So what is an antibiotic really?
The word antibiotic comes from the Greek anti meaning 'against' and bios meaning 'life' (a bacterium is a life form).' Antibiotics are also known as antibacterials, and they are drugs used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Bacteria are tiny organisms that can sometimes cause illness to humans and animals. The singular word for bacteria is bacterium.
Such illnesses as tuberculosis, salmonella, syphilis and some forms of meningitis are caused by bacteria. Some bacteria are not harmful, while others are good for us.
Before bacteria can multiply and cause symptoms our immune system can usually destroy them. We have special white blood cells that attack harmful bacteria. Even if symptoms do occur, our immune system can usually cope and fight off the infection. There are occasions, however, when it is all too much and our bodies need some help - from antibiotics.
Good bacteria in the gut which is commonly obtained by humans via yogurts' etcetera help people in many ways, including helping make vitamins and boosting immunity. Some researchers think that killing them off with antibiotics may be contributing to rises in chronic health conditions such as obesity, asthma, and cancer.
In a developed country like the United States, the average child gets 10 to 20 courses of antibiotics by age 18. However, studies have shown that doctors often prescribe antibiotics before they know whether an infection is viral or bacterial. If the problem is a virus, antibiotics don't help.
As antibiotic use has increased, studies have shown that the kinds of bacteria that we live with are changing. Some bacterial species that live in our bodies are going extinct. Today, studies show that less than 6% of children born in the U.S., Sweden, and Germany carry threatening organisms. That shows that the species are disappearing from its human hosts.
Other research directed by the Human Microbiome Project, which aims to catalogue and understand the microorganisms that live in the body, has suggested that a bacterial environment that's out of balance in the stomach and esophagus may contribute to cancer.
An out-of-balance bacterial environment in the digestive system may lead to inflammation, and inflammation may cause changes in cells that lead to cancer according to various studies. (see references below)
Alexander Khoruts, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota comments:
"There are really only a limited number of studies that have been done on this so far, but I think we're going to see more because I think it's going to be a big deal for us to understand this. There is evidence is all circumstantial. There is little doubt that antibiotics have been overused in clinical and veterinary medicine, and farming practices. I'm less than convinced that we have enough data to revise guidelines for solid indications for antibiotic usage. We all know that there's antibiotic overuse early in life, and I'm giving us yet another reason why we have to control it."