Vitamins and Antibiotics

June 22, 2006

Vitamins and Antibiotics 

 Competency # 13 VITAMINS                      Reference: Science.2006;312(5778),p1355-9 

 This is unique and very interesting.  I have always thought that we humans were a unique creation that existed by the sweat of our brow and the fruitfulness of the earth around us.  Well, now we need to expand that a little.  We need to start thinking of ourselves as unique communities, not just unique individuals.  The community I’m talking about is our bacterial colonies in our guts.  I, all by myself, am a unique community.   I live in a partnership with about 10,000,000,000,000 bacteria in my gut.  That’s trillion. 

 In this week'sScience magazine is an article about the DNA present in the bacteria in our gut.  It represents almost 100 times the variety of DNA that we have in our individual cells.  And in that DNA turns out to be a very rich source of variety and usefulness.  Most notably, our flora in our intestines have the metabolic pathways to digest many foods we can’t digest at all, and the ability to make many vitamins and amino acids we can’t make at all, or that we make in limited quantity. 

 When we eat indigestible complex carbohydrates, we would not digest those nutrients at all were it not for the bacteria in our colons.  Well, that’s what cows and other ruminants do.  And many of the essential amino acids that we need to construct our proteins aren’t made in our own cells, they are made by the bacteria in our colons and then absorbed for our use.  And the vitamins that we can’t make at all, are often actually made in our gut in greater bounty than what we eat. 

 Now, I thought all our vitamins came from eating bountiful fruits and vegetables.  I thought the nature of a vitamin was that we couldn’t make it ourselves.  That’s true.  Where the vitamin comes from is what is news to me. This also raises very interesting thoughts about what antibiotics we so easily allow ourselves to be exposed to.  We have found occasional episodes where those antibiotics cause great harm: like when we get Clostridium dificile superinfections.  Now, we have another venue to explore.  Giving lots of antibiotics may mean our bacteria in our colons are being injured and depriving us of essential nutrients. 

WWW.  What will work for me?  I’m going to think a little more about antibiotics before I let them be given to me.  And I’m going to watch this topic.  This is a whole new field of inquiry.  I always wanted to have a condo in some exotic spot.  I never knew that I was a condo association, all by myself, for some 10 trillion helpful neighbors.  I just didn’t know that cows were so “close” to me.   

This column is written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)