Antibiotics are a commonly prescribed treatment for children, but a new study suggests that they may also increase a child’s chances of developing certain health problems later in life.
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, but researchers also believe they may have adverse effects on gut bacteria, which is tied to our health. Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are thought to be partially caused by changes in our gut bacteria.
The new study aimed to find out if taking antibiotics would have an effect on a child’s gut bacteria and whether these changes could be linked to certain health problems.
Researchers from the University of Helsinki studied 236 children between the ages of two and seven. Fecal samples were taken from children who had received antibiotics in the recent past.
Researchers analyzed the fecal samples to see which gut bacteria were present and in what amounts. The results were compared to samples from children who had not received antibiotics in the recent past.
The study found that children who took antibiotics had significantly altered gut bacteria compared to children who did not. As well, the changes in the composition of gut bacteria were still present after two years of taking antibiotics. This suggests that antibiotic use can lead to long-lasting, or even permanent, changes in gut bacteria.
One specific class of antibiotic was found to have more of an effect. Macrolides, which are commonly prescribed for lung infections, were found to cause the most significant changes. In comparison, penicillin had less of an impact.
As well, researchers found that the changes in gut bacteria from using macrolides raised a child’s risk of developing obesity or asthma later in life. The results suggested that antibiotic use could harm a child’s immune system and overall health.
“Nevertheless, early life use of macrolides predisposed to overweight and asthma,” concluded the researchers. “These results suggest that even transient microbiome disturbance in early life may have long-term effects on the metabolic and immunological health of the child.”
The results of the study are in line with animal studies that have linked antibiotic-use to health conditions like asthma. According to the researchers, the “results confirm and extend previous results from mouse experiments and indicate that macrolide use may have undesired effects on the developing microbiota of children, which may compromise the development of a healthy immune system and metabolism.”
The researchers believe that physicians should restrict the use of macrolides in children. The results of the study also indicate that overprescribing antibiotics could cause serious health effects.
Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for conditions they do not treat, such as viral infections. Overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are harder to treat. The results of this latest study are another cautionary note against using antibiotics without a proper diagnosis.
The researchers say that antibiotics should never be used “just in case.”
Sources for Today’s Article:
Korpela, K., et al, “Intestinal microbiome is related to lifetime antibiotic use in Finnish pre-school children,” Nature Communications web site, January 26, 2016; http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2016/160126/ncomms10410/full/ncomms10410.html.