For all the good that antibiotics do, relying on them too much can have pretty drastic drawbacks. In particular, their overuse can help create bacterial superbugs resistant to future antibiotics. But a new study published this week in JAMA Psychiatry suggests there’s another, more subtle consequence of antibiotic use, at least in young people: a higher risk of developing serious mental illnesses like obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. In recent years, there’s been renewed scientific interest in the idea that common infections could increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in our older years. But researchers have also found evidence that childhood infections can raise the risk of mental illness even earlier in life. A common hypothesis underlying both theories is that these infections may cause chronic inflammation or other bodily side-effects that directly damage the brain. But study author Robert Yolken, a neurovirologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and his team decided to explore a different possible explanation for why infections are linked to mental illness. Yolken has speculated that changes in the gut microbiome—the living sea of bacteria that calls our digestive system home—can also harm the brain. That’s because the gut microbiome helps coordinate the gut-brain axis, an intricate communication network of hormonal and nerve signals between the gut and brain that regulates the body. And one of the most destructive ways to change the microbiome is by taking antibiotics, many of which indiscriminately kill both harmless and troublesome bacteria. So for their study, Yolken… [Read full story]
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