Antibiotics for 2 Months Increase Stroke and Heart Attack Risk by Dr. Joseph Mercola for Mercola
Using antibiotics for an extended period of time during middle-age or later may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in women.
The finding comes from a study published in the European Heart Journal, which revealed women aged 60 and over who used antibiotics for two months or longer had significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, compared to women who did not.1
According to a press release2 by the researchers, the results held true even after adjusting for other related factors, like obesity, other chronic diseases and diet and lifestyle. Antibiotic exposure leads to long-lasting alterations in gut microbiota, which may influence risk of cardiovascular disease.
Antibiotics Use Leads to Heart Risks
While the use of antibiotics in younger adults between the ages of 20 and 39 was not linked to heart risks, women aged 60 and older who used antibiotics for two months or longer were 32% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than women who did not use such drugs.
Overall, among women in late adulthood who take antibiotics for two months or more, six per 1,000 would develop cardiovascular disease, compared to three per 1,000 for women who did not. Women in middle age (40 to 59 years) who used antibiotics for longer than two months also had a 28% increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The women used antibiotics most often for respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and dental problems, although the results held true even after the reasons behind the usage were factored in. Lead study author Lu Qi, director of the Tulane University Obesity Research Center in New Orleans, stated in a news release:3
“By investigating the duration of antibiotic use in various stages of adulthood we have found an association between long-term use in middle age and later life and an increased risk of stroke and heart disease during the following eight years.
As these women grew older they were more likely to need more antibiotics, and sometimes for longer periods of time, which suggests a cumulative effect may be the reason for the stronger link in older age between antibiotic use and cardiovascular disease.”
Antibiotics’ role in wiping out beneficial gut bacteria was also highlighted as a likely reason for the increased heart risks. “Antibiotic use is the most critical factor in altering the balance of microorganisms in the gut. Previous studies have shown a link between alterations in the microbiotic environment of the gut and inflammation and narrowing of the blood vessels, stroke and heart disease,” Qi said.4
What Does Your Gut Health Have to Do With Your Heart?
It’s becoming increasingly common knowledge that antibiotics are an enemy to the health of your gut — so much so that even mainstream pharmacies may suggest you take probiotics, or good bacteria, along with a prescription for antibiotics in order to help protect your gut.
One of the risks of taking antibiotics is that it can allow unhealthy bacteria, viruses or other microorganisms to flourish in your gut, which can take a toll on your heart.
For starters, when the bacteria in your gut break down lecithin, a fat found in meat, eggs, dairy and other animal foods along with baked goods and dietary supplements, and its metabolite choline, it leads to the creation of a by-product called trimethylamine N-oxide or TMAO.5
TMAO encourages fatty plaque deposits to form within arteries (atherosclerosis), and the more TMAO you have in your blood the greater your risk of heart disease becomes. It’s not clear which types of gut bacteria lead to the formation of TMAO, but it’s suggested that probiotics may help to buffer the effect and thereby help prevent heart disease.
Another study published in the journal Atherosclerosis found that patients with inexplicably high amounts of arterial plaque, based on their age and risk factors for atherosclerosis, had higher levels of TMAO, p-cresyl sulfate, p-cresyl glucuronide and phenylacetylglutamine — metabolites produced by certain gut microbes.
On the other hand, people with unexpectedly low amounts of plaque, despite having traditional risk factors, had lower levels of these metabolic products. The differences could not be explained by renal function or poor diet.
Rather, there was a difference in gut microbiome between the groups. The researchers noted, “The intestinal microbiome appears to play an important role in atherosclerosis. These findings raise the possibility of novel approaches to treatment of atherosclerosis such as fecal transplantation and probiotics.”6