Bugs, Drugs, and Obesity

An elegant study of bugs, drugs, and obesity in mice suggests antibiotics early in life can the stage for obesity. It could be that the use of antibiotics in young children — much of which is widely acknowledged to be unnecessary — can cause considerable harm later in life.

Cox et al: Altering the Intestinal Microbiota during a Critical Developmental Window Has Lasting Metabolic Consequences

Cox et al: Altering the Intestinal Microbiota during a Critical Developmental Window Has Lasting Metabolic Consequences. Click the image to read the study in Cell.

Professor Jodi Lindsay of St. George’s University of London, who was not involved in this study, commented on the findings, saying:

This paper presents the strongest evidence so far that antibiotics in early life can predispose to obesity. Even though the studies were performed in mice, they provide a likely explanation for why antibiotic use in children can be associated with obesity. Further research in humans is now needed, and in particular to understand whether antibiotics are more or less important than diet and other factors on obesity, or whether they work together. The evidence that males are more prone to antibiotic effects on obesity also requires further investigation. It is vital that we understand how antibiotics affect our health overall, especially because many antibiotics are used unnecessarily.

This paper provides more than just a reason for caution against irrational antibiotic use. The authors tell us:

We’re excited about this because not only do we want to understand why obesity is occurring, but we also want to develop solutions. This gives us four potential new candidates that might be promising probiotic organisms. We might be able to give back these organisms after antibiotic treatments.

Clues for testing better strategies to address obesity are a good cause for excitement.

“Though the doctors treated him, let his blood, and gave him medications to drink, he nevertheless recovered.” ― Leo Tolstoy

Click here to read the study in Cell, here to read more in Medical News Today, and here to read a recent review of the role of microbiota in obesity.

Nicole, photograph © Luis Hoyos / flickr

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