Antibiotics directly responsible for allowing deadly superbugs to take hold in the gut: Research

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: antibiotics, deadly superbugs, gut bacteria

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(NaturalNews) New research out of Stanford University in California has proven that commercial antibiotics are a major cause of, and not a solution to, the deadly "superbug" epidemic currently sweeping the globe. A recent analysis of the gut's microbial ecosystem and its collective response to invading pathogenic bacteria has revealed that antibiotics not only kill off all the protective, beneficial microbes found naturally in the gut but also inadvertently feed and sustain any harmful ones that have been introduced, allowing them to take hold and wreak major havoc on the immune system.

Dr. Justin Sonnenburg, Ph.D., an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford, and his colleagues made this discovery after carefully observing the effects of antibiotics on the body within the first 24 hours following oral intake. For their experiments, the team introduced Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (B. theta), a beneficial gut microbe, into the systems of mice purposely bred to be free of all germs, including all friendly ones, a scenario designed to realistically mimic the gut environment following a course of antibiotics. They then followed this up with the administration of various harmful bacteria in a series of separate experiments.

After introducing Salmonella typhimurium (S. typhimurium) in one group of mice and Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) in another, the team found that the mice's otherwise bacteria-free gut environments resulted in some major intestinal problems. These problems, it turns out, create an environment in which harmful bacterial strains like those introduced during the study are allowed to flourish, as there are simply not enough beneficial bacterial strains present to starve and weed them out, thanks to the antibiotics.

Antibiotics end up driving intestinal nutrients towards harmful pathogens rather than beneficial ones

Specifically, antibiotic treatments were found to cause a spike in the availability of certain carbohydrate sugars that naturally form the mucosal lining in the intestines. This excess of carbohydrate availability was found to essentially feed the harmful bacteria, allowing it the opportunity to not only take hold but also to break through the protective barrier of the gastrointestinal tract and infect the bloodstream. This process, of course, is something we now know can lead to serious health problems and even death in some individuals.

"In the first 24 hours after administration of oral antibiotics, a spike in carbohydrate availability takes place in the gut," explains a summary of the study's findings. "This transient nutrient surplus, combined with the reduction of friendly gut-dwelling bacteria due to antibiotics, permits at least two potentially deadly pathogens to get a toehold in that otherwise more forbidding environment."

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature, the results of this important study illustrate once again why we as a society need to shy away from the use of antibiotics, not only in medicine but also in food production. Continued antibiotic overuse is shaping up to become the most serious public health disaster America has ever faced, which further demonstrates the need for new approaches to disease treatment.

"We believe that bacterial pathogens in the gut cause disease in two steps," adds Dr. Sonnenburg about the findings. "Others have shown that once these pathogens attain sufficient numbers, they use inflammation-triggering tricks to wipe out our resident friendly microbes -- at no cost to the pathogens themselves -- because they've evolved ways to deal with it."

"But first, they have to surmount a critical hurdle: In the absence of the inflammation they're trying to induce, they have to somehow reach that critical mass. Our work shows how they go about it after a dose of antibiotics. They take advantage of a temporary spike in available sugars liberated from intestinal mucus left behind by slain commensal microbes."

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