Antibiotics—or medications given to patients to kill bacterial infections—are prescribed more than 154 million times every year. And of those many millions of prescriptions, a staggering 30 percent are unnecessary, according to the CDC. Some reports even say that number is more accurately 50 percent, which is a statistic that should make us all take pause.
Why? Because there are many consequences to taking antibiotics—especially when you don't really need them.
For starters, using too many antibiotics has caused an epidemic of antibiotic-resistant infections. Bugs like MRSA—a bacteria that resists many common antibiotics—are spreading like never before, in part, because of our overuse of antibiotics. There are also many direct side effects to antibiotic use. Astonishingly, 14,000 Americans die each year from severe diarrhea caused by these drugs, and many more have irreversible damage of their skin, nerves, and tendons from antibiotic use. In addition, there's an important question that remains largely unanswered: What are antibiotics really doing to our immune systems?
We know that antibiotics disrupt the microbiome—the trillions of good bacteria in our gut—which is also conveniently where 75 percent of our immune system resides. Just a single use of antibiotics can cause changes in the microbiome, especially in the diversity of gut bacteria, and this is bad news because bacterial diversity is essential for our optimal health. The antibiotic ciprofloxacin, for example, has been shown to reduce the bacterial diversity by around one-third. While a majority of bacterial diversity eventually recovered after the round of antibiotics, some species still hadn't recovered six months later.