Antibiotics Linked to More Health Problems

Illustration of giant funnel force-feeding pills to patients, making them obese

Researchers are linking more long-term, damaging side effects to use of certain antibiotics, which are among the most often prescribed medications in the world. According to studies published recently in research journals:

  • Four antibiotics known as macrolides – erythromycin, Zithromax, Biaxin and quinolone – carry a small but statistically significant risk for sudden cardiac death
  • Children exposed to more and longer doses of antibiotics are more likely to be obese as adults
  • Early use of antibiotics carries an increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes

Link to Sudden Cardiac Death

The link between macrolides and sudden cardiac death was reported in the Nov. 9 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers analyzed 33 studies involving some 20 million patients over the last 49 years. What they found, according to an editorial accompanying the report, was that one in 8,500 patients treated with the drugs could develop a serious heart rhythm problem, and one in 30,000 might die. While the incidence was rare, the fact that millions of these drugs are prescribed each year could reflect a significant number of deaths, according to experts in the field.

Antibiotics Could Make Children Fatter

In what they called the largest and longest study so far looking at how antibiotic exposure affects body mass index (BMI), researchers reported in the October issue of the International Journal of Obesity that children exposed to antibiotics were more likely to gain weight, retain that weight, and gain more weight over time.

Lead researcher Brian Schwartz, professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the weight gain likely was linked to the antibiotics’ destruction of healthy microbes in the gut.

Early Use of Antibiotics Carries Risk of Type-2 Diabetes in Adulthood

A study published in August of 2015 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that people who develop type-2 diabetes used significantly more antibiotics – even 15 years before they were diagnosed – than people without the disease.

Although the study didn’t establish a cause, authors say they have two theories: one is that people who later developed type-2 diabetes were more vulnerable to infections as children and so took more antibiotics, or, antibiotics themselves raise the risk of type-2 diabetes. The second theory was that early antibiotic use had been linked to childhood obesity, which would predispose these children to type-2 diabetes in adulthood.

Antibiotic-Resistance Becoming Urgent Concern

Antibiotics came into wide use 70 years ago and have saved millions of lives. However, because of frequent use, some bacteria have adapted to become resistant to the drugs meant to kill them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed 18 such bacteria as cause for urgent concern. The top three on the CDC’s list are Clostridium Difficile (C. diff), Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), and Neisseria gonorrhoeae (the cause of gonorrhea).

According to the CDC each year in the United States at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.

Given the new research findings and the crisis of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, parents, families, doctors – everyone – needs to do their part to live a healthy and hygienic lifestyle that will reduce our need for antibiotic use. For most of us, it could be a simple matter of increased hand washing to avoid getting sick.

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