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Antibiotic exposure of children under the age of two could have lifetime health impacts, according to a large retrospective study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

While antibiotic overuse is associated with drug-resistant germs, researchers from Mayo Clinic and Rutgers focused on another issue as they reviewed the medical record data of 14,572 children born in Minnesota between 2003 and 2011.  These scientists wondered whether early childhood use of antibiotics could be associated with development of a variety of diseases related to cognitive, immunological, and metabolic function.

At the core of their curiosity is a growing body of evidence that points to the importance of the human microbiome in mediating immune, metabolic, cognitive, and other capabilities throughout life.  The human body, inside and out, is home to trillions of microorganisms that outnumber human cells by about a factor of ten.  Research on the microbiome is big news these days as we learn about the microbiota that we live with every moment of our lives.

At birth, our microbiome is unique and determined by our DNA. At birth and when breastfed, a baby receives microorganisms from its mother.  Still later, the eating and other habits of a child, and later adult, continue to shape and nurture their microbiome throughout life.

In this study, 70 percent (or 10,220) children received at least one antibiotic between birth and two years of age, and most of these children received multiple antibiotics.  Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for young children with ear or respiratory infections.  While several types of antibiotics were prescribed, the most commonly provided were oral penicillins, macrolides (azithromycin, erythromycin), and cephalosporins (Ceclor, Keflex).

Some key points of the research include:

  • Girls and boys prescribed one course of antibiotics showed a higher incidence of conditions including allergic rhinitis, asthma, overweight, and ADHD.
  • Girls had a higher likelihood of developing celiac disease and atopic dermatitis, while boys had a higher propensity for developing obesity after exposure to antibiotics.
  • After three or four courses of antibiotics, higher experience of overweight, asthma, and atopic dermatitis was noted in both genders.
  • For both genders, receiving five or more antibiotic prescriptions was associated with higher risk of ADHD, allergic rhinitis, overweight, and asthma. Girls were found to be at higher risk of celiac disease.

Notes study author Dr. Martin Blaser with Rutgers, “The findings…provide evidence for broad and delayed effects of early life antibiotic exposures and should change doctors’ practices in how often they prescribe antibiotics, especially for mild conditions.”

It is important to note the study found an association between the administration of these antibiotics with the development of the conditions and diseases noted.  The study does not suggest a causal link between antibiotics and development of these issues.

The microbiome has been referred to has our “second brain.”  Research continues to suggest the importance of supporting the life within us in order to live human life to its fullest.  Antibiotics are important tools to support our health—when needed.

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