Here’s what parents need to know.
Can antibiotics and antacids given to kids at a young age increase their risk for childhood obesity?
That’s what a new study, recently published in the British Medical Journal Gut, suggests. The research, a collaboration between the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, found that children who were given antibiotics and antacids in the first two years of life were more likely to develop obesity.
The researchers looked at the Military Health System records of 333,353 children born between October 2006 and September 2013.
They found that 72.4 percent were prescribed an antibiotic and 11.8 percent were given antacids before they turned two. There was a correlation between the prescription of antibiotics and those who had childhood obesity.
Those who had antacids, such as those given to control acid reflux, were also associated with increased risk for obesity over time.
Lead researcher and Air Force Lt. Col. Dr. Cade Nylund, an associate professor of pediatrics at USU, said that it seems the impact these prescriptions have on the human gut microbiome might be the cause.
“Antibiotics directly kill portions of the healthy gut microbiome; antacids alter the gut microbiome by decreasing acidity in the gut,” Nylund told Healthline. “Both antibiotics and antacids have been shown to decrease the bacterial diversity in the gut. Certain changes in bacteria have an effect on both how we digest nutrients and our metabolism.”
Nylund said it was somewhat surprising to see that these kinds of medications might bear some “significant negative effects” on a child’s overall health.
“Antibiotics will always play a role in treating bacterial infections and we do not wish to discourage treating bacterial infections with antibiotics,” Nylund stressed. “However, many illnesses in children are viruses like the common cold. Viral infections do not need to be treated with antibiotics. Likewise, the vast majority of gastroesophageal reflux in early infancy is normal, it resolves in time and antacid medications have been shown to not decrease symptoms like infant fussiness.”
Gail Cresci, PhD, RD, a researcher in the department of pediatric gastroenterology at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, echoed the idea that these medications could be impacting the gut microbiome, or the community of helpful microorganisms that live in your gut.
“Antacids take away the first line of the body’s defense against ingested pathogens by decreasing gastric acidity which can destroy many of these pathogens,” Cresci told Healthline. “Obesity is known to be associated with ‘low grade’ inflammation. This then may allow the pathogens to reach the distal intestine and then alter microbial diversity.”
Cresci pointed out that antibiotics target a variety of gut microbes which decreases gut bacterial numbers and diversity.
“This overall may decrease intestinal immunity and ability to fight infections and regulate inflammation,” Cresci said.
Cresci added that the microbes that live in your gut produce various “metabolic byproducts” that help regulate a person’s inflammation and immunity. Altering the number of microbes could impact the regulation of inflammation tied to something like obesity.
That being said, there are some limits to this observational study. It doesn’t take into account other environmental factors in these children’s lives or family health histories that could increase risk for obesity.
Cresci explained that “obesity is multifactorial,” so, when coming across studies like this, consider that a lot more contributes to whether a child is at risk for obesity than just being prescribed antibiotics at a young age.
For instance, she said we know diet and exercise are important in regulating a person’s body weight, which means making sure these two things are a key part of you and your child’s daily lives is important to regulate and prevent obesity.
“Consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables loaded with antioxidants and fibers may assist with keeping the gut microbiota’s abundance and diversity as well as provide support to immune function and could be anti-inflammatory,” she added.
So, what should you be concerned about when it comes to giving a child an antacid or antibiotic medication at a young age? If your child is on an antibiotic, should you consider also giving him or her some kind of probiotic, live bacteria and yeasts — think yogurt — that could be good for digestion and protect those helpful microbes that live in the gut?
“Only consume antibiotics or antacids if absolutely necessary. Consider taking a probiotic along with — and up to two weeks after — an antibiotic to prevent gut dysbiosis, or microbial imbalance,” Cresci said.
She added that not all probiotics are created equally. Some available on the market have been studied regarding their protection against antibiotics, so be sure to take a probiotic that’s beneficial against antibiotics, she stressed. As always, consult your doctor or your child’s pediatrician if you’re concerned about your best option.
Moving forward, what is next for Nylund’s research?
“I have an interest in whether these findings translate over to other complications of obesity, like heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, et cetera,” he added. “We will need to follow the established cohort over a longer time to establish any associations with these conditions.”
A new study found a correlation between the prescription of antibiotics and those who had childhood obesity. Those who had antacids, such as those given to control acid reflux, were also associated with the development of obesity in children over time.