Does This Antibiotic Make Me Look Fat?
Many factors have been suggested to explain the obesity epidemic. The historically unprecedented super-sizing of America and the rest of the developed world has been attributed, variously, to: high intakes of refined sugar; to the rise in television viewing; growing dependence on corn; the flooding of the marketplace with high fructose corn syrup; the prevalence of highly-processed foods in our diets; too much fat in the diet; the supremacy of the automobile…you name it, it’s probably been blamed.
But there’s another candidate emerging, and it’s one few of us would ever have suspected: Antibiotics. Specifically, antibiotics prescribed during a crucial developmental period during early childhood. It seems so unlikely; that a penicillin prescription given in childhood to cure an ear infection could cause one to become obese later in life. But emerging research suggests this may well be the case. According to research published recently in the journal, Cell, the use of antibiotics during a crucial developmental window can alter the makeup of the microbes living in the intestines, with lasting metabolic consequences.
Since the dawn of modern antibiotics, scientists have known that antibiotic use is associated with weight gain. It’s the very reason farm animals are plied with antibiotics; they gain weight much faster when fed the drugs. The same applies to humans. But, inexplicably, this side effect of antibiotics has largely been ignored. No one knows for certain why antibiotic use is linked to greater, faster weight gain. But according to the report in Cell, there is a crucial window during which antibiotics can alter the gut microbiome in some fundamental way, with the final result that immune system function and metabolism are altered.
In mice, the use of penicillin during this developmental period resulted in animals that gained far more weight when consuming a high-fat diet than their antibiotic-free litter mates who ate the same diet. They were more prone to store excess calories as fat.
Laura M. Cox, Shingo Yamanishi, Jiho Sohn, Alexander V. Alekseyenko, Jacqueline M. Leung, Ilseung Cho, Sungheon G. Kim, Huilin Li, Zhan Gao, Douglas Mahana, Jorge G. Zárate Rodriguez, Arlin B. Rogers, Nicolas Robine, P’ng Loke, Martin J. Blaser. Altering the Intestinal Microbiota during a Critical Developmental Window Has Lasting Metabolic Consequences. Cell, 2014; 158 (4): 705 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.05.052