Antibiotics! Can They Affect My Child?

Antibiotics have become an indispensable part of the medical procedure to treat various diseases. Children, being in the most active phase of life, play in the gardens inhabited by all sorts of insects, slide on the railings laden with dust, sail paper boats in the muddy puddles on a rainy day and what not! We, the parents, are often on our toes running to the doctors with their cuts and wounds, infections and ailments due to their fearless fun-loving attitude.

Though the side effects of various drugs are a major concern for parents, less do they know about their toxic effects on the Central Nervous System of their children. The neurotoxic side effects of the antibiotics are not that well recognized until now — [1]. According to an article published by University of Oxford, July 22,2020, experiments on mice show that antibiotic treatment during infancy impedes brain signalling pathways that function in social behaviour and pain regulation. If the same is true for humans also, still needs to be established.

A lot of factors increase the susceptibility to neurotoxicity like genetic factors, nutritional status, renal efficiency, blood flow, tissue- uptake, status of blood-brain barrier rate of medicine absorption, target tissues of the antibiotic, route of the drug-delivery, elimination of medicine’s metabolites and Central nervous system penetration — [2] [3]. Antibiotic induced neurotoxic side effects can have a whole gamut of neurological implications. So, these wonderful life savers, as the antibiotics are known as, can become the villains for our brain and can affect our thinking too!

To our surprise, the first anti-depressant was discovered by serendipity in a sanatorium made to treat Tuberculosis — [4]. It was observed that an antibiotic used for tuberculosis (TB) treatment (isoniazid) induced a strange behaviour in the patients. The normally quiet patients also started laughing and dancing around. Now, this was just a curtain-raiser on how the anti-microbial drug could affect the functioning of our brain.

Many studies show that a lot of antibiotics have a structure that mimics the neurotransmitter GABA and if they can breach the blood-brain barrier, they may clog up GABA receptors, eventually causing a wide variety of mental complications, for example, the use of Penicillin has been associated with disrupted brain function in people since 1945. The visible symptoms include aphasia, spasms, seizures, psychosis, confusion, lethargy anxiety, and coma. Though unclear about what causes the brain malfunction, the studies reveal a diminishment of the neurotransmitter GABA, making apparent that antibiotics contribute to brain-related issues. Another serious disruption in brain function, called Delirium, may be linked with the usage of even common antibiotics in which a person is in a state of mental confusion accompanied by hallucinations and agitation.

Being a parent, we need to know that the first thousand days of childhood are very important.

During this period, the child’s immune system is trained to tolerate the beneficial bacteria, Also, the appropriate microbiota in their body helps their brain to develop normally. So, administering these so-called life-saving antibiotics, kill the useful bacteria during this critically important accommodation period in a child’s growth period.

In the experiment done on mice, the lack of useful bacteria was seen to cause an abnormal stress reaction. When the mice were provided with a healthy microbiota, it put them back on track, but only if they were younger than 3-weeks period. After that their stress response couldn’t recover showing how important is useful microbiota for the normal functioning of the brain, especially during the initial period of development of an infant.

Infants who have to be given antibiotics end up having a less diverse microbiota, making them prone to IBD and depression as adults.

So, if your child needs them, don’t hold back, but do your best to make this early training period of the body as normal as possible. — [6]. Excessive use of antibiotics in children is also noted to cause anxiety, personality changes and bad temper. This may be due to Edema in brain or pH change in the gut due to death of useful gut bacteria. The antibiotic-treated mice showed impaired anxiety-like social behaviours and displayed aggression.

The experimental evidence adds concern as it suggests that early exposure to antibiotics lead to long-term behavioural changes in children.

Not only does the overuse kills useful bacteria but also makes the harmful bacteria to become resistant to our drugs. We have a lot of research done on antibiotic usage vs. change in gut bacteria, leading to an increased risk of several diseases like inflammably bowel disease, colorectal cancer, and obesity. Just another reason to be careful with the use of antibiotics.

With all these research results, one thing is clear that antibiotics can have a surprising impact on the brain. Hence, with antibiotics being capable of affecting my child’s thinking, immune system, and behaviour, I would definitely consider the next time she gets an infection! Won’t you?

[1] Snavely S, Hodges G. The neurotoxicity of antibacterial agents. [Google Scholar]
[2] Chow kM Hui KC, Szetþ CC neurotoxicity induced by beta-lactum antibiotics [Google Scholar]
[3] Chowk, Szeto CC, Hui AC, Li PK. Mechanisms of antibiotic neurotoxicity in renal failure. Int J Antimicrobial Agents. 2004 [Google Scholar]
[4] Butler, Mary I., Kiran Sandhu, John F. Cryan, and Timothy G. Dinan. ‘’From Isoniazid to Psychobiotics; The Gut Microbiome as a New Antidepressant Target.” British Journal of Hospital Medicine (London, England, 2005)
[5] Gur, Tamar L., Brett L, Worly and Michael T. Bailey. ‘Stress and the Commensal Microbiota’. Importance in Parturition and Infant Neurodevelopment’’ Frontiers in Psychiatry 6 (2015)
[6] Scott. C. Anderson. Antibiotics can do funny things to your brain [2019]

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