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Infant Antibiotic Use Linked to Disease in Adulthood

May 14, 2015 12:46 PM EDT
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As scientists across the nation worry over the issue of antibiotic resistance, which seems to have us utterly surrounded, new research has revealed that infant antibiotic use is linked to various diseases later in adulthood.

A team of researchers led by the University of Minnesota have found a three-way link among antibiotic use in infants, changes in the gut bacteria, and disease later in life. The imbalances in gut microbes, called dysbiosis, have been tied to infectious diseases, allergies and other autoimmune disorders, and even obesity as an adult.

They published their findings in the scientific journal Cell Host & Microbe.

Antibiotics are by far the most common prescription drugs given to children, accounting for about one-fourth of all medications prescribed to them. What's more astonishing is that a third of these prescriptions are considered unnecessary. This significant overuse of antibiotics scientists worried that we are rapidly approaching a "post-antibiotic era," in which common infections and minor injuries can kill, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization. In fact, primary treatments for a number of life-threatening bacterial infections are already not effective in at least 50 percent of the world's patients. (Scroll to read on...)

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Now, this latest study - in combination with prior research - has shown profound that antibiotics can have profound short- and long-term effects on the diversity and composition of the bacteria in our bodies, called our microbiome.

"Diseases related to metabolism and the immune system are increasing dramatically, and in many cases we don't know why," Dan Knights, the study's senior author, said in a statement. "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 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.

The researchers also examined the development of bacteria in the gut. They found that they could predict an infant's age within 1.3 months just by looking at the maturity of their gut bacteria. This discovery has potential clinical importance, and could lead to a clinical test 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."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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