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Overuse Of Antibiotics Leads To Immune Defects, Bowel Disease

Two new studies have highlighted the importance of judicious antibiotic use.

Photo Insert: The study found a distinct dose-response relationship between IBD risk and antibiotic use.

One study found antibiotics can increase a person’s risk of fungal infections by causing defects to immune system activity in the gut, while another study suggests heavy antibiotic use in old age is linked to higher rates of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s, Rich Haridy reported for New Atlas.

The first study, a collaboration between the US and UK, wanted to understand why people in the hospital treated with antibiotics tend to have greater rates of fungal infections.

The focus was on a dangerous fungal infection known as invasive candidiasis. Many people may be familiar with a common yeast infection known as thrush. This is caused by a fungus called candida. These infections can enter the bloodstream leading to invasive candidiasis.

“To figure out why this was happening, we analyzed the immune cells in the gut to figure out how antibiotics caused a defective anti-fungal immune response,” explained lead author Rebecca Drummond in an article for The Conversation.

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“Immune cells in the gut make small proteins called cytokines that act as messages to other cells. We found that antibiotics lowered the amount of these cytokines in the gut, which we think is part of the reason the antibiotic-treated mice couldn’t control fungal infection in the intestines or stop the bacteria from escaping,” she added.

Treating the mice with immune-boosting cytokines could help counteract the harm of antibiotics.

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The second study, yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal but set to be presented at the upcoming Digestive Disease Week conference, found a significant correlation between antibiotic use and the development of inflammatory bowel disease in those over the age of 60 years.

“Among older adults, we think that environmental factors are more important than genetics,” said lead researcher Adam Faye, from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

“When you look at younger patients with new diagnoses of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, there's generally a strong family history. But that is not the case in older adults, so it's really something in the environment that is triggering it.”

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To investigate the potential relationship between antibiotic use and the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) the researchers looked at nearly 20 years of health record data encompassing more than two million people between the ages of 60 and 90.

The study found a distinct dose-response relationship between IBD risk and antibiotic use. One course of antibiotics increased a person’s risk of developing IBD within five years by 27 percent; two courses increased the risk by 55 percent; three courses by 67 percent; four courses by 96 percent; and five or more courses increased a person’s risk of IBD by 236 percent.

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