Antibiotic Use and Your Risk for Diabetes

For years, epidemiologists have been warning about the overuse of antibiotics. The greatest danger is that bacteria and viruses can (and do) develop resistance to the drugs. For instance, there are drug-resistant strains of TB, staph, malaria, HIV, and gonorrhea.

Certain classes of antibiotics have their own problems. As an example, the fluoroquinolones (Cipro, Levaquin, and their cousins) can weaken tendons. I know several people who have torn an Achilles tendon during or shortly after a course of one of these drugs. And Levaquin makes my knees hurt so badly I can barely get out of a chair. (And what’s with all the football players who are out for this season with tendon damage? Achilles, ACL, MCL, it seems like any tendon in the lower body is a target. Knowing how cavalierly trainers treat other drugs, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about tubs of antibiotics in the trainer’s room.) Now there’s evidence that connects antibiotic use with diabetes.

Want a Danish With That Antibiotic?

Denmark has a nationalized medical care system, so it’s possible to gather very complete records on populations. A recent review looked at the records of every person in Denmark who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during the period 2000–2012. They then case-matched each of these records with another person who did not have diabetes. When the results of the 2 groups were compared, it turned out that any antibiotic use within the previous 15 years raised the risk of developing diabetes by about 30%. The risk was higher the more recent the use had been, and rose with the number of prescriptions for antibiotics.

We don’t know what the cause is here. It’s possible that as diabetes is developing you’re more susceptible to infections, or that somehow antibiotics interfere with blood sugar metabolism. The only theory the researchers could reject was that gut bacteria are somehow involved. They came to that conclusion because all types of antibiotics created the effect. Different types of drugs affect gut bacteria differently, so if that were the source of the problem you would expect there to have been more of a difference between drug classes. At any rate, the connection is there.

Antibiotics in Your Life

You can control your antibiotic intake. Obviously if you have pneumonia an antibiotic could save your life. But people go to their doc asking for an antibiotic for almost any upset, and it’s been this way for many years. Antibiotics don’t help colds or flu, so don’t you be that person. And be careful about the meat you eat. Conventionally raised meat of all types has had antibiotics used in the process to support the animal’s growth.

You may not be able to eliminate the use of all antibiotics, but if you do need a course or if you’ve been on a regimen in the past keep in mind your increased risk of diabetes. Pay more attention to your food intake and activity level. Do the things we should all be doing already to maintain good health.

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