Antibiotics Kill Off Good Bacteria in Guts, Help Deadly Bacteria Thrive

Study in mice backs federal warnings against misuse of medications.

(Camazine Scott/Getty)

Sep 3, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is TakePart's News Editor.

Antibiotics could leave you vulnerable to some illnesses because they destroy good gut bacteria and allow two potentially deadly bacteria to thrive, according to a new study from Stanford University.

Antibiotics open the door for these pathogens to take hold. But how, exactly, that occurs hasn’t been well understood,” said researcher Justin Sonnenburg.

In a study of mice published in Nature, Sonnenburg found that in the first 24 hours after oral antibiotics are administered, friendly gut-dwelling bacteria are reduced and there’s a spike in the availability of carbs in the gut that at least two potentially deadly pathogens can feed off of to thrive.

Over the past decade, scientists have been digging deep into the science of our inner workings, and have found a complex microbial ecosystem in the large intestine of every healthy large mammal. Guts manufacture vitamins and provide critical support to our immune systems and help guide tissue development.

"The bad guys in the gut are scavenging nutrients that were liberated by the good guys, who are casualties of the collateral damage incurred by antibiotics," said Sonnenburg, explaining that pathogens trigger inflammation to wipe out friendly microbes and feast on the nutrients they would have been eating to get a hold in your guts.

The study was conducted in mice, and now scientists are studying if there are drugs that can be co-administered with antibiotics to inhibit the pathogen-nourishing spike that happens now.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned against misuse of antibiotics, saying the problem has "contributed to one of the world's most pressing public health problems today—antibiotic resistance."

Antibiotics are intended to fight infections caused by bacteria and aren't effective against viral infections like the common cold or the flu.