Giving kids too many antibiotics might be setting them up for a number of problems later in life, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota. Antibiotics account for about one-quarter of all prescriptions given to children, but about one-third of those antibiotics are unnecessary. Unfortunately, those unnecessary antibiotics are most likely causing serious harm down the line.
The human body contains a lot of beneficial bacteria, mostly in the digestive tract. These bacteria, which make up a microbiome within the human body, are incredibly diverse, and like any ecosystem, our microbiomes are carefully balanced. These bacteria develop with us; it’s even possible to figure out how old a child is just by studying the bacteria in their body. And unfortunately, if anything happens to those bacteria, say one or two strains are wiped out by an antibiotic, they’re impossible to replace. Internal bacteria are like fingerprints in that they’re unique to each of us.
Antibiotics are used to treat all kinds of bacterial infections, but when they don’t have invasive bacteria to go after, they sometimes kill off beneficial bacteria, which can cause problems down the line. According to a recent study out of the University of Minnesota, interrupting bacterial development in children can result in a weakened immune system, allowing for the development of autoimmune diseases or making it easier to contract infectious diseases. It can also lead to the development of allergies and even obesity later in life.
The researchers hope that their study can help to develop a roadmap for future research. Such research might focus on the development of bacteria, and help us to determine when key developments happen, and how to ensure that they do occur without interference by antibiotics. It also stands as a warning to take more time when prescribing antibiotics to prevent their overuse. Parents should still consult doctors when their children become sick, but those doctors should be taking the time to carefully and correctly diagnose those children, to make sure that they actually have a bacterial infection that requires treatment.