Food is the major source of human antibiotic exposure

October 6, 2010

I have often spoken — indeed quite recently — about the dangers of the overuse of antibiotics and you may have patted yourself on the back and thought ‘well I hardly ever have them’ — but I bet you do.
The problem is that you are probably not even aware of it — particularly if you are a meat eater. A new study has shown that what you ingest from your diet is an important factor in the levels of toxicity in your body.

In a conventional, Western, diet you are taking in the antibiotics and hormone growth promoters that are routinely fed to cattle and intensively farmed salmon and chicken and through the pesticides used in modern intensive farming. This can leave you with quite a high level of toxic chemicals in your body — if you are a wholly organic vegan, you can skip the next bit but everyone else might find it of interest.

In order to test the theory that vegetarians are healthier, scientists recruited 25 people to stay at a Buddhist temple for five days, living the same lifestyle as the monks residing there. This lifestyle included adhering to a strictly meat-free diet and I imagine was also fairly stress-free, unless they were suffering severe withdrawal symptoms from their iPhones and computers..

The researchers took urine samples from all participants both 48 hours before and immediately after their five-day retreat and it was tested for antibiotics and their metabolites, as well as six chemicals produced by the body upon the breakdown of phthalates.

What are phthalates I can hear you cry? They are industrial chemicals used in the manufacture of pesticides and soft plastics and have been proven to interfere with our bodies hormonal systems, producing defects of the reproductive, nervous and other bodily systems. Because it is difficult to detect phthalates in urine, the researchers instead had to test for its metabolites.

All six phthalate metabolites were detected in every participant both before and after the study, but levels of levels of all drugs had dropped dramatically. and five metabolites had significantly dropped over the course of the study. That is in just five days — which is quite impressive.

These findings suggest that food is one of several sources through which humans are exposed to phthalates. The researchers found that participants who had eaten more beef, pork and dairy prior to the study started out with higher phthalate levels than participants who had eaten less of those foods.

The good news is that it is relatively easy to reduce the level of drugs and toxins in the body by switching to a diet that contains less meat and more vegetarian sources. I am not suggesting you give up meat altogether, but one idea for a healthier diet is certainly to have at least one or two meals a week that are meat-free.


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