Early Antibiotic Use a Likely Cause of Obesity, Research Finds


Antibiotic use in early childhood may be a cause of obesity later in life, finds a recent study.

The agricultural industry relies heavily on antibiotics to spur rapid weight gain in livestock animals. So it’s not a total surprise that early exposure to antibiotics like penicillin, could turn out to be a cause of obesity.

Exposure to the antibiotics at a young age alters gut bacteria, which, according to the research published in the journal Cell, impacts metabolism and can lead to weight gain regardless of the health of the child’s diet, or his activity level. In particular, penicillin inhibited Lactobacillus, a common bacterium in the gut that’s also common in fermented foods and probiotics. The antibiotic also destroyed several other bacteria including Allobaculum and Arthromitus (only present in mice), and a wider group of bacteria called the Rikenellaceae.

“I’m not saying people should never take antibiotics,” says the study’s lead author, Martin Blaser from the NYU Langone Medical Centre. “But we need to be more judicious. Antibiotics can have long-term consequences. I hope that knowledge will enter the examining room, so that parents don’t demand antibiotics and doctors are more cautious about using them.”

The researchers found that just four weeks of antibiotic use was enough to disrupt the microbiome of the test subjects (mice). Even though gut bacteria reverted to its normal state after several weeks, the subjects exposed to the antibiotics were more likely to gain weight. If given the antibiotics in the first month of life, they were 25 percent heavier than control groups and has 60 percent more fat.

“Disrupting the microbiome seemed to exacerbate the effects of a high-fat diet, too, with animals on antibiotics gaining more weight than others who were not given the drugs,” reports the Guardian. And for unknown reasons, “males put on more weight than females.”

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