Antibiotics are among the most widely used drugs around the world. Although many of the existent antibiotics are fundamental in the treatment of various health conditions, misuse of these medicines can cause long-term health consequences. For instance, a study on the use of antibiotics in infants and very long children increases the risk of childhood obesity.
The research, which appears in the International Journal of Obesity, highlighted how giving antibiotics to infants between the ages of twelve and fourteen months or younger and even toddlers can disrupt the gut microbiota which, in turn, elevates the risk for obesity.
Previously, a number of studies using animal models have shown that strong antibiotics cause metabolic issues which lead to the development of issues including weight gain by affecting the bacteria present in the gut.
On the other hand, clinical trials including humans have also shown that antibiotics use may impact the colonization of gut microbiota at an early age and may cause abnormalities that may contribute to the body weight index and obesity later during childhood mostly between the ages of twelve and fourteen.
In one section of the Growing up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcome (GUSTO) birth cohort, research led by Dr. Neerja Karnani who is the Assistant Professor at NUS Medicine’s Department of Biochemistry, and Professor Lee Yung Seng, who is the Head of Paediatrics at NUS Medicine investigated further on the impact of antibiotic exposure in infancy.
Some of the other principal investigators of the study were Dr. Jia Xu and Dr. Ling-Wei Chen from SICS. So far, the research is among the very few which examine antibiotic use in infancy and childhood and the potential effect on metabolism and weight gain.
According to the findings of the study, antibiotics can impact the essential bacteria present in the gut in addition to the infectious, pathogenic bacteria. This can have long-term effects especially when antibiotics are prescribed and use repeatedly in a child.
Consequently, the development of gut bacteria that takes place during childhood is also hindered which affects the metabolism of the child.
The researchers explained that the human body is dependent on gut bacteria for providing essential nutrients needed for a stronger immune system and better digestion which is why they start developing immediately after birth.
During infancy and early childhood, the process of development of gut microbiota is sensitive and can be affected by multiple factors, one of which is antibiotic use. Many of the broad-spectrum antibiotics are often strong enough to kill all bacteria in addition to the pathogenic ones.
In children, this can have greater consequences in comparison with adults who have developed their microbiota.
In accordance with Prof. Lee, the findings of the study have important implications regarding children’s health in the future since childhood obesity is, at the moment, one of the biggest concerns, which has also been increasing over the past few years.
Based on the study, doctors and health professionals may have to consider the potential negative outcomes of administrating antibiotics in the future and decide if the benefits outweigh them.
Not only will doing so address the issue of childhood obesity but also the growing concern of antibiotic resistance due to which doctors are already discouraging the use of antibiotics unless it is absolutely necessary as it can increase the risk for becoming resistant to the medicine.