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Do Antibiotics Cause Enduring Harm To Helpful Gut Bacteria?

    Sep-14-2010

We are all aware that antibiotics kill bacteria or inhibit their growth curing us from numerous ailments. However, it is also true that use of antibiotics may also result in temporary stomach upsets. Nevertheless, what has given rise to concern is that recent researches hint that repeated use of antibiotics may even set off enduring modifications in the beneficial microorganisms that inhabit our gut. In fact, this singular issue has given rise to questions regarding persistent ill effects of using antibiotics.

Thus far, no one is aware whether taking antibiotics on a regular basis results in health problems at a later period. However, the findings of one of the several researches undertaken to learn whether antibiotics harm the beneficial bacteria in the gut has raised several questions regarding the manner in which customized bacterial zoo that flourish inside our intestines are formed and if taking the erroneous variety or dosage of antibiotics has a role in illnesses ranging from obesity to inflammatory bowel diseases to asthma.

Although we are now going to discuss a story about fecal matter, there is no need to become nauseous. During the course of a recent research on the issue of whether antibiotics are harmful for the beneficial microorganisms inside our stomach, three hale and hearty adults collected stool samples for several weeks to enable the scientists to precisely count the manner in which two different rounds of a reasonably mild antibiotic resulted in a surprising shift in the population of the microbes' netherworld. The findings of the study revealed that while the number of some original families of microbes dropped drastically, some other types of germs took their place filling the vacuum.

At the same time, this is also a narration regarding the manner in which we cohabit with trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms in our skin, nose as well as the digestive tract - which the scientists designate as the human microbiome. While several of these microbes are useful for our health - a number of them are even essential, particularly the gut bacteria whose role in maintaining our overall health has not been appreciated enough.

According to Dr. David Relman of Stanford University who also headed the research on the use of antibiotics, the microbes in out gut are basically vital for the development as well as strengthening our immune system. The findings of the study that was published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also hinted that we should, however, not presume this to be the ultimate truth. Subsequently, Dr. Relman intends to find out whether taking antibiotics during the initial (one or two) years of life - at the time when infants form what later comes to be known as their distinctive set of gut bacteria, appear to prompt children to diseases related to the immune system at a later stage in their life.

Meanwhile, most scientists and medical experts suggest that antibiotics, irrespective of their type and dosage, should always be used with caution since they have the potential to stimulate bacteria that causes infections to become immune to drugs. The latest research led by Dr. Relman has raised serious questions regarding the adverse consequences antibiotics may produce on the beneficial or useful bacteria. In addition, questions have been raised whether the aberrations in the microbiome (bacteria, fungi and other microbes) are actually related to our health problems and the manner in which these changes may precisely commence.

According to a microbiome expert at the New York University's Langone Medical Center, Dr. Martin Blaser, it is important that people, especially scientists, should focus on this issue. Although Dr. Blaser was not a member in Dr. Relman's team that undertook the study on finding the harmful effects of antibiotics on beneficial gut bacteria, he says that he intends to undertake a research on the subject involving children. He says that what is of most importance is that, biologically speaking, the use of antibiotics is not unrestricted.

It is interesting to note that all of us are actually born with a digestive tract that is basically disinfected. Nevertheless, with a few days of birth, an infant's gut is infested with bacteria received from his/ her parent, environment and the first foods ingested. Eventually, the intestinal tract of a hale and hearty individual swarms with several hundred species of microorganisms - their largest concentration in the body. A number of these microbes play a vital role in helping us to digest the ingested foods as well as the reactions of our immune system.

Scientists have detected that people who are not in the pink of their health have more microbes in their gut. For instance, it has been found that compared to lean people, those who are obese actually shelter dissimilar types and amounts of gut bacteria. In addition, it has been discovered that when one loses the extra flab, it may alter the composition of the bacteria in the gut. In addition, scientists have also detected relation between the change in bacteria makeup to several digestive ailments and pre-cancerous colon polyps (small growths on the inner colon lining that may or may not result in cancer). In fact, some scientists are even pursuing a theory that says that use of antibiotics in the early stages of life disturbs the development or growth of microbiome in ways that may encourage auto-immune problems, such as allergies and asthma.

Precisely speaking, there is no antibiotic that can differentiate between beneficial and harmful bacteria. Therefore, they kill or inhibit the growth of both types of bacteria. Nevertheless, Dr. Relman and his associate research scientist Les Dethlesfsen are still unsure the tenacity of the gut bacteria and the fast and fitting manner in which they actually bounce back. As a result, these scientists appointed hale and hearty unpaid assistants or volunteers who had not used any antibiotic during a minimum of one year period. These volunteers were asked to take to five-day regimen of Cipro, an antibiotic, once in every six months.

While these volunteers did not complain of diarrhea or stomach upset even after taking the antibiotic course, samples of their excreta revealed that plenty of changes were going on in their body unnoticed. The assortment of original microbe species in their gut dropped drastically to a third in most of the volunteers, while in 33 per cent of the volunteers these original germ species were eliminated completely allowing other microbes to take their place. Interestingly, when the microbe composition was counted after a week the volunteers stopped taking the antibiotic, it was found that every two of three of them had their level of original bacteria species restored in their gut. The remaining volunteers (33 per cent) continued to endure a changed composition of bacteria in their gut for another six months.

What is, however, surprising is that the researchers noticed a fresh round of elimination and change when the volunteers took the second round of the Cipro regimen. However, this time, the scientists found that none of the volunteers' composition of original gut bacteria had been restored to the stage that existed before taking the antibiotic in another two months, by the time when the research had come to an end.

Stating that history matters, Dr. Relman informed that his subsequent research would involve finding the types of jobs performed by bacteria, such as aiding in the maintenance of intestinal barriers against infection, that were affected most owing to the use of antibiotics. His next research would also focus on the subject of whether the new microbes were capable of actually replacing the original microbe species completely. At the same time, Dr. Relman cautioned that they need to be additionally cautious regarding the recurring harms.

However, it needs to be remembered that antibiotics are not solely responsible for disturbing the natural flora. A number of different researches undertaken on the subject have discovered that babies who are born by cesarean have very dissimilar types of bacteria initially compared to those who are born vaginally. This probably provides a clarification regarding the fact that babies born through surgeries are at a greater risk of having specific infections. Similarly, compared to babies who are born on completion of the full term, the gut bacteria in babies born prematurely contain more of the germs that are usually found in hospitals.

Dr. Relman says that the major issue is the time when such discrepancies will actually matter. At the same time, he acknowledges that thus far they are not smart enough to ascertain this subject.

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