Study Finds Antibiotics Hamper Immune System’s Ability To Fight Diseases

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Antibiotics have been a cure-all for bacteria-borne conditions like strep throat or ear infections for many of us since childhood, but a recent study may make you think twice next time your doctor prescribes you penicillin. A recent study found that antibiotics weaken neutrophils — important immune cells that help ward off diseases — particularly when it comes to intestinal bugs.

University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers sought to better understand which type of bacteria or other microorganisms make up gut microbiome. They analyzed bowel movement samples from children who lived in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh and discovered that those with severe infections showed less diversity of gut microbiome. The authors point to the fact that children poorer countries are frequently given antibiotics when ill, with many treated more than two dozen times by age 2.

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A new study finds that antibiotics weaken the immune system response, particularly when it comes to fighting infections centered in the gut. (Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash)

In another experiment, the researchers studied six mice in order to determine how diseases might be worsened by a decrease in intestinal flora (gut bacteria). They found that antibiotics interfered with vital white blood cells and hindered neutrophils, decreasing the immune response when it was most needed and leaving the gut open to a bacterial attack.

The authors believe this shows the barrier for the gut doesn’t hold strong after being compromised by the antibiotics.

“Neutrophils play an important role as a first-line ‘innate immune response’ when foreign pathogens invade,” explains co-author Koji Watanabe in a news release. “We found that antibiotic disruption of the natural microbes in the gut prevented this from happening properly, leaving the gut susceptible to severe infection.”

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The researchers hope the findings will push more physicians to consider other options when prescribing medication to patients.

“I think the take-home is that this is another important reason not to use antibiotics unless they are clearly needed,” says researcher Dr. Bill Petri, the chief of UVA’s Division of Infectious Diseases.  “Unwise use of antibiotics not only increases the risk of multi-drug resistant bacteria and the risk of C. difficile infection but also impairs white blood cell function.”

This study’s findings were published in August 2017 in the scientific journal PLOS Pathogens.

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