Antibiotics Harming Future Generations

It is well understood that when you use antibiotics to destroy harmful bacteria, you also lose beneficial bacteria – collateral damage.

Most of the good bacteria can be found in your gut, where it helps with your digestive processes.

In a report in the journal Nature, Martin Blaser writes:

Antibiotics kill the bacteria we do want, as well as those we don’t. These long-term changes to the beneficial bacteria within people’s bodies may even increase our susceptibility to infections and disease.

Overuse of antibiotics could be fuelling the dramatic increase in conditions such as obesity, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies and asthma, which have more than doubled in many populations.

…Antibiotics are miraculous. They’ve changed health and medicine over the last 70 years. But when doctors prescribe antibiotics, it is based on the belief that there are no long-term effects. We’ve seen evidence that suggests antibiotics may permanently change the beneficial bacteria that we’re carrying.

That permanent change can be problematic for future generations, because when a child is born, and it passes through the birth canal—that is the baby’s original exposure to beneficial bacteria. If that bacteria has been compromised in the mother, the baby could be less healthy throughout its life.

Disturbing New Statistics

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) in England has provided the Independent with the following information:

Until 2008, there were fewer than five cases a year in the UK of bugs resistant to carbapenem, our most effective intravenous (IV) antibiotic. New statistics reveal how there have been 386 cases already this year, in what the HPA has called a “global public health concern”. Doctors are particularly concerned because carbapenems are often the last hope for hospital patients suffering from pneumonia and blood infections that other antibiotics have failed to treat. Such cases were unknown in the UK before 2003.

Within the EU, more than 25,000 people are dying each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, and the numbers are sure to keep rising. A WHO conference held in Baku, Azerbaijan last week unveiled an action plan that has been agreed to by 50 countries.

Bugs Resistant for 30,000 Years!

The thing about antibiotics is that they tend to be sourced from nature, even if indirectly. This means that bugs have already encountered their enemy, and have developed resistance to them, long ago.

With few new wonder drugs in the pipeline, some doctors are warning of a postantibiotic age, in which simple infections will become untreatable again.

Most antibiotics are based on chemicals used by bacteria or fungi to fight other bacteria, and researchers have speculated that antibiotic resistance must have coevolved with these compounds millions of years ago. Some scientists even claimed to have cultured ancient resistant bacteria from frozen Siberian soil in the lab…

Ulitmately the age of resistance is immaterial – solving the problem is tantamount.

Insights from the USDA

While they do their best to distance themselves from the information, the USDA has published the following info:

  • A single antibiotic-resistant pathogen, MRSA—just one of many now circulating among Americans—now claims more lives each year than AIDS.
  • “Use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs in food animal production and human medicine is the main factor accelerating antimicrobial resistance.”
  • “Farmers and farm workers may get exposed to resistant bacteria by handling animals, feed, and manure.”
  • [antibiotic resistance] in Salmonella strains was most likely due to the antimicrobial use in food animals

Read more at Mother Jones

Not surprisingly, the USDA, under pressure from meat producers, has removed the report, and the researcher has been silenced. It’s pretty sad when the lives of millions are ignored in favor of the pursuit of commerical dollars. Especially when the industry would not die, just lessen due to lower yields increasing prices… I’m sure there will never be a surplus of beef in the USA.

Five Groups Sue FDA

Public interest groups have been against wholesale antibiotic use in cattle for more than 30 years. Like other health concerns (cell phone radiation, genetically modified foods), those who would lose out financially have argued that without proof they won’t change. And sometimes the proof can take a long time to emerge, even though people have a pretty strong feeling that the accusations make sense. Unfortunately such widespread practices make proof difficult (try finding someone who doesn’t use a cell phone).

This is a layman’s view of the process:

  • Healthy cattle are fed antibiotics
  • Cattle pee
  • Antibiotics are mixed into groundwater and end up everywhere

You could say the same about human use of antibiotics, except in the USA the usage ratio is 4 parts cattle, 1 part human. And we only prescribe to humans who are sick.

So, finally, the fight will have its day in court:

Several environmental and public health groups filed suit against the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday to try to force the government to stop farmers from routinely adding antibiotics to livestock feed to help animals grow faster.

The groups say widespread agricultural antibiotic use and the FDA’s allowance of the practice are compounding a public health crisis: the increasing prevalence of “superbugs” that infect people and do not respond to antibiotics.

“The longer we use these drugs, the less effective the arsenal becomes,” said Margaret Mellon, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which filed the complaint in federal court with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animals Concern Trust and Public Citizen.

Superbugs Might Persist

Until now scientists thought that if you were to remove antibiotics from the environment, antibiotic-resistant superbugs would not be able to compete with regular bacteria:

That’s because maintaining a chunk of DNA from another organism – or coping with a new antibiotic resistance mutation – uses up a cell’s resources and leaves it less competitive once the antibiotic has been removed…

New Scientist reports that studies have shown that a third of superbugs remained more competitive in the absence of antibiotics. The process is known as positive epistasis, but researchers have not yet figured out why it would happen.

New, Killer E. coli Strain O104:H4

The German outbreak of E. coli last week killed at least 26 people and made news headlines around the planet – it was the deadliest E.coli outbreak ever recorded, as well as many hundreds suffering kidney failure. E. coli strains have and will continue to cause deaths, but this particular strain is more worrying. The following quotes are from the website of the AAAS Science magazine, a no sensationalism zone, and the Wall Street Journal:

…a never-before-seen hybrid, combining the worst of several bacterial strains. …one gene fragment appears to have come from another food-borne pathogen, Salmonella enterica, while other genes are highly homologous to those found in other, phylogenetically distinct E. coli strains, including a strain called O25:H4-ST131. [Science Mag]

The 2001 strain caused fewer than five identified cases world-wide, and scientists never did identify its natural reservoir—where a new strain of the E. coli bug can originate, such as in cattle. But the genetic analysis showed that as the 2001 bug likely swapped genetic material with other bacterial strains, some big changes occurred.

The 2011 version turns out to be resistant to eight classes of antibiotics, including penicillin, streptomycin and sulfonamide. The likely reason is that rapid evolution “resulted in the gain of more genes during the last 10 years” that conferred immunity against many more antibiotics, according to BGI. [WSJ]

The new bug is more deadly, more contagious, and more resistant. In the Weekend Australian, Michael Osterholm was quoted: I’ve never seen this array of virulence and antibiotic resistance. It’s a unique combination. This is the ongoing trend with many bacterial infections, meaning things will only get worse.

A few antibiotic products on the horizon

Four of the six largest pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma) are not developing antibiotics any more. While almost everyone will use them at some time in their life, people do not use them continuously – and it is the continuously used products that make the most profits. For example, annual sales of cholesterol pill Lipitor are only 10% less than the top five antibiotic products combined. With doctors sensibly being advised to be more cautious and to prescribe less, and resistance growing, Big Pharma sees it as a declining market.

Up until the mid-70s ten different types of antibiotic were developed. Since then, all new antibiotics have been derived from existing products – they’ve just patched them up so that they’ll work again. Resistance arises quickly. This means that our only salvation will be new types of antibiotic developed by smaller companies.

Fortunately new products are being developed, with Optimer leading the way with five. Pharma companies Trius and Cubist are also in late-stage trials.

Full story is at Bloomberg.

FDA: A Major Hurdle

While the USA is not the only country where new drugs are developed, they are a major force. The current development landscape means that drug companies concentrate their efforts on drugs that will provide the biggest ROI, and with the least impediments. The wider the application (as with antibiotics), the greater the chance that some potential users will have an adverse reaction. Which means even more testing.

A recent Forbes article, How the FDA May Kill Millions of Us, says:

Antibiotics easily conquered such illnesses as pneumonia and tuberculosis, which routinely killed countless numbers of people each year. Bacteria, of course, can become drug-resistant, but for decades pharmaceutical companies, especially in the U.S., routinely came up with new antibiotics to fell new killer germs. Now, however, the flow of new stuff has dried to a trickle.

In Antibiotics: The Perfect Storm (Springer, 2010) David M. Shlaes lays it out. “Regulatory agencies like the FDA are contributing to the problem with a constant barrage of clinical trial requirements that make it harder, slower and more costly to develop antibiotics.

In fact, Pfizer, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, has ceased all development on antibiotics. A timeline over at Wikipedia shows how bad the situation has become. Whereas in the past multiple new antibiotics were released every year, in the last decade there have been just five:

1992 – fleroxacin
1992 – loracarbef
1992 – piperacillin/tazobactam
1992 – rufloxacin
1993 – brodimoprim
1993 – dirithromycin
1993 – levofloxacin
1993 – nadifloxacin
1993 – panipenem/betamipron
1993 – sparfloxacin
1994 – cefepime
1999 – quinupristin/dalfopristin
2000 – linezolid
2001 – telithromycin
2003 – daptomycin
2005 – tigecycline
2005 – doripenem
2009 – telavancin

Antibiotics Affect Gut Health

Did you know that the microbes we carry in our gastro-intestinal tracts add up to several pounds in weight?

These microbes are necessary to being healthy, and are critical to our well-being. A new study shows that the unnecessary use of antibiotics has deleterious effects on human health that were previously unappreciated.

The most profoundly altered pathways involved steroid hormones, eicosanoid hormones, sugar, fatty acid, and bile acid. “These hormones have very important functions in our health,” says Antunes. “They control our immune system, reproductive functions, mineral balance, sugar metabolism, and many other important aspects of human metabolism.

Evidence is beginning to show that our stomachs, and their internal health, are extremely important. Some researchers suggest that the origin of inflammation, the basic underlying problem in heart disease, is the stomach.

The obvious answer is to eat healthily. If you are a regular user of antacids, if you suffer from constipation, or if you have ulcers, then this is a red alert that your entire body could be malfunctioning.