A new study has provided evidence that antibiotic usage is associated with an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Researchers analyzed antibiotic use data and found the following on developing rheumatoid arthritis
Researchers from Keele University and the Quadram Institute analyzed data from primary care medical records. They found that the odds of developing rheumatoid arthritis were 60% higher in those exposed to antibiotics than in those not exposed.
The odds increased with the number of antibiotics treatments, and how recently they were taken.
Study suggests RA affects 26 in 100,000 people who have taken antibiotics
Rheumatoid arthritis affects 400,000 people in the UK and this study suggests it affects 26 in 100,000 people who have taken antibiotics. Rheumatoid arthritis is likely to be caused by a complex mix of genetics and different environmental factors, so this study isn’t reason to stop taking antibiotics where they are needed. But it does open up a new avenue of exploration to finding the triggers, which could be vital in the search for ways of preventing this condition.
Although this study was large, it can’t say for sure whether it is the antibiotics that increase the risk, or the infection itself.
Type of infection is important
The type of infection was important. Upper respiratory tract infections treated with antibiotics were more associated with rheumatoid arthritis cases, but this association wasn’t seen in untreated cases. The analysis of the type of antibiotic showed that all classes increased the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, so this suggests the risk could be derived from the antibiotics. This has also been seen in other recent studies associating antibiotic usage with an increased risk of other autoimmune conditions, including type 1 diabetes and autoimmune liver disease.
Antibiotics affect the microbiome, among other things
As well as targeting the bacteria behind infections, antibiotics affect the microbiome. This complex ecosystem of microbes helps maintain our own health and plays an important role in modulating the immune system. A number of small studies have found that the microbiome in people with rheumatoid arthritis is less diverse, but this is the first study that has investigated the effect of antibiotic usage.
This work offers a glimpse into the complexity of understanding rheumatoid arthritis
Professor Christian Mallen, Head of School for Primary, Community and Social Care at Keele University, said: “This exciting work offers another glimpse into the complexity of understanding rheumatoid arthritis, opening the door for future work in this area. New collaborations, such as the one between the Quadram Institute and Keele University, allow exciting new interdisciplinary research that is needed to progress understanding in this field.”
Mechanisms that link the microbes to different conditions is challenging
Dr Lindsay Hall, Group Leader at the Quadram Institute on the Norwich Research Park, said: “The more we learn about the complexity of the microbiome, and how factors including antibiotics impact these diverse microbial ecosystems, the more insights we have into how this may alter key health outcomes. The challenge now is to unpick the mechanisms that link the microbes to different conditions, including RA, so that we can develop new therapeutics.”
- Sultan, A.A. et al. (2019) Antibiotic use and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis: a population-based case-control study. BMC Medicine. doi.org/10.1186/s12916-019-1394-6.
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, which has been in print since 2005, and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on social media: Find her on Facebook at Razi Berry, on Instagram at Razi.Berry, join her Love is Medicine group to explore the convergence of love and health, and find more Love is Medicine podcast episodes here.