When you hear the word “antibiotics” I’m sure a lot of you think, “Hey, those are good for me—they help me feel better when I’m sick.” Right? And yes, you’re partly right, but there’s also a dark side to using antibiotics that a lot of people either don’t know or don’t want to think about. What do I mean?

Well, did you happen to hear that recent story about an antibiotic-resistant gene making its way to the U.S. from India? So-called “superbugs” like the ones linked to the overseas gene are making people very sick, but the worst part is that the powerful antibiotics we’d normally use to get rid of them aren’t working anymore because of widespread antibiotic resistance.

And now a new study from Stanford University shows that taking antibiotics over and over again may impact our health by affecting the normal levels of bacteria in our digestive tract. Yup, that’s right—it all comes back to the gut! Because as you know, that’s where roughly 80 percent of our natural defenses are found, and it’s where literally trillions of microbes (both good and bad) exist in a delicate balance to keep us healthy.

So what this new study looked at was 1. whether or not repeated antibiotic use affected that nicely balanced bacterial colony in your gut, and 2. if and how well your gut bacteria were able to “bounce back” after each round of antibiotics. Now I’m sure you saw this coming, but the results weren’t great. The antibiotics wiped out large numbers of existing gut bacteria in all of the participants, and even though some gut populations returned to normal a few weeks after the antibiotic treatment stopped, this wasn’t the case after a second course of antibiotics. In fact, two months after the second round of treatment, gut bacteria levels still hadn’t returned to normal.

This topic is so important, and I’m really glad to see that it’s starting to get so much attention. When I say everything is connected to the gut, I REALLY mean it, especially now that all these new studies are finding that an out-of-balance gut can contribute to everything from digestive problems and weight gain to allergies, arthritis and yes, even chronic disease. So it’s time to pay attention—take a proactive stance when it comes to your health, and make sure you really need that antibiotic before you take it!