Could the surging diabetes epidemic stem in part from antibiotics? According to new research, it might. A recent study makes a disturbing connection between antibiotic use as a child and Type 1 diabetes later in life.
What Is Type 1 Diabetes?
Thirty million Americans have diabetes, but 95% of these cases are Type 2 diabetes, which tends to as a result of poor diet and lifestyle choices. The other 5% is afflicted with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attacks the pancreatic cells responsible for creating insulin. If the body can’t produce enough insulin, blood glucose accumulates and proceeds to damage nerves and cells. That’s why people with Type 1 diabetes have to control their disease by taking insulin either as an injection or though an insulin pump.
Could Antibiotics Be Partly Responsible?
Scientists don’t know exactly what causes Type 1 diabetes, but they do know it is a mix of genetic and environmental factors and that more and more people are being diagnosed with the disease. Global diagnoses are trending at an increased rate of 3% each year! One theory holds that the increase in Type 1 diabetes may be in part due to the use of antibiotics, which are so prevalent during childhood that the average American kid has gone through 10 rounds of antibiotics by the age of 10.
Your Immune System and Your Gut
Approximately 80% of your immune system lives in your gut. As a result, your gut health is intricately linked to your immune health. If the microflora in your gut is off-balance, your immune system will suffer.
Furthermore, scientists now know that 90% of the genetic material in your body isn’t even yours, but belongs to the bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that live mainly in your gastrointestinal tract. Scientists call these microorganisms your “gut microbiome.” This microbiome is thought to shape your immune system during development, and it is believed to need exposure to germs and microbes in order to foster strong immunity for the future. Unfortunately, adults and children have made a habit, especially during years crucial to development, of wiping out bacteria—good and bad—with antibiotics.
The Theory Tested
Researchers from New York University Langone Medical Center exposed non-obese diabetic mice susceptible to Type 1 diabetes to doses of antibiotics comparable to those given to children. They were exposed to either continuous low-dose antibiotics or pulsed antibiotic therapy (PAT) that more accurately mimics the type of doses children receive. They conducted tests before, during, and after the study. More than half (53%) of the PAT mice developed type 1 diabetes, while only 26% of the control mice that received no antibiotics ended up developing the disease.
Mice who received PAT also showed harmful changes to their gut bacteria. An important species of bacteria responsible for training the immune system to resist disease and infection had almost entirely disappeared from the guts of those mice! Each test performed showed a concerning reduction in bacterial diversity.
Researchers then tested out this compromised gut flora on the immune health of mice bred to have none of their own gut flora. When they placed the gut flora of the PAT mice into the guts of other mice not influenced by antibiotics, their immune system reacted in a similar compromised fashion.
Whether you are looking after your own health or the health of your children, experts recommend treating your gut with care and being careful not to use antibiotics unless truly necessary, and to opt for more natural remedies when appropriate.