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Are Factory Farm Antibiotics Making Us Obese?

If you’re getting fat and you don’t know why, it may be that you’re being dosed with antibiotics in the meat you’re eating. Two new studies are creating waves among scientists trying to understand the causes of obesity.

Factory farms feed continuous low doses of antibiotics to the cows, pigs, chickens and others in their daily food. This is not just to try to stop them getting sick from the miserable, overcrowded conditions in which they live, but also to make them grow fatter faster. For reasons that are not fully understood, antibiotics also have this fattening effect on the animals.

So now the question arises: Are those antibiotics causing the humans who eat those animals to become obese, too?

Factory farm operators say they stop feeding the animals antibiotics a few days before killing them, but there’s no evidence that there isn’t a lifetime of these drugs being passed on to humans. Or that there aren’t other effects on the animals that are taking effect in humans, too.

Are those antibiotics causing the humans who eat those animals to become obese, too?

The two new studies suggest that antibiotics are indeed making humans fatter, too. In one of the studies, mice were given antibiotics in daily low doses. Their body fat increased by 15 percent.

In the other study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, the same scientists looked at the effects of antibiotics in 11,000 children in the U.K., and noted that that children who had been exposed to antibiotics before the age of six months had higher body mass years later.

One caveat on the children’s study is that those antibiotics had not been given in low-dose form over a long period, as with the mice. But the scientists say that one of their next projects is to study the effects in human bodies of the kind of low doses of antibiotics we take in from eating meat and dairy from animals fed antibiotics.

There’s more detail about both these studies in an article in Wired Science and in Nature. We’d only add that it shouldn’t take experimenting on mice to figure out that eating animals who have lived in the appalling conditions of these so-called “concentrated animal feeding operations” is bad for you. (We are entirely against all experimentation on unconsenting animals of any species.)

And if these animals are being fed antibiotics on a routine basis to stop them getting sick from these conditions, and to make them grow fatter faster at the same time, then this has to be having an enormous effect on their microbiome – and then on ours, too.

The microbiome is the community of bacteria, viruses and other microscopic organisms that we all play host to in our bodies. There are trillions of these tiny critters in each of us – about ten microbial cells for every human cell. And there’s more and more evidence that some of the major diseases in our lives, like cancer and heart disease, can be linked to unnatural changes in our microbiomes.

Regardless then, of how many of the antibiotics themselves are being transferred into our own bodies when we eat other animals, we are most certainly consuming the microbiomes that have been altered by their consumption of antibiotics.

How many more mice will be required to suffer and die so that science can prove what we all already know: that eating factory farmed animals is harmful to your health?