Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Drugs, Hunger, and Obesity

My snack drawer after a week of munchies.
I've been on prednisone for a week now, after something in the garden didn't agree with my face.  Puffy rash, itchy-ness is now under control.  Unfortunately, I definitely got the hunger side effect.  Normally not a big deal, fresh fruit and veggies out of the garden, more food, but good for me food.  Unfortunate thing  part two?  This is one of my intensive research weeks.  I'm living at the beef farm, eating almost exclusively out of a microwave or other easy to manage foods.  Not a recipe for good nutrition.  I think the point of the low calorie ice-cream is defeated after the 2nd serving in a day.  Ah well.  Only a couple more days of the prednisone and I can go back to eating normal amounts and trying to make it healthy foods.

In a tangentially related note, I've been reading up on nutritional immunomodulation, growth promotants, and various other fun topics while working on some research plans and my dissertation.  So, when this NPR article about a possible connection between antibiotics and obesity came across facebook today I just had to check it out.

For many in the meat industry, this seems like something that perhaps should have been looked at sooner.  As the article says:
"Since the 1950s, farmers have known that small amounts of antibiotics increase the weight of livestock by as much as 15 percent. But exactly how these drugs fatten up cattle, pigs and chickens is a bit mysterious."
If we know that livestock grow faster and typically gain more fat when on antibiotics, why wouldn't the same be seen in other species?  Beyond that, we know that antibiotics alter digestion, metabolism and other body systems.  For both animals and microorganisms.  They have far-reaching effects.  This may be some of the first published research showing that there is a 'nutritional downside' to antibiotic use in people, but I don't imagine that anyone is overly surprised by the outcome.

Some of our current big boys.
Now, I'm not saying we should never use antibiotics, they have their place, and play an important role in managing disease.  But they do need to be used carefully, as much in humans as in livestock.  I've often heard the call for reducing or removing all antibiotics from cattle, but just like us, animals get sick.  I can't see any reason to deny them treatment that would save them or better their quality of life just to produce an organic or all-natural product.  Judicious use is important.  Making sure that the doses given are the minimum effective, and that they are given only when needed is crucial.

A big take home for me here is that there is still a need for more and better collaboration between human and animal researchers.  Because we can do more intensive research in animal models and we have focused on how to get livestock to grow to their full potential, there is a lot of information out there that if reverse engineered might provide insight into promoting lean gain and reduced weight in people. 
What other correlations do you see between human and animal health research?

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