Infant mice are affected by antibiotics. This disrupts trillions of microbes and slows down their metabolism.
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Is it possible that antibiotics can cause an infant to gain weight for decades? Although it seems unlikely, a team of researchers at New York University’s Langone Hospital Center has confirmed that the possibility exists. A child may be affected by antibiotics during critical periods of their development.
Dr. Martin Blaser, Ph.D. and Laura Cox, postdoctoral researcher, wanted to understand how antibiotics affect the microbiome, the trillions of bacteria living on and within our bodies.
It’s a bad start
The researchers tested their theory by exposing groups of mice to penicillin at low doses in a series experiments.
One group received antibiotics beginning in the last week of the baby’s development and ending when the pups had been weaned. The second group was given antibiotics from the womb, and continued for life. The third group received antibiotics from the time they were weaned and continued to receive them throughout their lives. The fourth group did not receive any antibiotics.
Two groups of mice that were exposed to antibiotics in the womb or during nursing had a greater likelihood to gain weight than those who were not given antibiotics.
Which is better, chicken or egg?
Researchers had to determine if the metabolic changes that they observed were due to antibiotics or changes in the bacteria in the mice’s stomach.
The scientists removed bacteria from the stomachs of mice that had been treated with antibiotics, and then transferred it into mice that were specially bred not to have any native bacteria. These “germ-free mice” also became obese in adulthood. This indicates that the root cause of the problem is altered gut bacteria, not direct antibiotic exposure.
Researchers had another surprise in store. The conventional wisdom is that antibiotics decrease the number of microbes found in the gut. This allows microbes to survive and thrive with less competition.
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- Is this evidence that parents should not give their children antibiotics? Cox disagrees.
She said that the decision should be made based on the doctor’s recommendations and the severity of the disease. “Antibiotics can affect the microbiome, which could have negative health consequences. However, a life-threatening infection may have serious health consequences.”
Modern medicine is built on antibiotics. It would be almost impossible to treat common infections and perform safe surgery without antibiotics. The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria in recent decades due to overuse in hospitals and farms has made it very difficult to treat.
Probiotics: Are they the solution?
Researchers may one day be able to create a probiotic that contains all the right bacteria to restore a gut that has been damaged by antibiotics. Cox believes so.
She said that although there are a few probiotics on the market, considering the diversity of the gut, there is not much to choose from. “We are open to trying new organisms we believe could be beneficial, and to see if they can speed up our recovery from taking antibiotics.”
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The ultimate goal of the research is to restore natural microbial communities in the gut and improve metabolic health. However, many of the organisms that the researchers discovered have not been named or studied. This means it may take years to determine which organisms are crucial for metabolic health and which ones could be potentially dangerous.