Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wisdom Wednesday: Drug resistance: Does antibiotic use in animals affect human health?

Antibiotic resistance poses a serious threat to public health, both in the United States and globally. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistance is responsible for 25,000 annual deaths in the European Union and 23,000 annual deaths in the U.S. As many as 2 million U.S. individuals develop a drug-resistant infection each year.

By the year 2050, some researchers predict that antibiotic resistance will cause 10 million deaths every year, surpassing cancer as the leading cause of mortality worldwide.

On a global scale, the U.S. and China are the largest users of antibiotics for food production. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 80% of the total antibiotic use in the U.S. is in agriculture, with pigs and poultry receiving five to 10 times more antibiotics then cattle and sheep.

Farming animals for meat is a particularly intense process, with pig sows, for instance, not being given enough time to recover in-between births. This compromises their immune system. Also, pigs and chickens live in confined, crowded spaces, which increases their stress and the risk of disease transmission.

Additionally, antibiotics are sometimes used to make the animals grow faster. In humans, studies have shown that antibiotics raise the risk of weight gain and obesity, as they wipe out beneficial gut bacteria that help regulate weight.

Finally, the prophylactic, or preventive, use of antibiotics also adds to the problem. Many farms give chicks antibiotics as soon as they are born, regardless of whether they are ill or not.

“The most important thing to consider,” says Nicola Evans – a doctoral researcher in structural biology at King’s College in London, “is that any single time antibiotics are used, whether in animals or humans, you risk selecting for drug-resistant bacteria. We need to safeguard [antibiotics] for the use in both animals and humans, to ensure they can be used for the treatment of infection in the future.”

“Antibiotics are needed… to safeguard animal health and welfare, but should only be used when the animals are sick and not used for growth promoters or to prevent animals getting sick in the first place. However, animal use shouldn’t detract from the fact that the vast majority of antibiotic resistance in humans is caused by overuse in humans.”

My Take:
The original article was seven pages long so I had to condense some of the data. It goes on to review several farming practices, like weaning newborn animals early, that further compromise the immune status of the animals.

Certainly, the damage to our microbiome caused by humans taking antibiotics is greater than that caused by eating meat that has had antibiotic exposure. However, the exposure from food, albeit small, is constant over the course of our lifetime. I am quite concerned that the cumulative effect of this constant antibiotic exposure is much greater than this research indicates.

Bottom Line:
Buy organic meat, eggs and poultry whenever possible. If organic is not available, your second choice should be beef as the cattle industry does use significantly less antibiotics than poultry or pig farmers.

Source: November 29, 2018 NIH

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