How antibiotics can do more damage than good.
While I knew from the movies and magazines that college would a time for exploration, defining myself and life lessons, it never occurred to me it would also be a time characterized by chronic sickness.
With the perfect storm of reactive airway disease, the Los Angeles smog, and, of course we mustn't forget, a heavy dose of the fact I decided it was my turn to shine as an angsty teenager: college got me real sick. Real fast. Within the span of 10 months, I had undergone nine rounds of antibiotics and three rounds of steroids.
You woulda thought I'd be RIPPED... (JK, wrong steroids. But heard those are pretty gnarly on your body too... Would not recommend.)
I'm convinced antibiotics are doctors' favorite drug of choice. They're like this promising, little prissy perfect prescription that screams, “take me! I’ll have you feeling better in 24 hours and cure your infection in eight days - tops!"
And all you find yourself saying in response is, "Yeah? BET.”
But those little pills must be the best damn liars I know, because they did quite the opposite. Sure, the infection would clear up like magic, but when the eight days had passed and the orange pill container became empty, I was left feeling even more tired than before the infection. I didn’t know why, but every time I finished off another bottle of those big white pills, I felt weaker, less able and less myself.
It didn’t take long to realize just how tired I was becoming. I couldn’t get through a day without crashing at 3pm and taking a nap. Coffee only made me more tired. I could never seem to get enough sleep - waking up never truly feeling rested. Something was off. But even more so than my energy levels - something was off with my sinuses: I couldn’t get through a single day without blowing my nose about every hour.
Tissue, after tissue, after tissue – I had to blow my nose every time my senses were stimulated. I’m not just talking that annoying, running nose you get after spicy chicken wings from your fav sports bar downtown, or walking around when it's cold outside. I mean every time I drank cold water, drank hot water, shower, ran, talked too fast – EVERY TIME I ATE ANY FOOD EVER - I'd have to blow my nose. (Lol @ all who are reading this who went out to get food with me in college. You already know what I'm talking about.)
Ladies, pro tip: it is NOT attractive to incessantly blow your nose at the table when you’re out on a date with a guy.
This is a fairly accurate photo of me from freshman year to junior year of college.
(Seriously, not sure how they got this pic of me...)
Just kidding - but I do wish this thing existed. I’m not sure what saddens me more: how many trees I’ve killed in the past 2.5 years of chronic rhinitis or how much money I’ve spent on Kleenex alone… (I guess both are equally as depressing.)
Ah, I digress.
During the constant blowing, it started to seem as if everything would get me sick. Staying up an hour past 10pm, I would wake up with a stuffy nose and puffed up face. Canker sores if I ate one too many oranges or citrus foods. Forget to drink enough water one day and that’s it - I’m out for the count for a few days. And don’t even think about drinking alcohol. One party and three drinks later and I can’t sleep for a week because I’m coughing up God knows what until 3 am.
My life became slowly but surely debilitating. Classes were missed, social life deteriorated, and friendships strained (some even lost) - all because I was sick. For both my friends and myself, it was difficult to understand why this was all happening. It’s an odd concept to think that someone has perpetual sinus issues but no allergies, or constant fatigue but no depression, cuts in the mouth with no immune disorder. At least when I was on antibiotics or steroids, I had some pity because people could see the massive pills I was shoving down my throat after breakfast and dinner every day. Then, they didn’t dare doubt that I was “sick”. I knew I didn’t have pneumonia anymore, but something wasn’t right. What had these massive white pills been doing to my body?
Now if you're anything like me when I was 18 - you have no idea what antibiotics can do to the human body. In order to understand the severe consequences of the overuse of antibiotics, you must understand the importance of your gut flora. According to the European Food Information Council, your gut (aka your small + large intestines... an average of 28 feet long combined hahaha betcha didn’t know THAT #yikes) is home to approximately 100 trillion bacteria cells and is the largest and most complex portion of your body's immune system. These bacteria are your friends: your body guards.
Did you know that just one round of antibiotics will kill about a third of the total bacteria in your gut? This means the bad stuff (like the pneumonia you're fighting caused by a "bad guy" bacteria called streptococcus pneumoniae) AND the good stuff (all the bacteria that fights off infections AKA Big Sean).
The good news? Antibiotics will kill your pneumonia no problem. No cap.
The bad news? Now you're left with a weakened immune system and a potential yeast overgrowth.
Ah yes - yeast. Otherwise known as the stuff used to rise bread and make beer and wine. Or maybe you know it as the stuff your family avoids during Passover. Either way - yeast is most often talked about in its relation to food, beer and baking. But how many of you know there is actually yeast (fungi) living and growing inside of your stomach?
This yeast isn’t a bad thing, actually… Unless it's the bad kind. Like how there can be good and bad bacterias, there can also be good and bad yeasts in our bodies. The good fungi and good bacterias work together in your gut to fight off infection, boost your immune system, support digestion, maintain your energy levels and provide you a balanced, healthy mood. A problem only arises when the yeast to bacteria balance is shifted - like when you take antibiotics - and the yeast cultures begin to overgrow in your stomach.
Yeast overgrowths can cause a variety of issues in your body, including anxiety, depression, intense sugar cravings, gastrointestinal issues like bloating and gas, canker sores, new food allergies, lowered sex drive and chronic fatigue (in addition to an influx of other super fun issues for females)… So after nine rounds of this, you betcha, I had not only developed a yeast overgrowth in my gut, but I had killed the majority of the good bacteria that would have been helping me to fight the little illnesses I came in contact with every day. With each round of big white pills I shoved down my throat. the yeast was growing.
The antibiotics' “cure” to my pneumonia was like putting a tiny Band-Aid over a gushing wound. It helped me out for the time being, but all the while, it really only got in the way of my body’s natural healing process.
For your journey...
What does this mean for you?
Well if you’re a college student, chances are you’ve probably taken at least one round of antibiotics before, or maybe even more than my record of 9 times! (Wanna compare scars? Lol just kidding.)
If you feel like you may be suffering from some sort of unwellness that you can’t seem to put your finger on (be it digestive/stomach, sinus or energy/mood related), or you feel like you get sick more often than others - it could be possible that your gut microbiome is imbalanced.
Some advice… 1) If you are offered antibiotics: ask first and foremost if they are absolutely necessary. (If you have pneumonia, please take the antibiotics. Don’t be an idiot and put your health at serious risk. But if it's a sinus infection - see if there are more natural ways towards healing... i.e. using a neti pot or taking oregano oil). Your gut will thank you.
2) If you have to take antibiotics, TAKE A STRONG PROBIOTIC. I’m not talking about the $10 ones at CVS. A good probiotic will usually be anywhere from $25-60. Invest; $25-60 is like not eating out for dinner once or twice this week (if you live in Los Angeles). Please, invest. It is worth it. The reason this is so important is because the probiotic will work to replenish that good bacteria that you’re killing with every big white antibiotic pill you take. For optimal use, take the probiotic in the middle of the day, far from when you take the antibiotic in the morning and night. Some of my favorite probiotics are Klaire Labs Complete, and Enterogenic Intensive (a similar potency but dormant (nonrefigerated, vegan and gluten free option).
“Hiring A Personal Bodyguard.” First Security , 28 Apr. 2016, www.firstsecurityservices.com/hiring-a-personal-bodyguard/https://www.firstsecurityservices.com/hiring-a-personal-bodyguard
Magula, Cindy. “New Inventions.” Pinterest, 4 Oct. 2012, www.pinterest.com/pin/206673070371104241/?lp=true.