Recently, researchers have been finding that antibiotics can really fuck with our natural bacteria in our digestive tracts which affects nutrition and weight. But the connection between weight gain and antibiotics has a pretty insane and fucked up history.
In a very interesting piece in the New York Times, Pagan Kennedy provides a fairly detailed overview of the relationship between antibiotics and weight gain in farm animals as well as humans. Yep, farm animals. After discovering the effect of Aureomycin (an antibiotic) on pigs, sheep, and cows, scientists in the 1950s believed they could stimulate growth in children. Because apparently, they didn't really have reservations about testing on children. As Kennedy describes:
In the 1950s, a team of scientists fed a steady diet of antibiotics to schoolchildren in Guatemala for more than a year, while Charles H. Carter, a doctor in Florida, tried a similar regimen on mentally disabled kids. Could the children, like the farm animals, grow larger? Yes, they could.
UMMM, listen, I get that kids can seem pretty rudimentary, but subjecting them to any experiment let alone the same experiment as farm animals, whether mentally disabled or not, is absolutely awful. The scientists were so busy fattening up people and holding Pfizer-sponsored weight gain competitions, they apparently couldn't find the time or understanding of why or how this was happening, which sounds all sorts of janky. Meanwhile, farms were stockpiling the antibiotics, as it revolutionized how farms operated:
By 1954, Eli Lilly & Company had created an antibiotic feed additive for farm animals, as "an aid to digestion." It was so much more than that. The drug-laced feeds allowed farmers to keep their animals indoors — because in addition to becoming meatier, the animals now could subsist in filthy conditions. The stage was set for the factory farm.
So yeah, this is some real Animal Farm/The Wall crossover shit.
But scientists are finding that it all comes down to the effect of antibiotics on our micribiome, or as Kennedy explains, the bacteria that plays a role "in all sorts of immune responses, and, crucially, in digesting food, making nutrients and maintaining a healthy weight. And antibiotics can kill them off."
This discovery though a bit tragic, is guiding scientists to develop different types of antibiotics that can work with our microbiomes: "anti-antibiotics." But we have a long way to go before those are as widespread and available as a normal antibiotic:
In the meantime, we are faced with the legacy of these drugs — the possibility that they have affected our size and shape, and made us different people.
Image via Getty.