The Perils of Antibiotic Overuse

Overuse of antibiotics is not only creating resistant strains of bacteria but also changing the complex ecology of the human body. While much concern about antibiotics overuse has focused on how it promotes the emergence of treatment-resistant organisms, perhaps the collateral damage has been much more profound.

”The Menace of Antibiotics” was the title of a presentation at a major conference in San Francisco last October by Martin Blaser, a physician, epidemiologist and professor of microbiology at NYU School of Medicine. Blaser’s talk covered many of the concerns he has raised in journal articles in recent years, suggesting that antibiotics have affected the microbiome in ways that have had adverse long-term health consequences.

Blaser suggests, for example, that the widespread eradication of Helicobacter pylori (a bacterium associated with stomach inflammation and duodenal ulcers) may be implicated in the rise of conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and asthma. He also argues that the eradication of relatively benign bacteria leaves us exposed to the risk of being colonised by more harmful bugs.

Blaser’s concerns are based largely on experimental and epidemiological evidence and are not yet proven, but he is sufficiently alarmed to have gone on the record calling for caution in the use of antibiotics.

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