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Using antibiotics very early in life may lead to developing inflammatory diseases later in life, says a new report published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. Using antibiotics in infancy disrupts the normal development and growth of gut bacteria, and in addition to contributing to gut problems such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the altered environment may contribute to other inflammatory diseases such as asthma and multiple sclerosis.

The study also indicates that altering gut bacteria may be a way to treat or prevent some inflammatory diseases.

“Our study demonstrates that gut bacteria in early life do affect disease development in adulthood, but this response can be changed,” said Colby Zaph  of the School of Biomedical Sciences at Monash University, Australia.

The study has important ramifications for using pre- and probiotics, in the administration of antibiotics to newborns, and to the understanding of how gut bacteria play a critical role in the development of  inflammatory diseases such as IBD.

For the study, scientists used two groups of mice. The first group included pregnant females treated with broad spectrum antibiotics during pregnancy and pups treated with broad spectrum antibiotics for the first three weeks of life.

The second group was a control group that consisted of untreated pregnant mothers and pups. The pups in the treated group were weaned at three weeks of age and antibiotic treatment was stopped at the same time. These pups had reduced levels of gut bacteria and were allowed to age normally.

At eight weeks of age, immune cells (CD4 T cells) from both the treated and untreated pups were examined for their ability to induce irritable bowel disease in other mice. The immune cells from antibiotic-treated mice induced a more rapid and more severe disease than those from the untreated mice.

Another recent study connected Gulf War Illness (GWI) to changes in gut bacteria. Researchers found that the chemicals, etc. that veterans were exposed to altered the microbiome — the bacteria that inhabit the gut. The affected microbiota then produce endotoxins, which pass through a thinned lining of the gut (called a leaky gut) and into the blood where they circulate throughout the body.

These compounds trigger an inflammatory response that, in turn, initiates several neurological abnormalities commonly observed in GWI, such as cognitive difficulties, widespread pain, and debilitating fatigue.

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