The Antibiotic Cipro Damages the Batteries in Your Cells

We’ve seen many patients over the last decade or two whose lives have been ruined by quinolone antibiotics, like Cipro. Why? We usually see them for severe chronic tendon problems. Turns out that, in addition, these antibiotics, like so many drugs, work by inhibiting an enzyme that bacteria and your cells need. Basically, a case of unintended consequences. Let me explain…

Understanding Ciprofloxacin and Other Quinolone Antibiotics

Ciprofloxacin, known commonly as Cipro, is easily the most popular antibiotic in the quinolone family, but it’s only one of many; quinolone (short for fluoroquinolone) antibiotics also consist of levofloxacin (Levaquin), ofloxacin (Floxin) norfloxacin (Noroxin), and many others. The most common way to know if you’re dealing with a quinolone antibiotic is by “-floxacin” in the generic drug name.

Quinolones are prescribed to fight bacterial infections, and the list of issues they treat is long, including bone and joint infections, urinary tract infections, skin infections, dental infections, respiratory infections, and so on. Unfortunately, however, many people cannot tolerate quinolone antibiotics, and some can even suffer devastating effects, such as the patient below who experienced severe antibiotic tendonitis following a prescription of quinolone antibiotics and prednisone:

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Mitochondria: Powerhouse of the Cell

In order for our cells to function, for all of the other cell structures to accomplish the job they need to do, our cells have to have power, a way to “keep the lights on” so to speak. That’s the job of the mitochondria. The mitochondria live in the cytoplasm of the cell, and their job is to convert the nutrients from food into a chemical energy source that powers our cells. If mitochondrial power is jeopardized, it weakens the cell. If the power is shut off, the cell is useless—no work can be done and it dies. This is why healthy mitochondria are very important in keeping cells healthy.

There are many things that can damage mitochondria, and one of those may be what’s behind the many Cipro side effects. Let me explain.

Cipro Side Effects: Damaging Effect on the Mitochondria

The new study researched the response of mitochondria to the quinolone ciprofloxacin. They found that the same process that allows the ciprofloxacin antibiotic to inhibit a specific enzyme (topoisomerase) in bacterial invaders, thereby killing the bacteria, inhibits the same enzyme in our healthy cells. This particular enzyme is imperative to mitochondrial function. During the study, ciprofloxacin not only stopped the human cells from growing and differentiating into other cells but also disrupted the ability of the mitochondria to produce energy for the cell.

What does this mean? If mitochondrial processes are disrupted when ciprofloxacin is taken, and this results in weakened or dead cells, this effect is passed through tissues and structures that the cells supply. For example, as tendon cells weaken and die, these Cipro side effects are likely to result in damaged and ruptured tendons.

What Else We Know About Quinolone Antibiotics

We know that some people tolerate quinolones better than others, and another study suggests that the reason some have such devastating effects when taking these drugs may simply be due to a genetic predisposition.

The link between quinolones and tendon damage is well known. For example, we’ve known for nearly a decade now that quinolone use has been linked to Achilles tendon ruptures. Tendon damage also seems to be due to an effect that the drugs have on our cells as quinolones have also been shown to have a toxic effect on our stem cells, the body’s repairmen. Our tendons have their own healing stem cells, and when these cells are damaged, they can’t repair the tendon, leading to further injury.

The upshot? Cipro, like so many other drugs, is like a bull in the china shop of your cellular chemistry. On the one hand, it can kill bacteria; on the other, it harms your cells as well. In the meantime, if you’ve had tendon problems due to taking a drug like Cipro, don’t despair. We’ve seen good results with precise, image-guided, high dose platelet-rich plasma injections to help heal the damage!


Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.