Link Between Obesity and Antibiotic Use

Researchers are now discovering a link between obesity and the previous use of antibiotics.  It is known that most infections in common every day life do not require thee use of antibiotics.  Many infections are simply viral infections where the antibiotics have no power in resolving the infection.  Then, many of the bacterial infections are self-limited and can be treated effectively by simply treating the symptoms.

One result of the over use of antibiotics is the development of resistent organisms.  This is now to the stage where it is not uncommon to have an horrible infection for which the doctor does not have a suitable antibiotic to use due to resistance of the bacteria to the antibiotics.

Now we are learning that the over use of antibiotics can impair the immune system.  It can cause all kinds of havoc in the body, including development of arthritis.  And now we are seeing the link to obesity.

Read on….

Eric J. Topol, MD; Martin J. Blaser, MD

Eric J. Topol, MD: Hello. I’m Eric Topol, editor-in-chief of Medscape, and I am pleased to have Dr Martin Blaser join me for this One-on-One interview. Dr Blaser runs the Human Microbiome Center at New York University, and has been a leader in infectious diseases for decades. It’s great to have a chance to talk to you about the hottest area of medicine today: the microbiome.

Dr Topol: You were more of a traditional infectious disease specialist when you started.

Dr Blaser: Yes; clinically, I was a specialist in infectious disease, and my research was about pathogens. I started with Campylobacter, an organism that causes diarrhea, and then a new Campylobacter was discovered in the stomach. It was also called Campylobacter, but ultimately they changed the name to Helicobacter pylori. I’m still following the thread that began in 1977, when I saw a patient with Campylobacter bacteremia.

Dr Blaser: I’m working in a particular area of the microbiome. It’s an area that I think has importance.

The basic idea is that the microbiome is ancient. The organisms that we carry are not random; they have been selected over eons of evolution. They are important for our physiology, and there is a lot of evidence for that. My big point is that they are changing. As a result of the change, there are health consequences.

One of the good health consequences is that as Helicobacter is disappearing, there is less stomach cancer. That’s good news, but as Helicobacter is disappearing, there is more esophageal disease and asthma. Both of these have been linked to the lack of Helicobacter.

I believe that there is a general paradigm that we are losing important organisms early in life, and that is fueling some of the diseases that are epidemic today. We have been studying this in the lab.

Dr Topol: You have noted many factors, such as the big rise in C-sections, that changes flora from birth, and the use of antibiotics in a promiscuous way. What other factors have been contributing to this? What practices are changing the landscape of disease?

Dr Topol: Do you think that obesity in epidemic proportions is anchored to the microbiome changes?

Dr Blaser: I do, and that is a central area of the work that we are doing. It is based on an observation that goes back 70 years. Farmers found that they could increase the growth of their livestock by giving them low doses of antibiotics. They found that the earlier in life they gave the antibiotics, the more profound the effect—and that is what we are doing to our kids.

Dr Topol: Beyond the antibiotic use, there have been changes in diet. For example, dietary guidelines—the low-fat diets with high carbohydrates, or the diets with high red meat ingestion—do these dietary changes have a material effect?

Dr Blaser: The most important dietary change is the move from breast milk to formula. That is the most important. There is a lot of evidence that obesity is beginning in childhood. It’s beginning very early. The seeds are there, and that is fueling the growth, even before kids have a chance to become couch potatoes. It’s before there are big changes in diet.

We’ve done studies in mice in which we can show that giving mice antibiotics early in life makes them fat. Putting mice on a high-fat diet makes them fat, and putting them on both together makes them very fat, suggesting the idea of additive risk.

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