Why you should avoid antibiotics after 40

Most of us have taken antibiotics for an infection at some point. But a new study reveals why anyone in middle age should think twice about popping those pills. 

Antibiotics are undoubtedly one of modern medicine’s greatest achievements and have saved countless lives. 

Most recent coverage of antibiotics, however, has focused on the dangers of overuse and the risks posed by antibiotic-resistant superbugs. But there may be extra reason for anyone aged 40 and above to avoid antibiotics wherever possible. 

New research published in the digestive health journal Gut claims there is a positive link between regular antibiotic use and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – a nasty set of conditions that can significantly affect quality of life. 

The results showed that completing a course of antibiotics increased your risk of developing IBD in the next one to five years by as much as 50 per cent, with the greatest increase in risk seen in those aged over 40. 

The study examined the health data of more than six million people who had not been diagnosed with IBD, with 91 per cent (5.5 million) of that group having been prescribed a course of antibiotics at least once over the 18-year follow-up period.

In all, there were 36,017 newly diagnosed cases of ulcerative colitis and 16,881 new cases of Crohn’s over the follow-up period.

Dr Adam Faye, lead author of the study, told newsGP he was surprised that the greatest effect was in mid-life. 

“Though in context, [it] seems to make sense from prior data … that the environment may play an increasing role in the pathogenesis of IBD as we age,” he said. 

“Also, we think that perhaps, based on some prior data, that the gut microbiome may become less resilient, meaning antibiotics or other changes can induce more lasting changes as we age.” 

But before you have a panic attack because you’ve been prescribed antibiotics after age 40, take a deep breath. Microbiologist Dr William van Schaik told The Age that the results showed an increased risk of IBD – but not an inevitable one. 

“This is probably because the use of antibiotics will change your gut microbiome in a way that will cause an inflammatory response,” he said. 

“It’s important to remember that antibiotics definitely won’t inevitably cause inflammatory bowel disease.” 

What is inflammatory bowel disease?

IBD describes two different, but related, conditions – Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD is often confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but is an entirely separate group of conditions. 

Crohn’s disease causes sufferers significant abdominal pain, frequent painful diarrhoea, fever and weight loss. It’s believed most Crohn’s sufferers inherit the condition from family, but risk factors such as smoking, and now antibiotic use, can also trigger the condition. 

Ulcerative colitis is a similar condition, producing similar symptoms but is actually caused by ulcers in the colon and rectum.

Have you taken antibiotics on multiple occasions? Has your doctor ever mentioned IBD? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Supply issues causing shortage of some antibiotics in Australia

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyerhttps://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/bradlockyer/
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.


  1. Interesting, I am 71 and have had antiobotics over 40 though not sure how many times. I also take PPI meds for reflux. About 2 years back I felt my gut biome was completely destroyed and had my first attack of crohns (recently diagnosed as now “mild”). To restore the gut biome, I used a combo of things, first going off PPIs (for 3 months, and not without issues – another story), and introducing Aloe Vera juice and Slippery Elm plus strong “Activated Probiotics” brand and “Sunfiber” to my system. I believe I have restored my gut biome because I can now drink milk which I couldn’t do for many years. Should I have a flare up I will repeat the process.

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