How can antibiotics damage your immune system?
A new study suggests antibiotics can weaken the immune system. As more strains of bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, scientists are warning that we could soon return to the “dark ages of medicine,” where our drugs are ineffective against even the most basic of infections.
Here’s the scary story! While investigating the side effects of antibiotics and how bacteria can develop resistance to them, researchers from MIT and Harvard have found that the drugs can work against the body, weakening the immune system’s ability to fight off the bugs.
How is this happening? Well, in a race to prevent the possible “superbug” doomsday scenario, teams of scientists are developing new treatments that don’t require antibiotics. These include antimicrobial materials, light therapies, and creating predatory bacteria.
BUT antibiotics will still play an important part in future treatments. In that vein, it pays to have a better understanding of just what antibiotics are doing inside your body.
Here’s what the scientists have done. Researchers infected mice with E. coli bacteria and then treated them with a common antibiotic called ciprofloxacin – commonly used to treat Cystitis and UTIs. In doing so, they found that the drug directly affected the tissues of the mice, which in turn changed the metabolites those cells released during the process of metabolism. And these changes were counterproductive, with the metabolites working to make the E. coli more resistant to the antibiotic.
If that isn’t scary enough, they also found that ciprofloxacin can make the immune system less effective overall. Here’s why: Immune cells called macrophages were found to be less effective at fighting off infection because the antibiotic choked out their respiration.
You generally assume that antibiotics will significantly impact the bacterial cells, and yet here they seem to be triggering responses in mammalian cells,” says James Collins, senior author of the study. “The drugs are producing changes that are actually counterproductive to the treatment effort. They reduce the bacterial susceptibility to antibiotics (antibiotic resistance), and the drugs themselves reduce the functional benefit of the immune cells (make your body’s immune system weaker).
While it sure doesn’t sound like good news, the researchers say that it’s helpful to improve our understanding of what antibiotics are doing to the immune system. I would have to agree with that.
What do you think?
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