose mothers took antibiotics during their pregnancy were more likely to develop asthma, compared to those whose mother did not take antibiotics. Taking other risk factors into account, the researchers estimated that children exposed to antibiotics were 17 percent more likely to be hospitalized for asthma before the age of five.
Furthermore, children who were predisposed to asthma due to their mother having the condition were twice as likely to develop asthma if their mother used antibiotics during the third trimester, compared to those whose mother did not use antibiotics.
While the study doesn’t prove causation (they cannot tell whether the asthma was the result of the antibiotic or the infection itself), the increased asthma risk found does support the theory that probiotics — beneficial bacteria residing in your gut, which are decimated by antibiotics — play a role in the development of asthma. Co-author Dr. Hans Bisgaard told Reuters Health2:
“We speculate that mothers’ use of antibiotics changes the balance of natural bacteria, which is transmitted to the newborn, and that such unbalanced bacteria in early life impact on the immune maturation in the newborn.”
Indeed, one of the most important prerequisites for your newborn is establishing a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Regardless of age, your gut is your first line of defense in terms of immunity. Without a well-functioning GI tract, your child will not get the proper nourishment to grow, or defend himself against pathogens of all types.
The baby gets his or her first “inoculation” of gut flora from the mother’s birth canal during childbirth, which is why a mother’s use of antibiotics during pregnancy can predispose the child to asthma and a variety of other ailments. It’s important to understand that if a mother’s flora is abnormal, her baby’s flora will also be abnormal, as whatever organisms live in her vagina end up coating her baby’s body and lining his or her intestinal tract.
The Importance of Gut Health During Pregnancy
Unfortunately, studies show that a growing number of women have unknown vaginal infections at childbirth, which can result in the passage of abnormal microflora onto their babies. This introduction of unfriendly flora, combined with antibiotic use, can predispose a baby to GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and also Gut and Physiology Syndrome). GAPS can have very damaging long-term effects on a child’s health, both neurologically and physiologically, predisposing him or her to:
Autism, ADHD/ADD and learning disabilities, such as dyslexia Arthritis Asthma and allergies Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder Skin problems Kidney problems Schizophrenia Digestive ailments Autoimmune disorders
GAPS may have profound implications for the autism epidemic. Rates of childhood autism are staggering, now 50 times higher in some areas than three decades ago. Not surprisingly, there is a matching epidemic of GAPS. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride is a neurologist and neurosurgeon who has devoted years of her career to studying this phenomenon, and how to treat and prevent it. To learn more, please listen to the interview featured in my previous article How a Physician Cured Her Son’s Autism.
In this follow-up interview, she discusses the physiological aspect of GAPS, and its impact on autoimmune disease and allergies.
Antibiotic Resistance Major Public Health Problem
The frivolous use of antibiotics, not just in medicine, but also in food production, is the root cause of skyrocketing antibiotic resistance. Data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control3 (ECDC) shows a significant rise of resistance to multiple antibiotics in Klebsiella pneumoniae and E. coli in just the last four years alone, affecting more than one-third of the EU. According to a recent report by Medical News Today4:
“In several of the member states, between 25 and over 60 percent of K pneumoniae from bloodstream infections show combined resistance to multiple antibiotics…. The ECDC data shows that consumption of carbapenems, a major class of last-line antibiotics, went up significantly in EU/EEA countries between 2007 and 2010. The report suggests this is most likely due to increasing multidrug resistance in Gram-negative infections, such as pneumonia or bloodstream infections, which are often treated with carbapenems.”
November 18 was European Antibiotic Awareness Day5. The UK issued an informational leaflet6 to raise awareness about the need for judicious use of antibiotics, urging patients to not ask their doctors for an antibiotic to treat symptoms of cold and flu, as antibiotics do not work on infections caused by viruses. Americans also need to heed this advice, as a recent poll shows many Americans are still a bit clueless about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance.
As reported by MedicineNet.com7:
“[A]lthough almost 90 percent of Americans know that antibiotics are effective for treating bacterial infections, more than a third also erroneously believed the drugs can fight viral infections such as the common cold or the flu…
‘It’s a common misperception that antibiotics can cure the common cold, and unnecessary overuse of antibiotics for illnesses like colds is dumping fuel on a wildfire of resistance,” said Dr. Lauri Hicks, medical director of the ‘Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work’ program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…. Many participants wrongly believed that individuals build up tolerance to antibiotics, when it is the bacteria themselves that become resistant.’
Rise in Antibiotic Resistance is Alarming
Between the years of 1993 and 2005, the number of Americans hospitalized due to the antibiotic-resistant “superbug” MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) skyrocketed from about 2,000 to 370,000. Currently, MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant infections kill about 60,000 Americans annually, and account for billions of dollars in health care costs8. According to many health experts, antibiotic-resistance is one of our greatest health threats, and it’s really all our own doing.
When used properly, in the correct contexts and with responsibility, antibiotics can and do save lives that are threatened by bacterial infections. But there is one important variable that wasn’t considered when the widespread use of these “miracle medicines” began, and that is that bacteria are highly adaptable. They are clearly capable of outsmarting antibiotics, and they are doing so with a vengeance. According to the CDC’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System9:
“Antibiotics kill or inhibit the growth of susceptible bacteria. Sometimes one of the bacteria survives because it has the ability to neutralize or evade the effect of the antibiotic; that one bacteria can then multiply and replace all the bacteria that were killed off.
Exposure to antibiotics therefore provides selective pressure, which makes the surviving bacteria more likely to be resistant. In addition, bacteria that were at one time susceptible to an antibiotic can acquire resistance through mutation of their genetic material or by acquiring pieces of DNA that code for the resistance properties from other bacteria. The DNA that codes for resistance can be grouped in a single easily transferable package. This means that bacteria can become resistant to many antimicrobial agents because of the transfer of one piece of DNA.”
The Rise of “Superbugs”…
Bacteria are, in essence, hard-wired to adapt to threats such as antibiotics and, as such, there has been talk that the “end of antibiotics” is near. At that point, infections that were once easily treated will undoubtedly return with renewed force. Casualties are to be expected… Numerous bacteria are already resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics10, including:
Acinetobacter: A bacteria found in soil and water that often causes infections in seriously ill hospital patients. Anthrax: Spread by infected animals or potentially bioterrorist weapons. Group B streptococcus: A common bacteria in newborns, the elderly and adults with other illnesses. Klebsiella pneumonia: A bacteria that can lead to pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound and surgical site infections and meningitis. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): A superbug that can be so difficult to treat, it can easily progress from a superficial skin infection to a life-threatening infection in your bones, joints, bloodstream, heart valves, lungs, or surgical wounds. Neisseria meningitides: One of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis in children and young adults. Shigella: An infectious disease caused by Shigella bacteria. Streptococcus pneumoniae: A leading cause of pneumonia, bacteremia, sinusitis, and acute otitis media (AOM). Tuberculosis (TB): Both “multi-drug resistant” and “extensively drug-resistant” forms of TB are now being seen. Typhoid fever: A life-threatening illness caused by the Salmonella Typhi bacteria. Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE): Infection with the enteroccocci bacteria that often occurs in hospitals and is resistant to vancomycin, an antibiotic. Vancomycin-Intermediate/Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VISA/VRSA): Various strains of staph bacteria that are resistant to vancomycin.
Two of the latest drug-resistant infections are gonorrhea and tuberculosis. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the first reports of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis began surfacing in 200611. WHO now also recognizes drug-resistant gonorrhea as “an emergency.” Earlier this summer, Wired Magazine12 reported on the issue:
“Millions of people with gonorrhoea may be at risk of running out of treatment options unless urgent action is taken, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Already several countries, including Australia, France, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom are reporting cases of resistance to cephalosporin antibiotics — the last treatment option against gonorrhoea. Every year an estimated 106 million people are infected.”
Your Dietary Choices Also Contribute to Rising Antibiotic Resistance
Compounding the problem is the fact that antibiotics are also widely over-used in agriculture. In fact, agricultural uses account for about 70 percent of all antibiotic use in the US, so it’s a MAJOR source of human antibiotic consumption. Animals are often fed antibiotics at low doses for disease prevention and growth promotion, and those antibiotics are transferred to you via meat, and even via the manure used as crop fertilizer.
Reducing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is yet another reason for making sure you’re only eating grass-fed, organically-raised meats.
What You Can Do to Help Stop the Spread of Antibiotic-Resistant Disease
You can help yourself and your community by using antibiotics only when absolutely necessary and by purchasing organic, antibiotic-free meats and other foods. We’re all in this fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria together, and the more people who get involved on a personal level to stop unnecessary antibiotic use the better.
Avoiding all unnecessary antibiotics is an important step that I urge everyone to take, even though ultimately the problem of antibiotic-resistance needs to be stemmed through public policy on a nationwide level. If you live in the United States and want to get involved on a national level, Food Democracy Now! has created a petition against the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production13. If you care about this issue, I suggest you use this petition to make your voice heard.
Also, to bring us back to the first featured story, please make sure to avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics during pregnancy. Not every bacterial infection needs to be treated with a drug. First, as an all-around preventive measure, you’ll want to make sure your vitamin D level is optimized year-round, especially during pregnancy, along with vitamin K2. But there are also a number of natural compounds that act as broad-based antibiotics/anti-virals that you can try first, such as:
- Manuka honey (for topical application)