Women who take antibiotics over a longer period of time increase their risk of having a heart attack or stroke by up to a third, according to new research involving nearly 36,500 women.

By Sofia Popov Antibiotics aren't all they were advertised to be: these past few years have shown us what we're really eliminating when we flush our system with anti-bacterials. Washing away our microbial co-inhabitants makes us more vulnerable to subsequent infections and the like. Now, new research shows this new-found susceptibility even reaches our heart. Turns out, taking antibiotics for more than 2 months significantly raises the risk of cardiovascular disease by wiping out our good bacteria. The dramatic turn was most pronounced in woman over 60, who saw their rates rise to 32% compared to women who didn't take any antibiotics.

Wiping out bacteria weakens our heart health

In this long running US study, led by Tulane University, 36,500 women were closely monitored for an eight year study period. During this time, 1,506 of the participants developed cardiovascular disease. In women over 60, the researchers found six heart attacks or strokes for every 1000 women, compared to three per thousand for the same age-group who didn't take antibiotics. After accounting for other possible explanatory factors, this increased risk remained.

Thus, for women taking antibiotics for two months or more in late adulthood there was a 32% greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared women who did not use antibiotics. Meanwhile, middle-age women who took antibiotics for longer than two months had a 28% increased risk.

Thus, for women taking antibiotics for two months or more in late adulthood there was a 32% greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared women who did not use antibiotics. Meanwhile, middle-age women who took antibiotics for longer than two months had a 28% increased risk, whilst no effects were found for women aged 39 or younger. Most of the women were prescribed antibiotics for lung infections, urinary tract infections, and dental problems.

Antibiotics affect our microbial balance

This study is the largest to investigate the link between antibiotic use and risk of heart disease and stroke, creating strong evidence that has is complemented by the long follow-ups used. The researchers suggest that, as women reach older age, they are more likely to need more antibiotics, and often for longer time frames. This can create a cumulative effect that could explain the correlation between cardiovascular disease, antibiotic use and older age. It's clear that balancing our microbial communities is essential for overall gut health.

The researchers suggest that, as women reach older age, they are more likely to need more antibiotics, and often for longer time frames. This can create a cumulative effect that could explain the correlation between cardiovascular disease, antibiotic use and older age.

Antibiotics alter our gut ecosystem, shifting the balance and destroying the good gut bugs whilst creating a space for viruses, bad bacteria and infections to arise. Considering this, the authors stress the importance of keeping antibiotic use to a minimum. Professor Lu Qi, director of the Tulane University Obesity Research Centre, who led the research states: "Our study suggests that antibiotics should be used only when they are absolutely needed.. considering the potentially cumulative adverse effects, the shorter time of antibiotic use the better."

Reference
  1. Yoriko Heianza, Yan Zheng, Wenjie Ma, Eric B Rimm, Christine M Albert, Frank B Hu, Kathryn M Rexrode, JoAnn E Manson, Lu Qi. Duration and life-stage of antibiotic use and risk of cardiovascular events in womenEuropean Heart Journal, 2019; DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehz231