Do Antibiotics Weaken Your Ability to Fight Disease?
New research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests antibiotics affect microorganisms in the digestive tract – called the gut microbiome – interfering with the immune system's ability to fight infection. According to the researchers, antibiotics weaken immune system cells called neutrophils, make them less effective in fighting disease, and diminish the intestinal barrier against invading organisms like bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
The researchers analyzed stool samples from children in the urban slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and determined that children with more severe infections had less diversity in their gut microbiome. They noted that antibiotic use is widespread in low- and middle-income countries, and children often receive more than two dozen treatments by age 2. Next, they conducted an experiment in mice and discovered that antibiotics disrupted gut microbiomes, and decreased the activity of neutrophils, preventing them from fighting infection.
In addition, the intestinal barrier that helps protect against disease in the mice was compromised, increasing the risk for infection. This discovery provides yet another reason to avoid overuse of antibiotics, according to researchers.