One of the most interesting aspects of the gut connection is the ability of the gut microbes, or gut microflora, to affect areas of the body seemingly far removed from the gut. It can be difficult to imagine that what happens in your gut affects what happens in, say, your brain or your lungs, but it does! Truly, optimal gut health is the foundation upon which total-body health is built.

A study published back in March in the journal EMBO Reports highlight this gut connection. Researchers tested the effects of two antibiotics—vancomycin and streptomycin—on the development of experimental asthma in an animal model. The study found that newborn mice receiving the antibiotic vancomycin, a commonly used antibiotic that targets bacteria in the intestines, experienced the greatest alteration in gut bacteria and were subsequently found to be more susceptible to allergic asthma than those receiving the antibiotic streptomycin, which is used to treat systemic infections like tuberculosis and endocarditis.

This study was based on previous observational studies that have found a link between the development of asthma and antibiotic use during infancy or birth by cesarean section, both associated with alterations of the gut microflora. The researchers found profoundly altered bacterial composition in the vancomycin treated mice, as well as a strikingly reduced number of important immune regulating cells known as T-regulatory cells. This all set the stage for the allergic asthma response.

Lead researcher Brett Finlay from the University of British Columbia stated, “The message it drives home is the whole idea that you do need your microbiota to develop normally. We really do need these bugs.” Hisgroup is currently looking at a similar effect as part of a national study of 5,000 children with asthma in Canada. About antibiotics Findlay says, “They don’t just magically kill one bug, they’re wiping out billions upon billions of other bacteria.”

Antibiotics are definitely necessary for certain conditions, but they are also one of the most widely over-prescribed medications. The health implications of this overuse are only now beginning to be realized. Development of a healthy gut bacterial balance from an early age is an important part of building healthy immune response.