Antibiotics are the most common prescription drug given to children nowadays, and in a new study in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, researchers discuss the connection between antibiotic use in infants, imbalance in gut bacteria and the development of disease later in life.
“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,” explained Dan Knights, an assistant professor specializing in computational biology at the University of Minnesota.
Researchers found that using antibiotics destroys the communities of gut bacteria that help immune cells mature. Even if or when these colonies return, the immune system remains impaired.
By altering the gut microbiota, and thus the immune system very early in life, antibiotics can negatively influence long-term health. There is mounting evidence that dysbiosis, defined as an imbalance in gut microbes, can cause potential harm to emotional and physical health. Dysbiosis has been linked to infectious diseases, allergies, autoimmune disorders, behavioural disorders and even obesity, later in life.
For example, several studies point to a link between gut bacteria and autistic-like behaviour. A more recent study, published in April 2015, reveals how gut microbes are important for the production of serotonin, a brain chemical traditionally associated with the regulation of emotions and behaviour. Now, scientists estimate that 90% of serotonin is made in the gut, and imbalances in serotonin production outside the brain are linked to diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Stay tuned for more on serotonin and how changes in gut microbes affect emotions and behaviour.
SOURCE: Antibiotics, Pediatric Dysbiosis, and Disease, Pajau Vangay et al., Cell Host & Microbe, published online 13 May 2015.