Home > Man-Made Disasters, Pestilence > Antibiotics: Killing Off Beneficial Bacteria … for Good?

Antibiotics: Killing Off Beneficial Bacteria … for Good?


By Maryn McKenna – “It’s an accepted concept by now that taking antibiotics in order to quell an infection disrupts the personal microbiome, the population of microorganisms that we all carry around in our guts, and which vastly outnumbers the cells that make up our bodies. That recognition supports our understanding of Clostridium difficile disease — killing the beneficial bacteria allows C. diff room to surge and produce an overload of toxins — as well as the intense interest in establishing a research program that could demonstrate experimentally whether the vast industry producing probiotic products is doing what it purports to do.

But implicit in that concept is the expectation that, after a while — after a course of antibiotics ends — the gut flora repopulate and their natural balance returns.

What if that expectation were wrong?

In a provocative editorial published this week in Nature, Martin Blaser of New York University’s Langone Medical Center argues that antibiotics’ impact on gut bacteria is permanent — and so serious in its long-term consequences that medicine should consider whether to restrict antibiotic prescribing to pregnant women and young children.

Early evidence from my lab and others hints that, sometimes, our friendly flora never fully recover. These long-term changes to the beneficial bacteria within people’s bodies may even increase our susceptibility to infections and disease. Overuse of antibiotics could be fuelling the dramatic increase in conditions such as obesity, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies and asthma, which have more than doubled in many populations.

Among the findings he cites in support: The population-level observation that the incidence of infection with H. pylori, the bacterial cause of gastric ulcers, has declined over decades just as the incidence of esophageal cancer has risen. In addition, he offers his own research group’s observation that children who don’t acquire H. pylori are at greater risk of developing allergy and asthma, and their findings that eradicating H. pylori affects the production of the two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, that play a role in weight gain.” Read more.

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