Why Gut Bacteria Is Good for You

The trillions of gut bacteria that live in our bodies are often the unsung heroes of our good health. Here’s what happens when we disrupt their habitat.

By Sharon Begley
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine October 2013

Do Antibiotics make us fat?
Our penchant for antibiotics has a downside beyond the well-known problem of breeding antibiotic-resistant bugs. A study of 11,532 children found that, on average, those exposed to antibiotics for usual ills, such as ear infections, before five months weighed more for their height than other kids. By 38 months, they were 22 percent more likely to be overweight. (For ways to avoid unnecessary antibiotics, see box at right.)

“The rise of obesity around the world is coincident with widespread antibiotic use,” says Dr. Blaser. “Early exposure to antibiotics may prime children for obesity later in life.” That’s one reason farmers add antibiotics to animal feed: The drugs alter the gut bacteria in cattle, pigs, and other animals, substituting bacteria that are better at extracting maximum calories from feed, which makes the animals plump up.

Next: How can I get a healthy gut? »

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