Mounting evidence is finding that the use of antibiotics in children could increase the risk of diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and type 1 diabetes. For example, a new study published in Genome Medicine has shown that even a short, single antibiotic course given to young animals can predispose them to inflammatory bowel disease when they are older.
Researchers believe that the use of antibiotics in children under one year old can disrupt beneficial microorganisms such as intestinal microbiota, which play a crucial role in the healthy maturation of the immune system. Study co-author Martin Blaser, director of the Rutgers Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine said, “This study provides experimental evidence strengthening the idea that the associations of antibiotic exposures to the later development of disease in human children are more than correlations, but that they are actually playing roles in the disease causation.”
For the study, researchers examined the effects of exposure of dextran sulfate sodium in mice that had received antibiotics and those who had perturbed microbial contents transplanted into their intestines versus a control group. Dextran sulfate sodium is a chemical known to injure the colon.
In trying to determine whether disease risk was due to the disruption of the microbiome from antibiotics, researchers found that the mice that received either the antibiotics themselves or received the antibiotic-perturbed microbiome had significantly worse colitis. This was able to confirm the researchers’ hypothesis that exposure to antibiotics changed the microbiome, altering the immune response in the colon and worsening the experimental colitis.
“The use of a well-validated model of colitis enabled us to study the effects of prior antibiotic exposures on the development of an important disease process,” said lead author Ceren Ozkul.
Broad-spectrum antibiotics have been shown to contribute most to microbiome disturbance. Broad-spectrum antibiotics are antibiotic medications that are effective against both gram-positive as well as gram-negative bacteria. This means that not only are the pathogenic organisms destroyed, so are a lot of the normal, healthy microflora.
The human gut microbiome is a complex, highly evolved community that plays an essential role in response to disease and how well the body maintains homeostasis. Altering it at such a young age is thought to have a significant impact on overall health. This research helps to continue the work on the hypothesis of many doctors who believe that disrupting the microbiome is one of the leading factors driving modern epidemics.
Many studies have shown that rebuilding the gut microbiome after a course of antibiotics is essential in regaining overall health. More research is needed to understand what treatments would be appropriate for children who have received antibiotic treatment, and with clinical trials, the risk of inflammatory bowel disease could potentially be reduced and colon health improved.