This study was published in November of 2015 and conducted in Sweden (at The Karolinska Institute) and the United Kingdom (at Helperby Therapeutics Ltd.). Sixty-six healthy adults participated in this two-centered randomized placebo controlled clinical trial. It was designed to give new insight to the short term and long term affects that antibiotic use has on the gut microbiota.
Here's a quick biology lesson: Microorganisms are the microscopic organisms that live throughout the entire human body, and their specialty, quantity and complexity is vast. Gut microbiota (or gut flora) is the collective community of microorganisms that reside in specific areas of the digestive tract. These gut microbiota are crucial for digestive function and health, as well as immune health.
The goal of the researchers was to analyze the negative affects and the apparent risks involved with antibiotic use, "especially in a (diseased) population with an already (impaired) microbiome." It is easy to say that antibiotics are hard on your gut, but I appreciate the depth to which this study goes to explain WHY. I am going to focus on 3 main observations from this study.
1. "Lactose-arabinose metabolism and fermentative butyrate-producing pathways were amongst the most significantly reduced functions" observed when taking one of the four antibiotics administered in this clinical trial. Lactose-arabinose metabolism is simply defined as the breakdown of lactose, which was observed to be undermined a month after taking these drugs. Butyrate is incredibly important because as this study explains, "production of butyrate has been associated with positive effects on gastrointestinal health by butyrate functioning as an energy source for (colon cells) and by inhibiting inflammation, carcinogenesis, and oxidative stress on the gut." It is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that is responsible for energy, increased cholesterol synthesis, reducing serum lipids (which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease), nourishing the colon mucosa (which reduces the risk of colon cancer and treats colitis), and other accolades. This corresponds with a "severe and long term impact on the health-associated butyrate-producing microbial community of the gut," or in other words, those microbial responsibly for producing butyrate had significantly reduced numbers after one-time antibiotic use.
2. "Excessive and incorrect use of antibiotics results in the emergence of both specific-drug-resistant and multidrug-resistant bacterial strains, also known as 'superbugs.'" This study goes on to explain how "exposure to different antibiotics result(s) in an increased abundance of genes associated with antibiotic resistance." Along with the increase in superbugs, there is an noticeable increase in the cases of ectopic diseases such as asthma, eczema, and inflammatory bowel disease. What is also interesting is that the "United Kingdom population had a higher antibiotic resistant gene load at the beginning of the study," which was apparent in their findings because the United Kingdom study volunteers had a higher antibiotic resistant gene load than the Swedish volunteers. This is believed to be accredited to an intentional decline in the number of antibiotics used and prescribed in Sweden over the last twenty years. I would be curious to see if there is also a measurable difference in the number of ectopic diseases in Sweden versus the United Kingdom as a result of their initiative to reduce antibiotic use.
3. Of the four antibiotics administered in this study, the "long term microbial shift" is evident 1, 4, and even 12 months after taking just one. While the actual medication may only be taken for 5 to 10 days, the effects last up to a year. It is no wonder that society is seeing such an increase in antibiotic related digestive issues given the fact that most people will take more than one dose of antibiotics within a 12 month period of time, and the body is not allowed time to recover.
Upon the advent of antibiotics, mankind has benefited immensely and found a greater sense of peace and quality of life due to their existence. It is important to not get too comfortable in overusing them to the point where there is no longer a benefit, and worse, we are creating more devastating monsters then the ones they originally sought to destroy. If an antibiotic is truly necessary, and it oftentimes is, there are ways to at least help the body recover. Remember: Probiotics...the Benefits are Endless and vital in helping the digestive tract to rebalance after antibiotics.
To view the study in its entirety (in PDF form), click on this link below:
- Microorganism: a microscopic organism, especially a bacterium, virus, or fungus
- Microbiota: the microorganisms of a particular site (or area of the body)
- Microbiome: the entire habitat of microorganisms, their collective genetic material, and their surrounding environmental conditions (in or on the human body)