World Government Summit: Protecting gut bacteria could reduce need for antibiotics

Doctors warn of 'pharmaggedon' as drug resistant bacteria continues to threaten future health care

Branded treatments are often priced much higher than generic versions. Christopher Pike / The National
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The rise of antibiotic resistant superbugs could be sending mankind on a collision course with ‘pharmaggedon’ but simple steps like changing our diets could help divert disaster.

Antibiotic resistance has been cited as a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation, while others have warned of a post-antibiotic apocalypse as overused drugs lose their ability to fight infection, making routine operations potentially lethal.

Doctors speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai on Monday have said improving our gut bacteria, or personal microbiomes, could help reduce the need for antibiotics in the future.

These microbiomes exist in all of us and often determine our health, with the 100 trillion microbes or so in the human body offering a huge amount of information on individuals.

“We need to understand more about the way we live, and how this impacts our microbes,” said Dr Robynne Chutkhan, founder and chief executive of Digestive Centre for Wellness.

“Microbes are constantly changing and are affected by the way we live our lives and genetic factors.

“There have been sky rocketing rates of some diseases, and this can be attributed to key factors.

“We know that children who live in highly sanitised environments are also more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases.

“Our natural ecosystems are actually being ruined by modern life.”


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Having a baby by C-section or not-breast feeding also dramatically changes its chances of contracting autoimmune diseases later in life, as newborns are not exposed to the mother’s microbes in the birthing canal.

Children from large families who are exposed to germs by their siblings are also proven to have very low rates of autoimmune disease.

Environmental factors have led to a huge spike in such diseases, with global asthma rates increasing by about 300 per cent since 1980, whilst Crohn’s disease has gone up by more than 350 per cent since the 1950s.

Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis have also drastically risen over the past 40 years, by about 200 per cent.

Although there has been a dramatic decrease in communicable diseases like measles, hepatitis and tuberculosis — there has been a dramatic increase in other non-communicable diseases.

Antibiotic use can damage microbiomes and is strongly linked to the development of autoimmune diseases and obesity.

Developed countries have become cursed by what experts have described as ‘quality starvation’ where millions of people now have access to high calorie, low quality food.

That has seen the general health of many populations deteriorate, as naturally formed microbes in our gut have become decimated by environmental factors.

“Whilst antibiotics have revolutionised the practice of medicine and saved millions of lives, they can’t distinguish between beneficial bacteria that helps keep us healthy and pathogens that make us sick,” said Dr Chutkhan.

“A healthy microbiome leads to a stronger immune system and resistance to disease. Improving an individual’s microbiome could be used as an alternative to antibiotics.

“We know that microbes can dramatically change someone’s health and optimising microbiomes in early life can reduce the risk factors for many non-communicable diseases.”

Diet swap has been proven to have a dramatic effect on colon cancer risk for Americans and Africans, according to a study by Imperial College London in 2015.

Twenty African Americans and 20 more subjects from rural South Africa swapped diets for two weeks to see the impact on health. The American group found less inflammation in the colon and reduced biomarkers of cancer risk after eating a largely plant based diet.

The African group on an American diet rich in red meat and dairy found a dramatic increase in their cancer risk after just two weeks, as indicated by their biomarkers.