There’s more bad news for antibiotics: A new review of scientific literature found that macrolide antibiotics cause an increase in sudden cardiovascular death among patients.
Macrolide drugs refer to products like azithromycin, clarithromycin, and erythromycin, which are characterized by a specific type of ring in their molecular structure. They are most commonly prescribed to battle bacterial infections like pneumonia, bronchitis, chlamydia, and other illnesses.
The study, led by Dr. Yun-Jiu Cheng of the Department of Cardiology at Sun Yat-sen University in China and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, looked at 33 studies published between 1966 and 2015 involving 20,779,963 people. The results? Taking macrolides results in cardiac death for one out of every 30,000 people, in addition to one person per 8,500 experiencing an irregular heartbeat.
“Administration of macrolide antibiotics is associated with increased risk for SCD [sudden cardiac death] or VTA [ventricular tachyarrhythmias] and cardiovascular death but not increased all-cause mortality,” the study concludes.
“The absolute risks of sudden cardiac death and cardiac death are small, so it should likely have limited effect on prescribing practice,” study co-author Su-Hua Wu said in a press release. “However, given that macrolides are one of the most commonly used antibiotic groups and millions of patients are prescribed these drugs annually, the total number of sudden cardiac deaths or ventricular tachyarrhythmias and cardiac deaths may not be negligible.”
All three of the common antibiotics that the study looked at — azithromycin, clarithromycin, and erythromycin — were associated with higher risk of heart arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. “The heart safety of each macrolide needs to be better understood to help guide clinical treatment decisions,” Wu said in the press release.
Dr. Sami Viskin of the Tel Aviv Medical Center wrote an editorial that accompanied the study in which he expresses worry that pharmaceutical companies could be held accountable for the harm that their drugs have caused. “The pharmaceutical industry will now be more vulnerable to litigation, and this could persuade them to discontinue the production of macrolides,” Viskin wrote. “Today, when antimicrobial resistance represents a major threat to global health and new treatment options are frighteningly few, losing an entire class of antibiotics would represent a major setback in the fight against infections.”
In the editorial, Viskin calls for risk mitigation and “a consensus paper on how to deal with these hot potatoes.”
All in all, the results of the review add to the troubling body of evidence about the harm that antibiotics can cause in humans when misused or over-prescribed. For example, fluoroquinolone antibiotics like cipro and levaquin can cause negative reactions in the central nervous system, musculoskeletal, visual, and renal systems, in addition to their own cardiac risk factors.
Antibiotics can also provoke weight gain in patients via mitochondrial damage and other metabolic changes. Some evidence even suggests that antibiotics can permanently kill off some of your beneficial gut bacteria. So while these drugs may save your life in an emergency, it’s worth considering if they are worth the risk for more mundane health problems.
Fortunately, there are a number of essential oils, such as tea tree and oregano oil, that have beneficial anti-bacterial properties and can be used to prevent or treat many non-life threatening ailments, and cannabis has shown great promise in fending off antibiotic-resistant infections like MRSA. With natural solutions, you can give a boost to your immune system without putting yourself at risk from the negative outcomes associated with pharmaceutical antibiotic drugs.