Antibiotic use increases diabetes risk

October 23, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

How many times do I have to wave this flag?

Antibiotics can be hazardous to your health.

Researchers in Denmark have just shined new light on this warning—by finding a link between antibiotics use and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

I’ve been saying forever that antibiotics wreak havoc in your gut, wiping out our essential good bacteria along with the bad. That’s proven, a done deal, and a bad deal.

Also proven: as much as 70 percent of our immune system is based in our gut. When antibiotics mess with that, it’s a wide open door for all kinds of health threats. In fact, I’m convinced that nearly every health problem begins when our gut, or biome, is out of whack.

The Danish research just adds to my conviction.

Antibiotic time bomb

According to one of the study’s authors, Kristian Hallundbæk Mikkelsen, MD, “…people who have Type 2 diabetes [now] used significantly more antibiotics up to 15 years prior to diagnosis compared to healthy controls.”

Specifically, compared to the healthy control group:

  • People who filled just 2–4 prescriptions had a 23 percent higher risk for diabetes
  • People who filled 5 or more had a 53 percent higher risk

Remember, this is about antibiotics that may have been taken 15 years ago.

I’m afraid I hear something ticking in a lot of people’s medical histories.

But as much as I’m glad good research is being done, the Danish study, in the end, offers a rather tepid conclusion: “Our results could support the possibility that antibiotics exposure increases type 2 diabetes risk.”

To make matters worse, people who have pre-diabetes symptoms, but no official diabetes diagnosis, have an increased risk of infection, so they’re probably more likely to take antibiotics than healthy people.

Just one more reason that I believe there are very few conditions that should be treated with antibiotics: pneumonia, bronchitis, MRSA, and cellulitis. That’s about it.

Other than those, my findings based on my experience with my patients and my research all say: No more antibiotics. Change your diet and other behaviors—now.

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Antibiotic alternatives

As usual, nature gives us a right way to do the right thing—even after we’ve done the wrong thing.

When antibiotics are the wrong thing, probiotics are one of the rightest things we’ve got.

The two words on their own tell the tale. Bios is the Latin root word for “life.” Anti-biotic? Anti-life. Pro biotic? For life.

Probiotic foods or supplements contain the healthy, living “good bacteria” that reside in our gut—in their billions. Each has its own specialty.   Some help digest food, some guard or help build communications pathways along the twists and turns of our nervous system or immune system … and some attack and eliminate health threats.

It’s a magnificent, complex, finely tuned phenomenon that’s evolved over eons. And, disrupting this delicate balance can have consequences, ranging from a cleansing sneeze to a terminal illness.

Antibiotics are way more than a slight disruption. They’re a massacre. That 70 percent of your immune system that’s in your gut? Down it goes, leaving you with only about 30 percent of the protection you need.

Especially if you’re older

One study measured friendly bacteria in people over 60 and found that their guts contained 1,000 times fewer friendly bacteria than those of younger adults.

Whatever our age, making sure our good bacteria are healthy and plentiful is Job One. And doing Job One right requires daily replenishment, by diet or supplement.

How do you get your daily probiotics?

A high quality supplement is your best bet. Just make sure it’s coated or formulated to survive efficacy-reducing stomach acids, and contains all or most of these strains of Lactobacillus:

  • Salivarius
  • Acidophilus
  • Casei
  • Plantarum
  • Fermentum

As well as Bifidobacterium longum.

Fermented foods are also a great source of probiotics, but, because your stomach acids greatly reduce the amount of live bacteria that make it to your small intestine, I would consider these foods a supplement to your probiotic supplement:

  • Yogurt, but only full-fat and plain (if you’re going to add anything, it should be raw, organic, unprocessed fruit or honey for sweetener)
  • Kefir, a drinkable form of yogurt, with the same caveats
  • Dark chocolate, more than 70 percent cacao, not milk or white chocolate
  • Sour and dill pickles or sauerkraut
  • Tempeh
  • Kombucha tea
  • Soft cheeses
  • Sourdough bread

Best anti-antibiotic practices

The best way to avoid antibiotics is to prevent all types of bacterial infection. (Remember, the flu and common colds are viral infections that antibiotics can’t fix.)

There are plenty of ways to do that. Just about everything I recommend—healthy diet, exercise, sufficient sleep, staying socially, physically, and mentally active—boosts your immunity and every other preventive and protective function.

Check with your doctor

You should always check before changing your diet or behavior. A doc visit now is especially important, given the Danish research and the near certainty that so many of you have taken antibiotics in the past 15 years. If so, make sure your doc knows about this research and pays special attention to any pre-diabetes-like symptoms you might have now or in the future.

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