Last week was the Center For Disease Control and Prevention’s “Get Smart About Antibiotics Week,” which aims to raise awareness about how growing antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health threats. One way to combat this problem is avoid putting antibiotic-laden foods in our shopping carts and our families’ mouths. Though persistent organic pollutants like dioxins and PCBs can persist for years in our bodies (see my 2-min video How Fast Can Children Detoxify from PCBs?), other dietary contaminants such as antibiotic residues may be more of a matter of constant re-exposure on a day-to-day basis. As you can see above in my NutritionFacts.org video pick, a study last year measured changes in the levels of antibiotics before and after a 5 day vacation from meat.
They tested participants’ urine for the presence of a number of clinically important human antibiotics. Though none of the study participants were actually taking these drugs, antibiotics were found flowing through their bodies. Within just five days of eating vegetarian, though, the study “demonstrated clearly that even short-term dietary changes could reduce the frequency of detection and levels of major antibiotics.”
A follow-up study testing antibiotic levels in meat directly found that “Consumption levels of beef, pork, chicken, and dairy products could explain the daily excretion amount of several antibiotics in urine.” Which has more though, chicken thigh or breast? Find out in my 1-min video More Antibiotics in White Meat or Dark Meat?
This year, the Consumers Union—the publishers of Consumer Reports—launched a Meat Without Drugs campaign to pressure retailers to demand meat producers stop gobbling up 80% of the antibiotics sold in the United States to help fatten animals faster and prevent disease in such stressful, crowded, unhygienic environments (see for example, new undercover footage at a Butterball turkey plant). Our exposure to drugs given to turkeys and chickens may be one reason poultry consumption has been associated with significantly higher lymphoma and leukemia risk. See my videos EPIC Findings on Lymphoma and Chicken Dioxins, Viruses, or Antibiotics?
Vegetarians may also have lower exposure to carcinogenic nitrosamines (see Prevention Is Better Than Cured Meat) as well as some of the more persistent pollutants (see Flame Retardant Chemical Contamination and Industrial Pollutants in Vegans).
Michael Greger, M.D.
Image credit: Carsten Schertzer / Flickr