Can a simple diet change fight antibiotic resistance?

C&I Issue 9, 2023

Read time: 3 mins

Simon Frost

How you eat during antibiotic treatment could be key to tackling resistance. 

A study from the University of Nottingham, UK, suggests that proper cooking and dietary decisions during antibiotic treatment may hold the key to reducing antibiotic resistance. The research (Plos One, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0289941) sheds light on how antibiotic resistance genes accumulate over a lifetime, offering insights into long-term resistance in gut bacteria and potential prevention strategies.

The study drew upon data from previous research indicating that antibiotic gene diversity in gut microbiota varies with age. The research reveals that reducing exposure to resistance genes found in food and water, coupled with decreased medical antibiotic use, could significantly mitigate the long-term rise in resistance within human gut microbiomes.

One striking finding is that minimising the intake of resistance genes is especially effective during antibiotic treatment, when there’s an elevated risk of these genes persisting in the gut.

The researchers say that dietary guidance should be provided to individuals undergoing antibiotic therapy. This guidance would advise avoiding products more likely to carry antibiotic resistance genes, even if these genes reside on otherwise harmless bacteria. Additionally, it emphasises the importance of thoroughly cooking all food during treatment.

Dov Stekel, a leader of the study and an expert in Computational Biology at the University of Nottingham, commented, ‘When you’re taking antibiotics, that’s precisely when you’re most vulnerable to creating longer-term problems due to drug-resistant bacteria from food. If you consume something containing drug-resistant genes while on antibiotics, these resistances could become entrenched in your gut ecosystem. Consequently, the next time you require antibiotics, they may not work effectively.’

The study also identifies other factors that can reduce the long-term acquisition and retention of genes responsible for resistance to various classes of antibiotics. Given that these genes accumulate over a person’s lifetime, the study underscores the benefits of reducing exposure. A cautious approach to antibiotic use and dosing guidelines, consistent with practices in many countries, will be vital in curbing the long-term development of antibiotic resistance.

The research indicates the potential for policy and practice changes in the food supply chain, spanning agriculture and post-harvest food production, to reduce the number of acquired resistance genes over a lifetime. The University of Nottingham’s Vet School is exploring this avenue, using artificial intelligence to monitor the gut microbiome in livestock.

Stekel concludes: ‘The degree of benefit from changes in medical treatment and dietary habits depends significantly on the level of antibiotic use, which varies greatly between countries. While our general model shows benefits across all prescription levels, a more nuanced approach considering regional and country-specific practices, along with antibiotic classes and associated resistance genes, offers a more precise means of quantifying the potential impact of such interventions.’

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