Friday, November 6, 2015

What Antibiotics Do To Your Body

When I started out in the 1980s, pharmaceutical companies sold pills labeled “placebo.” They don’t do that today, so a doctor who wants to prescribe one uses a real drug.

Today’s most popular placebos have names like amoxicillin and Z-pak (azithromycin). These help many conditions but not the respiratory infections for which most are prescribed.

Swallowing any antibiotic kills trillions of germs inside your body. If it’s a placebo, those germs are not causing your problem. Other germs immediately move in. Of course, those are germs that can grow in the presence of that antibiotic. If, in the future, they decide to make trouble, another course of that antibiotic might not discourage them. Do you want that?

Experts have been denouncing placebo antibiotics for decades, but their arguments are feeble. They warn about side-effects and allergies, but these are rare. Most antibiotics, useful or not, are safe over the short term.  
The long-term consequences are catastrophic. Soaking the environment with unnecessary antibiotics is giving rise to extraordinarily resistant bacteria. Even today about 40,000 Americans die of infections no antibiotic can treat, and this increases every year.

But who cares? It’s a fact that people with a short-term problem don’t take the long view. That might include your doctor.

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