The next time your doc prescribes a round of antibiotics, here is something you may want to think about: a study published in the journal Cell Host Microbe points out that antibiotic treatment can actually make the body more vulnerable to infection by helping other types of harmful bacteria flourish in the gut.
We know from previous studies that antibiotics can wipe out many of the good bacteria in the gut along with the bad bugs they are meant to target, but until now scientists did not fully understand the process by which they helped other bad bacteria grow. Now, University of California Davis researchers believe they may be a step closer to explaining exactly what happens in the gut.
In essence, when antibiotic treatment depletes our friendly bacteria it prevents those good microbes from breaking down fiber in the gut—a process that results in the creation of an organic acid called butyrate, which provides a source of energy and hydration for the cells in the intestinal lining. Preventing our beneficial bacteria from breaking down fiber also prevents them from consuming oxygen, which leads to more oxygen in the gut… and you can guess where this is going.
While some harmful bacteria flourish in the absence of oxygen, others—including Salmonella—actually grow better in an oxygen-rich environment, thereby increasing the risk of infection. “In essence, antibiotics enabled pathogens in the gut to breathe,” said study author Andreas Bäumler in a recent statement about the study’s findings.
Combined with everything we know about widespread antibiotic resistance giving rise to a new wave of “superbugs,” this study spotlights the benefit of carefully weighing the pros and cons before taking antibiotics. On a positive note, many hospitals across the country are now starting to provide probiotics along with antibiotics to increase the numbers of friendly, health-promoting bacteria in the gut.