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New study claims antibiotic use in babies is linked to development of allergies, certain chronic illnesses

1 week 13 hours 32 minutes ago Monday, November 16 2020 Nov 16, 2020 November 16, 2020 7:56 AM November 16, 2020 in News
Source: CNN

Health experts now say that children younger than two who are given antibiotics are more prone to developing a number of chronic illnesses or conditions later in life, CNN reports.

Babies and toddlers who were administered one dose of antibiotics appeared more likely to develop asthma, eczema, hay fever, food allergies, celiac disease, problems with weight and obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder later in childhood, according to the study published Monday in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Multiple antibiotic treatments below the age of two were associated with the eventual development of multiple conditions, the study found, with the illnesses differing due to the child's gender, age, type of medication, dose and number of doses.

"We want to emphasize that this study shows association, not causation, of these conditions," said senior study author Nathan LeBrasseur, a researcher at Mayo Clinic's Center on Aging. "These findings offer the opportunity to target future research to determine more reliable and safer approaches to timing, dosing and types of antibiotics for children in this age group."

Researchers examined data from over 14,500 children who are part of the Rochester Epidemiology Project, a long-term study which analyzes the medical records of volunteers in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Some 70% of the children in the study had been administered at least one antibiotic, with most receiving multiple antibiotics, CNN reports.

"Among children who received one or two prescriptions, only girls were at significantly higher risk to develop asthma and celiac disease compared to those unexposed," LeBrasseur and his team wrote. "By contrast, receiving three to four prescriptions was associated with a higher incidence of asthma, atopic dermatitis, and overweight in both sexes, ADHD and celiac disease in girls, and obesity in boys."

Babies of both sexes who received five or more prescriptions had "significantly higher risk to develop asthma, allergic rhinitis, overweight, obesity, and ADHD," the study found. 

Girls were at higher risk of celiac disease.

The study revealed that penicillin, one of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics, was associated with "increased risk for asthma and overweight in both sexes, celiac disease and ADHD in girls, and obesity in boys, whereas they were associated with reduced risk for autism in girls."

Another commonly prescribed antibiotic, cephalosporin, was linked to higher risk for the greatest number of conditions and, "uniquely, autism and food allergies," the study found.

The findings lead some to wonder why antibiotics might have such an impact?

It's perhaps due to the disruption of the bacteria in a baby's gut, which is necessary for the proper development of the immune system, neural development, body composition, and metabolism, LeBrasseur and his team explained.

Antibiotics do not distinguish between "good" and "bad" bacteria in the digestive tract. Instead, they eliminate all of them and leave the gut without the appropriate microbiome distribution. But humans need certain bacteria to absorb nutrients, break down foods in intestines, and protect the entire digestive system from pathogens.

A recent abundance of research about our microbiome has observed it can play a role in everything from how we respond to chemotherapy to our brain chemistry and immune response.

"When antibiotics were first developed and deployed, the overwhelming consideration was control of pathogens. We now realize that their widespread application has considerable collateral effect on the microbiome, which may be of special importance in developing children," the study said.

That said, many health experts aren't suggesting the abandoning of all antibiotics.

"Minimizing antibiotic use can be helpful to prevent antibiotic resistance, but there may be a role in preserving the microbiome based on this study," said pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu, author of "Baby and Child Health" and the American Academy of Pediatrics' "Heading Home with Your Newborn." 

Shu was not involved in the study, CNN notes.

"Of course, further studies would be needed to corroborate or refute these findings," she said, because it's unclear if the study's findings are "correlation or causation."

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