Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Children given antibiotics before age 2 are nearly three times as likely to develop celiac disease later in life, according to an analysis published Monday by the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
In addition, children treated with the drugs have a 90% higher risk for asthma and 32% greater likelihood of being diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And they are about 20% more likely to be overweight or obese as they age, the data showed.
Children treated with antibiotics as infants also had a 21% higher risk for a learning disability and a 19% higher risk for autism.
However, the findings illustrate an association between antibiotic use and these health conditions and does not suggest that the drugs cause them, researchers said.
"Our findings demonstrate an association between antibiotic exposure during a key period of development and the risk of several health conditions with childhood onset," study co-author Nathan K. LeBrasseur told UPI.
"The greater the exposure, defined by the number of prescriptions, the greater the risk -- and some antibiotics appear to pose more risk than others," said LeBrasseur, a professor and co-chair of research in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
The link between antibiotics, which are used to treat bacterial infections, and these and other health conditions lies in the drugs' effect on the gut microbiome, according to LeBrassaeur and his colleagues.
The gut microbiome, which plays a key role in growth and development, is the collection of microorganisms -- including bacteria -- living in the digestive tract that help the body process food and deliver nutrients and energy where it's needed.
It's believed that early exposure to antibiotics may result in impeded development of "good bacteria" in the gut, affecting the body's ability to fight off infection and inflammation, the researchers said.
For this study, the Mayo Clinic team, along with colleagues at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at Rutgers University in New Jersey, tracked 14,572 children born in Olmstead County, Minn., between 2003 and 2011.
Among these children, 70% received at least one antibiotic prescription to fight or prevent infection from birth to 2 years, the researchers said.
Compared with those who were not treated with the drugs, children who received antibiotics were up to 200% more likely to develop celiac disease, a digestive disorder that effects the body's ability to process gluten that is an ingredient found in many foods, the data showed.
In addition to increased risk for asthma, ADHD and weight management problems, children who received antibiotics as infants were 47% more likely to develop eczema, 36% more likely to develop hay fever and 33% to have a food allergy, the researchers said.
Those who received multiple antibiotic treatments were more likely to have several illnesses or conditions later in childhood, the researchers said.
The researchers said they hope the results help shape future research to determine safer approaches to timing, dosing and types of antibiotics for children in this age group.
"The findings from Olmsted County provide evidence for broad and delayed effects of early life antibiotic exposures, and should change doctors' practices in how often they prescribe antibiotics, especially for mild conditions," study co-author Martin Blaser, director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at Rutgers, said in a statement.