Antibiotics & Type 1 Diabetes: Mice Study Points to Possible Connection

Since the discovery of penicillin in 1928, antibiotics have unquestionably revolutionized the health industry. There's no denying that medicines we use to today are wonderful, even life-saving.

But there are those who criticize America's dependence on antibiotics; in fact, a 2014 study found that doctors prescribe antibiotics for children about twice as often as they should.

And now, a new study in the journal Nature Microbiology has brought to light a possible side effect of antibiotic overuse: type 1 diabetes.

Mice and Medicines

According to study author Dr. Martin Blaser, a professor of microbiology and director of the Human Microbiome Program at New York University Langone Medical Center, “[T]here’s some strong environmental aspect” to the rise in type 1 diabetes. The condition, which is normally diagnosed in children, has seen a dramatic increase since World War II, and has even begun to affect younger and younger children.

Blaser believed that this notable increase was somehow connected to the nation's widespread use of antibiotics. To test his theory, Dr. Blaser and his research team gathered young mice, all of whom were susceptible to type 1 diabetes and were correlative in age with a six-month to one-year-old child.

He divided the mice into three groups: the first group received a low dose of antibiotics, proportionate to the amount given to farm animals; the second received a dosage proportionate to the amount typically prescribed to a child with an ear infection; the third, as the control group, received no antibiotics.

Microbiomes and Metabolism

It might not be surprising to hear Dr. Blaser found that the high dosage of antibiotics “accelerated and enhanced rate of type 1 diabetes in the mice,” but it is certainly alarming that he noticed this striking increase after only three antibiotic treatments. (For context, Dr. Blaser reports that “On average, by age 10, a child will have had 10 courses of antibiotics.”)

Researchers found that the antibiotics – being the powerful bacteria-killers they are – led to changes in the intestinal bacteria. Additionally, Blaser said, “We found that cholesterol metabolism in the intestinal wall was very deranged” in those mice receiving child-sized dosages of antibiotics. The changes noted in these mice bodies could, potentially, point to a similar response in children that makes them more susceptible to type 1 diabetes.

Should I Stop Taking Antibiotics?

There's no need to flush your kid's medicines yet. Dr. Blaser, along with Jessica Dunne, director of discovery research for JDRF (formerly called the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), have insisted that parents do not forgo antibiotic use until further research can be done.

“We still don't know how or why type 1 diabetes develops,” Dunne said in a statement. “But there's likely no one smoking gun that we can point to as the cause of type 1 diabetes.”

Dunne and Blaser did say, however, that parents ought to speak with their doctors to understand when antibiotics are necessary and when they are optional.

“[It's good to be] cautious about what we're giving to ourselves and our children,” said Dunne. “For example, antibiotics won't help a viral infection. We need to be smart about when we use antibiotics.”

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