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Antibiotics and the newborn’s health

Photo credit The Javorac via Flickr

Antibiotics have their purpose – for killing pathogenic bacteria and getting rid of infection in your body.  The problem is that antibiotics also attack good bacteria that we need to stay healthy. Science has not yet solved the problem to make antibiotics specific just for the pathogens.

A new study at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (using infant mice) showed that antibiotics given to the mother before birth could cause harm to the infant by killing important gut bacteria.  The scientists found that specific gut bacteria release chemicals that tell the developing lungs in an infant when to build immune cells, how many to make, and when to use them.

A potential problem exists when the mother is given antibiotics during late pregnancy. The antibiotics not only treat the mother, they also enter the unborn child. Mothers in late pregnancy are typically treated with antibiotics before undergoing Caesarians to prevent Strep infections. However, the scientists found that this led to a disruption of the gut bacteria in the newborn which made them more susceptible to pneumonia.  Dr. Deshmukh, who led the study, suggested that excessive antibiotic use early in life could explain why people with low genetic risk factors develop asthma and other lung diseases later in life.

Bacteria in our body, centered primarily in our gut, outnumber our body’s cells by a factor of 10:1 and number in the trillions.  Antibiotics unfortunately indiscriminantly wipe out many of these good bacteria. In addition to lung diseases, researchers are also looking at possible links to Type 1 Diabetes and Crohn’s Disease, Autism Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, and psychosis. An extreme treatment dosage of antibiotics given to juvenile mice showed that they developed 40% fewer brain cells compared to a control group that was not fed antibiotics.

A study recently performed at the Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin attempted to determine whether killing beneficial gut bacteria (again in mice) had any effect on the creation of new neurons in the brain — a process that is important for memory formation, and a number of mental health issues such as schizophrenia and depression.

So the lesson to be learned here is if antibiotics are necessary, take them only for short term use. Pregnant mothers should carefully consider whether an antibiotic is of absolute necessity or whether it is being given just for prevention.  Consider taking probiotics, eating pickled foods or yogurt to help replace beneficial gut bacteria or just for everyday maintenance. Imagine being able to potentially improve our mental health through our gut bacteria.  If even some of this research is true, then realize the risks to your health and that of your baby when you start popping antibiotics.

Some of the most colorful sights underwater are not just the fish.  They can also be the coral.  A healthy coral reef is like an artist’s pallete.

Tube coral on Belize reef


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