How antibiotics wrecked my gut and screwed up my brain

By Jonny Woodall

When I was young, everything was easy and I seemed to be destined for a successful life. At grammar school, I played virtually every sport to a very high level. I represented my school at most sports and was an Olympic Baseball player from the age 12 to 17.

When, at 17, I was offered a high school scholarship in the USA, my life seemed to be on course and whatever I did, whether it was academic or physical, was easy – exams, sports, and even attracting the opposite sex.

Fast forward a few years and here I am writing so that my story of medical errors and medication nightmares might be heard.

My problems begin...

My problems began at the age of 21, while I was working as an insurance salesman for RBS in Manchester. It was a stressful period, and I started to develop a couple of nasty sebaceous cysts on my head. This was strange in view of my history of being extremely healthy with no medical issues, and the fact that I hadn’t even seen my doctor in years. I was placed on a tetracycline antibiotic and thought nothing of it. Within a couple of months my acne disappeared and I thought, ‘great! Life continues’. But how wrong I was!

After 6 months of being on this antibiotic and eating what I then thought was a healthy diet of cereals, grains, bread, and protein shakes every night after the gym, I started to develop severe abdominal pain after nights of drinking beer. These pains were extremely intense, like a knife being screwed around my insides. I would also have immense panic attacks and diahorrea.

Abdominal pain, panic attacks and agrophobia

My GP said I probably had a virus and that it was not the antibiotics. I stopped drinking alcohol and I stayed on the antibiotics for a further month, but my symptoms only worsened until my abdominal pains, panic attacks and agoraphobia were so severe I could not leave the house. I could barely walk and my stomach was so sore I could hardly stand upright.

After a month of this I went to stay with my dad for the weekend to get some rest. Whilst I was there, I could not stop the state of panic that gripped me from morning till night. On the second day, my dad suggested we go for a walk to ‘clear the lungs’, but it was during that day that I had my first ever thought that I wanted to end my life. I visualised jumping off the hill and I felt like I wanted to do it. I almost fainted on the spot.

Diagnosed with clinical depression and generalised anxiety and panic disorder

A week later, back at the GP, I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression, generalised anxiety and panic disorder. I was given an anti-depressant and spent the next three months trying to recover.

My family researched the antibiotics and found many people described their guts being in bits after taking these tetracycline drugs. I stopped taking them and my abdominal pains and symptoms subsided significantly.

Upon returning to work, I was still left with frequent bizarre mood swings, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), depression and anxiety that plagued me for about a year until March 2011, when I changed my job to something less stressful in order to cope with my chronic health problems.

Brief upswing, but only brief

I spent over a month battling to come off the anti-depressant, because I hated the side effects and thought it wasn’t really helping me much anyway. Eventually I kind of levelled off and spent a few months feeling really good in my new job at an outdoor pursuits shop and as a climbing instructor.

In December 2011, after a night of beers at a friend’s party, I woke up to severe abdominal pains and panic attacks again, almost identical to the ones I had had the year before. I then battled long and hard for four months to stay in full time work.
This period was one of the most awful experiences of my life as I would wake up every morning in a state of panic, trying to battle weird intrusive thoughts in my head. I would spend nine hours a day having constant intrusive thoughts about attacking customers, spitting in their faces, jumping off the upper floor balcony to my death or dropping clients on the climbing wall whilst I was holding the rope. Couple that with the anxiety, depression and constant diahorrea, and you can imagine how horrible my existence had become. By March 2012, I was back in the doctor’s chair begging for help again, but I was given the same anti-depressant as last time and told, ‘you will be fine’.

After a month off work, I returned with some energy but knowing I was still very unwell. My male pride wouldn’t allow me to be ill, so I continued to battle on, this time on a part time basis. My family suggested I try and get some help from alternative therapists to deal with my mood swings, suicidal tendencies and bizarre thoughts about killing anyone and everyone that just looked at me.

Alternative options

In the next four months, I participated in reiki, EFT, homeopathy, acupuncture, counselling, group therapy, shiatsu and even a round of shamanic healing. Treatments would either do nothing, or work for a few days and then send me back down into suicidal despair.

By June I could no longer commit to a part time contract and had another breakdown at work where my manager found me banging my head on a stock room wall, wailing in pain as I described how intense my obsessions about killing customers or committing suicide had become. He was very understanding and told me not to be afraid of being unwell and, with that, I took his advice and signed myself off again.

This time I was determined to get better and thought I should really push to see a psychiatrist or someone that could unravel the problems in my head. Why was I so ill? What do these thoughts mean?

Psychotherapy, hypnotherapy and Buddhism

At the end of June, I visited a psychotherapist who told me that she thought hypnotherapy might be good for me. I agreed, and spent an hour under hypnosis. Upon emerging from this woman’s house I realised that I was cured, that it had all been in my head and that I must now dedicate my life to Buddhism, which I had been practising for a year to cope with the mental and physical agony. I immediately booked myself on a weekend Buddhist retreat, which I attended four days after the hypnotherapy.

While meditating for 4–5 hours a day for three days, I began to have extreme feelings of euphoria as if I was on hallucinogenic drugs mixed with a crate of Red Bull. I was barely sleeping but I was so happy to be alive! I began to have delusions I was going to become the next Buddha and possibly start my own lineage.

When I described this to my Buddhist masters, they couldn’t believe that someone who was just starting out in Buddhism could have such moments of transcendence so soon. They didn’t know I had just been hypnotised and been on psychiatric medication.

Upon returning home and telling everyone around me that I was cured and absolutely fine, I noticed my feelings leave me gradually, until, a week later, I was suicidal again and back asking for more hypnotherapy, which didn’t work at all this time.


So, by July, I was again suicidal, depressed, angry, very ill and no closer to discovering what the hell was wrong. After pondering my illness for some time and realising that anti-depressants were not working, I started to read more about different psychiatric ailments, most notably bipolar disorder.

Having experienced weekly mood changes that would either be very high or suicidal, I found many similarities between my own condition and that of bipolar disorder. I didn’t fit this diagnosis completely, but I was filled with hope that maybe I was just on the wrong medication and that my stomach problems, depression and thoughts of stabbing every man, woman, child and their dog were just a symptom of being on the wrong medication, so I stopped taking the anti-depressants and started to read books on treating mood disorders with herbs and vitamins.

I had some success, but was still left with the frequent mood swings that were now getting so bad I was refusing to leave the house when I was depressed, and, by the end of August, my doctor finally agreed to let me see a psychiatrist. Hurray! I thought, at last someone to help me.

Try psychiatry? Just more drugs...

The psychiatrist couldn’t diagnose me with a mood disorder and, as I have no psychosis but elements of many conditions that come and go, she suggested trying a different anti-depressant, Prozac. I agreed in the hope of proving to them that I was compliant so that, if it didn’t work, I could get what I wanted, which I thought would be a really good, awesome-sounding mood stabiliser.

Three days into Prozac, I was very, very, very suicidal. I was ruminating constantly about whether to go and jump in front of a bus or a train – but couldn’t decide which. I would find myself swinging from intense feelings of mania to terrible feelings of actually wanting to kill someone so badly I could feel my arms twitch with excitement.

I came off Prozac and concluded that psychiatry was never actually going to help me, apart from treat my symptoms, and they had even failed at that.

So, after all that time, I was no closer to getting better or even knowing what had gone on. I would spend hours staring at my bedroom ceiling pleading with some spiritual entity to give me answers or allow my family to understand why I had taken my life and allow them to live on happily without me. And then, as if by magic, I discovered a documentary channel article on orthomolecular medicine.

Orthomolecular medicine and gut bacteria problems

It was the story of a father in Canada curing his own son of bipolar disorder using mega doses of vitamins and minerals. The father has since gone on to develop the most researched multi vitamin in the world, called Truehope Empower plus. They have people all over the world claiming their psychiatric conditions are in remission as a result of using this product. I cried buckets on watching this film and knew I needed orthomolecular medicine to get to the root of my issues. Treat the cause, not the symptoms! Yes that was right, finally a branch of medicine that can actually work.

In October 2012, I visited the Brain Bio centre in Richmond, though I don’t know how I made the trip on my own. I remember sitting next to this lady constantly having intrusive thoughts about head butting her in her sleep. I remember when she opened her eyes and smiled at me I thought, ‘if only you knew!’

At the Brain Bio centre, I met a nutritionist who spent an hour advising me that she thought I had gut bacteria issues brought on by my antibiotic use, and that she thought wheat and dairy were having a large effect on my health. I agreed to pay for lots of private lab tests that the NHS don’t use and I agreed to cut out wheat and dairy and wait six weeks to hear back from her.

Those 6 weeks were the happiest weeks of the previous year. My moods began to stabilise, I got back in the gym and I even started dating again, finding myself a new girlfriend. All my problems solved by not taking milk and wheat!

In December, I received a call from the nutritionist who advised me an IgG food intolerance report had come back with positive results for about 10 foods. My homocysteine levels were sky high and I was deficient in many vitamins and minerals. She advised that, if I started eating the foods I was supposedly not intolerant to, I would be on my way! So I went out to the shops and loaded up on gluten-free pasta, potatoes and beans – all the things I thought would be OK!

Potatoes and beans cause major flare up

Within a day of eating a meal of potatoes and beans I was incredibly suicidal. My obsessions returned, my acne and psoriasis flared, and my stomach was in bits. I looked like death, with huge black circles under my eyes. Not again! I frantically called my nutritionist who said that the new foods must be doing this to me and to keep playing with foods until I was OK. I spent the whole of December locked away in my bedroom barely able to function as I was unknowingly eating the wrong foods for my body.

Finally, at the end of December, I had had enough of handing over my body for professional help and decided to become my own ‘doctor’. Being my own doctor meant I would not have to pay £150 an hour to speak to someone that looked like they didn’t care, I would always have my doctor on hand, and my new doctor had my best interest at heart. ‘Cheap but amazing’ I thought.

Heal yourself – with the help of GAPS

So, with my newly created fictional qualifications and dogged determination, I read, watched, viewed and listened to every book, video, film and medical journal I could find. I needed answers.

I read many famous books by the likes of Abram Hoffer, Mark Hyman, Andrew Saul and many other functional medicine practitioners. Eventually I came across a book called ‘Gut and Psychology Syndrome’ by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, a neuroscientist and nutritionist. This book was a revelation: the answer, the sign I had been looking for. My prayers had been answered!

Upon reading this book, I realised that I was the absolute poster boy for this condition. At last I knew what had happened to me. The antibiotics I had been taking had caused gut dysbiosis, candida overgrowth and leaky gut syndrome. I read the book three times in a couple of weeks, constantly knowing it was about me the whole time. All my symptoms matched so closely with what is in this book. I was astounded.

With that discovery, I stopped eating high starch foods, went onto gluten-free grains and started taking anti fungal herbs and extracts. After three weeks of absolute hell, the clouds cleared again and I was about 80-90% better. I was thinking of going back into work and I finally felt life was back in me again.

Goat's milk triggers a relapse

At the end of February this year, someone suggested I try goats milk. I agreed, and within a couple of hours of drinking it, I was suicidal again for days. By this time, I thought ‘enough is enough’, I knew what I was dealing with and I thought GAPS was the only way. I did three weeks of the GAPS diet but progressively got worse and worse until eventually my body could no longer handle it and I went back to eating the foods I was eating before it.

That was at the start of March and I’m still no closer to getting better. I have now found I get abdominal pains almost consistently with every meal, I’m now reacting to foods I didn’t even think I was reacting to before, and my whole body is a complete mess.

I seem to be riddled with immediate and delayed reactions to foods that mean my mood is changing almost on the hour, every hour. It's almost impossible to find foods that I don't react to.

A recent visit to a gastroenterologist was alarming. When I described my history and reactions to foods he laughed at me and told me, ‘it’s all in your head’.

Medication free but far from stable

So, as it stands at the start of April 2013, I’m still in a constant state of bizarre and crazy fluctuations. However, I am medication-free and pleased to say I have not experienced any euphoria or mania whilst being off them. I’m currently awaiting a SIBO breath test, gastroscopy and duodenal biopsy on the NHS, all of which I imagine will come back negative. Even if any are positive, it will mean more drugs and no help with my condition, which conventional medicine will not accept.

I have seen eight GPs, three psychiatrists, one psychotherapist, one counsellor, one gastroenterologist, one nutritionist, and countless alternative therapists. Only one has given me any help, so it hasn’t been that good so far. I’m hoping that avoiding grains and keeping to a rotating paleo diet will give me some rest until my results are back, and then I have to make a decision as to where I next spend money. So far, the cost is too much to even think about!

There is still plenty of hope with many treatments and professionals yet to see. Unfortunately it is very clear that this is something I cannot do on my own and I need someone to help with what presents as a very complex case.

After reading about John Scott’s story, and following recent communications with him, I’m very hopeful I will one day be in his position as someone who has lived to tell the tale. So, having lost my job, my car, most of my weight, and many of my possessions to pay for treatments, not to mention the many friends who I have not seen in years, there is still plenty of fight left in me no matter how delusional or depressed I become after eating.

I just hope my suffering will one day come to an end and be a lesson for us all on just how damaging antibiotics can be, but also how woefully inadequate conventional medicine is in dealing with problems concerning the gut-brain connection.

I’m still yet to have any medics agree with me. Most of them don’t even know what leaky gut is and they look at me like I’m a freak. I sometimes question my own hypothesis and sanity at times, but recent communications with practitioners of ecological medicine have left me in no doubt that I can at least live knowing I discovered what was wrong.

Recent discoveries of provocation neutralisation, enzyme potenitiated desensitisation, helminthic therapy, medicinal cannabis, ecological medicine and even water fasting have all been added to the list of possible sources of help. I think, for now, I will hold on and wait before making my next move which will obviously involve parting with yet more money. Hope, faith and belief in myself is something I cling to constantly.

I would also like to mention my family and friends, and my beautiful girlfriend, who have, and are currently, keeping me alive with their continuous support. One day the gut-brain connection will be something we are made aware of at the start of ill-health, not just after years of suffering, when one is at the point of death.

Foods Matter and the people I have found through it, have been a tremendous help recently. Please look out for updates as to what and where I go from here... Hopefully, this is a success story in the making!

First published in 2013

If anyone has any comments that they feel would be helpful, please email them to and we will add them to Jonny's story. John Scott tells us that Jonny is now working with Margaret Moss, many of whose excellent articles appear on this site (just put her name into the search box to find them) so we will look forward to hearing how he gets on.

Alternatively, check in to Jonny's own blog where you can also leave a comment.

From Paddy James:

Well what a nightmare for the poor chap.
He needs to try the Stone Age Diet. Meat, fish, veg (not potatoes), fruit - possibly cheese, rice. No sugar or yeast.
Good book by Leon Chaitow called Stone Age Diet; see also his The Antibiotic Crisis.
Biolab, London for leaky gut tests and info.
What Doctors Don't Tell You website and now the full colour magazine in W. H. Smiths, Tesco, Waitrose, etc.
Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients - website or from the Nutricentre bookshop to buy monthly.
All of these are fully aware of leaky gut. Doctors usually just want a symptom to find a pill for.
Ref. eggs - yolk usually OK (a German friend told me this years ago when I refused her breakfast egg!) - the white stops uptake of Biotin to brain.
Pancreatic enzyme supplements; tyrosine and kelp if thyroid affected, rhodiola for stress and adrenals.
Look up vagus nerve and sympathetic nervous system - connection between brain and stomach and all systems in-between.
My son had terrible stomach problems after whiplash, the doctor laughed, the osteopath explained the sympathetic nervous system and soon got it sorted.
Free from foods and the Coeliac advice? I believe that basic naturally gluten free foods are the best - I use rice cakes daily and maize flour occasionally. I use seed and nut bars. The new 9 bars are good - I am sesame sensitive so I only can have the Nutty one. I have goat's milk.
It takes time to get things sorted when you have had various prescription drugs which have affected the stomach and also the brain. Things can get through the blood/brain barrier
Low stomach acid can prevent food digestion (doctors only think of high stomach acid) - I take betaine hydrochloride.

From Ebony Gordon:

Hi, I would just like to say I had a similar journey after spending years on and off anti-biotics for recurrent tonsillitis, I was originally a veggie as well and although I ate organic home cooked food and studied nutrition I ended up feeling more and more ill I was in chronic pain and was often housebound for a number of reasons.
I was on various pharmaceuticals over the years anti diabetic, anti histamine, sleeping tablets, diet pills, anti inflammatory, pain killers, ant depressants etc... I now take zero medication. I used to be house bound a lot with chronic back pain, joint pain and chronic fatigue. I was allergic to cats, dogs, dust, pollen, grasses, wool, fragrance and lots more I had bad IBS and lots more.
I spent years going to doctors and trying all sorts of pills for my many ills, nothing helped and created new problems, spent loads buying all sorts of herbal pills and potions.
I decided to treat myself and started to research the optimum human diet and wrote my own ebook about my slow recovery. One of the best book I read for my research was by Dr Richard Mackerness 'Not all in your mind' In fact I put a dedication to him in my ebook!
I called my ebook 'Get well or die trying:An earthlings guide to healthy eating.

To cut a long story short I now have a couple of 'conditions' that are supposedly incurable, polycystic ovary syndrome and hyper-mobility. These are manageable and it feels good to finally have ditched the extremely long list of ailments just by changing what I eat!
Good luck with your healing, and take solace that there are quite a few of us on the same journey!!!

From Jo:

I've also been on a crazy journey not unlike Jonny's. I would like to suggest that there are many secondary effects of gluten intolerance that may need to be addressed if symptoms and ill health prevail. Heavy metal toxicity (amalgam fillings), hidden gut infections (eg candida), nutritional deficiencies, other food allergens, cross reactive foods, probiotic insufficiency. Dr Vikki Peterson has an excellent site, where you can find super information that could transform your health. I hope you're doing well Jonny. Never give up! I haven't thus far, Jo.

From Janey:

I have just read Jonny's story and, having gone through something similar, (not identical but with some similarities) I thought it might be interesting to tell you that I discovered I had a compromised immune system, and have been able to optimise it by identifying and fixing my central hypothermia.
Perhaps my story might help others. Clearly fixing a sub optimally selected operating set point may not entirely fix the immune system, but it has enabled mine to operate optimally. I have some residual things to fix and am now more able to look at these lesser problems through nutrition and supplementation.

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