By Heather Callaghan
As the gut microbiome becomes the newest hot topic in medical science, researchers are welcoming natural and nutritional approaches to optimal health and preventing disease.
A lot of studies take a doom-and-gloom tone about the devastating effects on the world from generations of immersion in antibiotics – in animals, in food and in early childhood. Some have even traced the damage to the immune system from before conception. Many are warning that there is no hope except through dramatic worldwide intervention (which includes new vaccines, newer stronger drugs).
But studies like this one from New University of British Columbia not only dissect immune-damage wrought by early use of antibiotics, but also offer some hope in correcting the problem, especially in young children.
Canadian research found that receiving antibiotic treatments early in life can increase susceptibility to specific diseases later on.
Most bacteria living in the gut play a positive role in promoting a healthy immune system, but as they say, antibiotic treatments often do not discriminate between good and bad bacteria. The study published today in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology helps scientists understand how different antibiotics affect good bacteria.
Kelly McNagny is a professor in the Dept. of Medical Genetics who led the research along with UBC microbiologist Brett Finlay.
This is the first step to understanding which bacteria are absolutely necessary to develop a healthy immune system later in life.
The researchers tested the impact of two antibiotics, vancomycin and streptomycin, on newborn mice. They found that streptomycin increased susceptibility to a disease known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis later in life, but vancomycin had no effect. The difference in each antibiotic’s long-term effects can be attributed to how they changed the bacterial ecosystem in the gut. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is an allergic disease found in people with occupations such as farming, sausage-making, and cleaning hot tubs – aka “farmer’s lung.”
Of course, researchers emphasize that infants should be treated with antibiotics when needed, but they hope these results will help pinpoint which bacteria make us less susceptible to disease. That would be a truly valuable concept – in an ideal world, a baby would not have need to have an infection treated in the first place. Just as overuse of antibiotics and other environmental factors could weaken posterity’s immunity, so too can nutritional repair strengthen the genetic line.
They say these findings could open up the possibility of boosting helpful bacteria through the use of probiotics.
What McNagny said next gave me pause.
Probiotics could be the next big trend in parenting because once you know which bacteria prevent disease, you can make sure that children get inoculated with those bacteria.
What? Really? Of course the typical use of the word inoculation – meaning vaccination – wouldn’t make much sense when like he says, you can take probiotics – or change the amount in your diet, like through fermented foods or even exercise. He is using the word in the real sense – protection through the introduction of a microorganism.
In a sense, this writer is glad to finally see a closer examination of antibiotics’ effects on the gut and immunity as well as an integrated approach to well being – as long as consumers can maintain their health freedom along the way.
*This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and AllerGen NCE, a national research network funded by Industry Canada through the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) Program.
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