Why Antibiotics Put You at Risk for Viral Infection
Antibiotics are pharmaceutical agents that kill bacteria.
According to research, antibiotics can make it more difficult to fight off the flu virus — by wiping out healthy bacteria and leaving your immune system defenseless. Give your body complete support with our Antiviral Protocol: Replenish good bacteria in the gut and help to strengthen your natural defense against viruses.
Viruses — on the other hand — are a different kind of bug. Because they are different, they remain essentially unaffected by antibiotic drugs. This information is important to understand, especially as the Zika virus has recently overtaken social media and the news. The mosquito-transmitted viral infection related to the West Nile virus and yellow fever was declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organization, after spreading to the Western hemisphere in 2015 following an outbreak in Brazil.
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Now, the dangerous and uncontained virus, commonly found in Africa and Asia, has millions of people fearing for their lives. Pregnant women have been urged to take caution in where they travel since the virus can easily spread from mother to baby, possibly causing a severe birth defect known as microcephaly.1 Even men have been warned against the viral outbreak as the virus can be transmitted through infected semen. Health professionals estimated that, without taking the proper precautions, as many as 4 million people could have been infected with the Zika virus by the end of 2016 — largely because we don’t have the immunity to resist it.2
When Antibiotics Do More Harm Than Good
You can’t stop the common cold or the flu with antibiotics. But you can make these viral infections worse.
Antibiotics strengthen a viral infection (like the common cold or the flu). Viruses naturally living in the body can store antibiotic-resistant genes, passing them out like candy to hungry bacteria and intensifying the problem of antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance is a very real public health crisis. When bacteria are resistant to antibiotic drugs, they are able to survive (and even thrive) in the body — in spite of antibiotic use.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013, antibiotic resistance is directly responsible for at least 23,000 deaths per year.3 In addition to these entirely preventable deaths, antibiotic resistance has caused over 2 million illnesses per year, says the CDC. Unsurprisingly, antibiotic resistance has been referred to by CDC Director Tom Frieden as the “next pandemic,” where patients may “enter the hospital with one disease and leave with another,” as he described when speaking at a National Press Club event in 2014.4 In 2015, researchers confirmed in an article published in Pharmacy & Therapeutics that antibiotic resistance has become a global health crisis, as well as a national health and economic burden, due in large part to antibiotic overuse.5
This means that some bacterial infections are literally impossible to treat. And we have no one to blame but ourselves. The overuse of antibiotic drugs has given bad bacteria the genetic wherewithal to survive antibiotics, turning them into virtual “superbugs.”
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Antibiotics Slow Down Your Response to Infection
In 2012, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that mice treated with antibiotics were unable to fully fight off the flu virus.6
This is because antibiotics wipe out the healthy bacteria that naturally protect the body.
You will find these protective microbes in the gut, on the surface of the skin, along the birth canal, and in the respiratory tract. Without these healthy communities of “native” microbes, the immune system isn’t able to mount a strong attack on the flu virus. Researchers have also found that antibiotics slow down the clearance of an infection — meaning more sick days out. When you treat a viral infection with antibiotics, you cripple your immune system.
With antibiotic use, researchers have found that:
- Your immune cells express fewer genes associated with protection against viral infection.
- Your immune cells are unable to respond to messages that the body is under viral attack.
- You are less equipped to stop viral replication.
Scientists have traced the devastating ripple effects of antibiotic use in the body over time. NYU Langone Medical Center researchers discovered in 2015 that multiple courses of common antibiotics could affect a child’s development for the rest of their life — because of a disrupted gut microbiome at a young age.7 Within the same year, researchers found a three-way link between infant antibiotic use, changes in gut bacteria, and the development of adult disease.8 In 2016, University of Helsinki scientists recommended restricting early antibiotics, save for emergencies, for this very reason: A child’s gut may never recover from antibiotic overuse.9
A gut-friendly diet can help your body bounce back after a round of antibiotics. Start with the Body Ecology Antiviral Protocol first.
Probiotics: The Antiviral Superstar
Healthy gut bacteria and your immune system are allies. Together, they fight infection and protect the body. Unfortunately, antibiotic drugs wipe out healthy bacteria and destroy the lines of communication between good bacteria and your immune system — sometimes, permanently.10
But if a wounded inner ecosystem gives viruses a fighting chance, then a healthy inner ecosystem should turn the tides in your favor. And it does. Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland reported that probiotics help fight viral respiratory tract infections (like the common cold and the flu).11
One of the best ways to get a regular dose of probiotics is through your diet.
This is because the good bacteria in probiotic foods are able to safely travel through the digestive tract until they land in your colon, where they do the most good. Studies show that probiotics are more likely to survive the harsh environment of your stomach when consumed as food — rather than as a probiotic supplement.12
Amidst all of this antibiotic confusion, there is one simple solution. Start at the source — replenish the gut with probiotic-rich foods at home. (You can find the full program for Antiviral recovery here.) When the inner ecosystem has been destroyed by antibiotics, especially in children, it is beneficial bacteria that will do a body good. The friendly bugs found in foods like cultured vegetables and milk kefir, as well as ready-made probiotic drinks, can help rebuild and restore much of the damage antibiotics have done.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
You’ve probably been prescribed antibiotics more than once in your life, but did you think twice about taking them? It is not possible to stop the common cold or flu with antibiotics. In fact, antibiotics can make viral infections worse. Antibiotics can strengthen viral infection, such as the common cold or flu, through antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance caused an estimated 23,000 deaths in 2013 and has been labeled the “next pandemic” by the Director of the CDC.
A wounded inner ecosystem caused by antibiotic overuse can leave you vulnerable to viruses. The best way to strengthen your inner ecosystem is through probiotics in the diet. Probiotic foods are recommended above probiotic supplements; research has shown that probiotic foods are more likely to survive the harsh environment of the stomach compared to a probiotic pill. You can find our full program for Antiviral recovery here.
It may not be a quick fix, but it really is that easy. Enjoying probiotics daily can help to replenish the gut with the beneficial bacteria it needs to repair much of the devastation caused by antibiotic overuse. In time, a healthy gut can lead to stronger immunity — better equipping the body to naturally resist viral infection.
- “Question and Answers: Zika virus infection (Zika) and pregnancy.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Tavernise, Sabrina. “Zika Virus ‘Spreading Explosively’ in Americas, W.H.O. Says.” The New York Times.
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (US). (2013). Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services.
- Bui, Hoai-Tran. “Antibiotic Resistance Could Be ‘next Pandemic,’ CDC Says.” USA Today.
- P T. 2015 Apr; 40(4): 277–283.
- Abt, M. C., Osborne, L. C., Monticelli, L. A., Doering, T. A., Alenghat, T., Sonnenberg, G. F., … & Artis, D. (2012). Commensal bacteria calibrate the activation threshold of innate antiviral immunity. Immunity, 37(1), 158-170.
- Yael R. Nobel, Laura M. Cox, Francis F. Kirigin, Nicholas A. Bokulich, Shingo Yamanishi, Isabel Teitler, Jennifer Chung, Jiho Sohn, Cecily M. Barber, David S. Goldfarb, Kartik Raju, Sahar Abubucker, Yanjiao Zhou, Victoria E. Ruiz, Huilin Li, Makedonka Mitreva, Alexander V. Alekseyenko, George M. Weinstock, Erica Sodergren, Martin J. Blaser. Metabolic and metagenomic outcomes from early-life pulsed antibiotic treatment. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 7486 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms8486.
- Pajau Vangay, Tonya Ward, Jeffrey S. Gerber, Dan Knights. Antibiotics, Pediatric Dysbiosis, and Disease. Cell Host & Microbe, 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2015.04.006.
- Katri Korpela, Anne Salonen, Lauri J. Virta, Riina A. Kekkonen, Kristoffer Forslund, Peer Bork, Willem M. de Vos. Intestinal microbiome is related to lifetime antibiotic use in Finnish pre-school children. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 10410 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10410.
- Blaser, M. (2011). Antibiotic overuse: stop the killing of beneficial bacteria. Nature, 476(7361), 393-394.
- Lehtoranta, L., Pitkäranta, A., & Korpela, R. (2014). Probiotics in respiratory virus infections. European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, 1-14.
- Faye, T., Tamburello, A., Vegarud, G. E., & Skeie, S. (2012). Survival of lactic acid bacteria from fermented milks in an in vitro digestion model exploiting sequential incubation in human gastric and duodenum juice. Journal of Dairy Science, 95(2), 558-566.