Possible Correlation Between Antibiotic Use and Obesity, Diabetes and Stroke
Last week, a private research group known as Extending the Cure published a series of info-graphics on antibiotic prescriptions and the long-term side effects. The graphs showed the use of antibiotics has grown significantly over the past few years. Also, comparing different graphs, Maryn McKenna from Wired noticed a few correlations between the use of antibiotics and the prevalence of diabetes, obesity and strokes. (source)
Extending the Cure studied the number of antibiotic prescriptions issued per 1,000 state residents. They found that the amount of antibiotic prescriptions ranged from 533 in Alaska to 1,214 in West Virginia. Antibiotics were prescribed much more heavily in eastern states than western. The states with the heaviest use of antibiotic use were issued around the Appalachian Mountains.
After looking at the graphs from Extending the Cure, McKenna noticed a correlation between states with high levels of antibiotic use and other health related data. States with high incidences of antibiotic use coincided with a high use of tobacco and alcohol use. Also, more citizens suffered from diabetes, strokes and heart disease.
McKenna showed a graph published by the National Stroke Mortality Atlas, which detailed a higher risk of strokes in eastern states. Also, the incidence of strokes was highest in states near the Appalachian Mountains.
The State Labs Visualization Project developed a map of the incidences of diabetes in 2008. The results from that graph were also consistent with the results from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System project, which mapped the percent of all individuals in each state with a body mass index of 30 or higher.
So what’s going on here? Let’s stipulate that correlation is not causation. Even so, it’s a bit of a mystery.
It is not new news that West Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama — and to a lesser extent, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi — are seriously unhealthy places. They are notoriously among the poorest states in the US, and with poverty comes the worst access to health care and the greatest incidence of lifestyle diseases.
McKenna explains that the situation is a total mystery. The correlation between the use of antibiotics and risk factors is clear.
Extending the Cure’s managing director, Ramanan Laxminarayan has a theory. When McKenna consulted with him, Laxminarayan said people with poor health statuses are probably more likely to see a doctor for treatment. Doctors may improperly diagnose the conditions and prescribe antibiotics rather than encouraging patients to make necessary life changes. This would explain why areas of the country where people are at higher risk of developing health related problems would also have a higher rate of prescribing antibiotics.
[box type="important"]However, there is another possibility. McKenna references the work of Martin Blaser of New York University’s Langone Medical Center. Blaser has found evidence that long-term use of antibiotics may kill bacteria in the gut that plays an instrumental role in protecting the immune system and helping the body absorb nutrients. If Blaser’s study turns out to be correct, over-prescription of antibiotics may be responsible for many different health problems.[/box]