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Obesity Clues
(Antibiotics Linked to Obesity)

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed on page 9 in the March 19, 2014 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

The ingestion of good, healthy and delicious tasting food is a time-consuming venture that is worth the rewards. In our society, it has only taken 50 years for the obesity epidemic to evolve, almost synonymously with processed foods based on corn and soy.

During the second world war, almost half a million American recruits were turned away due to malnutrition or being underweight. There was a time when soup kitchens were a common sight. Government policies over the years resulted in record productions of certain crops which have allowed our calorie intake to easily double, at low cost and without quality. Our impoverished class now has higher levels of obesity and poor health, which can mask their economic needs.

What is most interesting is the role that other modern marvels may have played in the obesity epidemic. Antibiotics had a tremendous impact on human health, particularly during the second world war. In the 1940's, drug companies such as Lederle which produced chlortetracycline discovered that feeding antibiotics to rats doubled their size very quickly. Pretty soon, they found the same effect on chicks and cows, and the profits soared. Antibiotics can have multiple effects. What a novel concept! In medical school, I still recall the 10-minute session addressing various factors in our food chain, and being told that antibiotics in the agro-industry were there only to prevent nasty diseases.

While training at Sick Kids Hospital, it was interesting to see how many kids with chronic ear infections were overweight. They would almost pine for the flavored drugs, and we would joke about how the drug and not the do-nuts are making things worse. It seemed that research into humans was largely forgotten. In the 1950's, it soon dawned on some doctors, seeing severely malnourished kids, that antibiotics could help weight gain, and they did.

Less than 20 percent of antibiotics are used in humans. But the other 80 percent reach us indirectly through our food chain on a steady basis. We still don't know how the weight gain is triggered. It may simply flip a switch in our brain or may change the rich mixture of microbes in our gut that are necessary for good health.

Resistance levels have been steadily rising and parallel the obesity epidemic. It is more expensive to raise drug-free animals, and sizes are smaller.

Asking questions about the origin of your meat is vital. Spring is coming. Think about that lost art. Plant something in the ground, water it and watch it grow and discover how to eat healthy once more.

Related resources:

America’s Obesity Epidemic May Be Caused By Its Favorite Drug by Susan Scutti, Newsweek, 29 Nov. 2013.

Early use of antibiotics linked to obesity, research finds by By Hristio Boytchev, Washington Post, Health, Science & Environment, 22 Aug. 2012.

Maps: The Mysterious Link Between Antibiotics and Obesity by Kiera Butler and Jaeah Lee, Mother Jones, 18 Nov. 2013. "States where doctors prescribe more antibiotics also have the highest obesity rates. Why?"

Antibiotics Linked to Weight Gain by Amy Maxmen and Nature magazine, Published in Scientific American, 27 Aug. 2013. "Changes in the gut microbiome from low-dose antibiotics caused mice to gain weight. Similar alterations in humans taking antibiotics, especially children, might be adding to the obesity epidemic."

Do Antibiotics Make Us Fat? By Kai Kupferschmidt, a contributing correspondent for Science magazine based in Berlin, Germany, 22 Aug. 2012.

Antibiotics: This Commonly Used Drug Found to Promote Obesity by Dr. Mercola, 24 Nov. 2011. "... antibiotics, by design, disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, often killing off both beneficial and harmful microorganisms without distinction.
It is through this same mechanism that antibiotics may also be causing you to pack on extra pounds.
In fact, Dr. Martin Blaser, a professor of microbiology at New York University Langone Medical Center, suggests that antibiotics may permanently alter your gut bacteria and interfere with important hunger hormones secreted by your stomach, leading to increased appetite and body mass index (BMI) ...
Farmers Use Antibiotics to Fatten Up Livestock Quickly - About 70 percent of all the antibiotics produced are used in agriculture -- not necessarily to fight disease, but rather to promote weight gain ...
Unfortunately, this practice is also contributing to the alarming spread of antibiotic-resistant disease."

The Problems with Antibiotics: They Kill the Good Guys and Make You Fat from Mark's Daily Apple.

How Gut Bacteria Affects Your Weight, and Why CAFO Meats Promote Antibiotic-Resistant Disease by Dr. Mercola, 10 Apr. 2013. "The link between antibiotic use in livestock and antibiotic-resistant disease is so clear that the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed has been banned in Europe since 2006. In sharp contrast, according to the first-ever report by the FDA10 on the topic, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) used a whopping 29 million pounds of antibiotics in 2009, and according to Kessler, that number had further risen to nearly 30 million pounds in 2011, which represents about 80 percent of all reported antibiotic sales that year ...
As stated by Kessler, we have more than enough evidence that using antibiotics as growth promoters is threatening human health. Yet the drug and food industries are doing everything they can to block proposed legislation that would limit this practice, and both the FDA and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions aid and abet them...
This is one of the many reasons why I always recommend buying your meat, whether beef or poultry, from a local organic farmer rather than your local supermarket. The only way to avoid this hidden source of antibiotics is to make sure you're only buying organic, grass-fed, free-range meats and organic pasture-raised chickens, as non-medical use of antibiotics is not permitted in organic farming."

Antibiotics overuse linked to weight gain, new book says CBS News. 11 Mar. 2014. Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues by Dr. Martin Blaser.

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