The Hidden Consequences of Antibiotic Overuse

CONSEQUENCES of long-term antibiotic use may be even more extensive than previously thought; this is according to research that investigates one of the undesirable side-effects of antibiotic consumption, namely the disruption of benign gut microbes.

Prof Andrey Morgun, Assistant Professor, College of Pharmacy, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA and colleagues aim to boost awareness of the extensive harm that antibiotics do to the gut, and offer new methods to explore and counteract the effects.

The use of antibiotics is widespread, approximately 40% of adults and 70% of children take at least one per year, and billions of animals are treated with them. Antibiotics eliminate life-threatening infections when used properly, but around one in ten people treated with these suffer adverse side-effects. Recent research suggest that antibiotic use, especially overuse, is associated with a range of problems that affect, among other things, glucose metabolism, immune function, digestion, and behaviour.

“Just in the past decade a whole new universe has opened up about the far-reaching effects of antibiotic use, and now we are exploring it. The study of microbiota is just exploding. Nothing we find would surprise me at this point,” said Prof Morgun.

Antibiotics were previously thought to only kill intestinal bacteria and block some immune functions in the gut; however, the new study shows that they also destroy cells in the intestinal epithelium. The team also learned that antibiotics affect a gene that is critical to the communication between host and gut bacteria. Disruption of host-microbe dialogue can not only impair digestion, cause diarrhoea and increase the risk of developing ulcerative colitis, but new research has also linked it to immune function, obesity, food absorption, depression, sepsis, asthma, and allergies.

Studies like this support the idea that eradicating bad bacteria with antibiotics is perhaps not a suitably safe way to deal with infections, given the increasing list of side-effects and challenges they present. Prof Morgan suggests that enhancing the healthy bacteria to outcompete the unwanted ones may present a more effective route.

Alex Watt

(Image: freeimages.com)

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