(NaturalHealth365) It’s long been known that antibiotics cause problems in the gut, disrupting the population of healthy microorganisms, increasing vulnerability to a variety of infectious diseases. But evidence is now emerging that antibiotics, with the ability to kill gut bacteria, also have the ability to stop the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus – the area of the brain associated with memory.
A study of laboratory mice published recently in Cell Reports reveals that a type of white blood cell communicates between the brain, the immune system, and the gut. But antibiotics were found to greatly diminish the presence of these particular white blood cells – likely causing the reduction in generation of new brain cells and worsened memory observed in the mice.
How memory, immune system and gut health are all connected
A large body of research has focused on the effects of antibiotics on otherwise healthy gut microbes. These studies have shown that antibiotics can have far-reaching impacts, leaving the body more at risk for disease.
The idea that the immune system could somehow influence growth and health of brain cells has also been observed in earlier studies, as early as 10 years ago. But there have not been as much evidence until recently of the link from the brain to the immune system and back to the gut.
The area of the brain affected by the loss of healthy gut bacteria is known as the hippocampus. It is widely understood to be the brain’s memory center and typically produces new brain cell’s across a lifetime.
In another study, mice with normal gut bacteria but low levels of the specific white blood cells, due to genetics or targeted antibiotic use, were found to have the same memory and brain cell deficits as mice who had lost gut bacteria. Once researchers replaced the white blood cells in mice, the memory and neurogenesis showed improvement.
Using probiotics to minimize the damage done by antibiotics
The researchers also found that probiotics, as well as exercise, can help to influence health and growth of brain cells, undoing damage done by antibiotics. They concluded that the adverse side effects of antibiotics could be reversed.
One surprising finding was that when mice were treated via fecal transplant to allow recovery of broad gut bacteria, there was no corresponding improvement in brain cell health. However, when mice were given probiotics, mice began to regain memory.
This finding suggests more clinical tests are necessary to further identify a direct link between antibiotics and the brain, without the detour via the gut. There is also promise that probiotics could be used to help treat patients with neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders. More clinical trials ought to be done to measure differences in psychiatric disorders, neurodegenerative conditions, mood, composition of the gut bacteria and immune cell function.
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