Researchers from the University of Minnesota, in a new study, have found that the use of antibiotics in infants changes the gut bacteria, and has been linked to disease later in life. The imbalance in the gut microbes, which is called dysbiosis, has been tied to infectious diseases, allergies, other autoimmune disorders, and even obesity later in life.
The study was led by Pajau Vangay, a Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology program graduate student fellow. During the study, they also developed a predictive model that may help in measuring the healthy development of bacteria in the gut of young children. Their findings were published in the scientific journal Cell Host & Microbe.
Antibiotics are by far the most common prescription drugs given to children.
They account for about one-fourth of all medications prescribed to children, with a third of these prescriptions considered unnecessary. Other studies have shown profound short- and long-term effects of antibiotics on the diversity and composition of the bacteria in our bodies, called our microbiome, wrote Science Daily.
“Diseases related to metabolism and the immune system are increasing dramatically, and in many cases we don’t know why,” said the study’s senior author Dan Knights, a computational biologist and assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering and Biotechnology Institute.
Executive Director Dr. Gilbert Ross, from the American Council on Science and Health, doesn’t believe there’s a link between antibiotics and childhood obesity:
Science Daily wrote that Knights and his colleagues developed a framework to map how antibiotics may be acting in the gut to cause disease later in life. In the case of allergies, for example, the use of antibiotics may eradicate key gut bacteria that help immune cells mature.
These cells would have been essential for keeping the immune system at bay when confronted with allergens. Even if these bacteria return, the immune system remains impaired. Related to obesity, antibiotic-induced changes in the gut microbiota resulted in increased levels of short-chain fatty acids that affect metabolism.
“Previous studies showed links between antibiotic use and unbalanced gut bacteria, and others showed links between unbalanced gut bacteria and adult disease.
“Over the past year, we synthesized hundreds of studies and found evidence of strong correlations between antibiotic use, changes in gut bacteria, and disease in adulthood,” Knights said.
The development of bacteria in the gut was also studied by the scientists. The researchers were also able to demonstrate that an infant’s age could be predicted within 1.3 months based on the maturity of their gut bacteria.
Their findings may lead to the development of tests and interventions for children whose microbiome is developmentally delayed due to antibiotics or other factors.
“We think these findings help develop a roadmap for future research to determine the health consequences of antibiotic use, and for recommendations for prescribing them,” Knights said. “The clinical test we demonstrated would also allow us to think about interventions at an early age.”
Antibiotic use in children may lead to obesity:
In addition to Knights and Vangay, researchers involved in the study included Tonya Ward, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota Biotechnology Institute, and Jeffery Gerber, a researcher with the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The researchers said there was a need for further studies into the long-term effects on infants when given antibiotics.
“We recommend future studies into the microbiome-mediated effects of antibiotics focused on four types of dysbiosis: loss of keystone taxa, loss of diversity, shifts in metabolic capacity, and blooms of pathogens.
Establishment of a large and diverse baseline cohort to define healthy infant microbiome development is essential to advancing diagnosis, interpretation, and eventual treatment of pediatric dysbiosis. This approach will also help provide evidence-based recommendations for antibiotic usage in infancy.”
There has been a lot of conversation around this topic among researchers and doctors, with neither side really agreeing as a whole. Hopefully, there will be further research so more doctors will be able to agree with the results. At the end of the day, it’s doctors that we go to, so let’s hope they get on board and work with the researchers.