FREQUENT antibiotic use could raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a study has claimed.
Danish researchers have discovered that people who had five or more prescriptions over a period of up to 15 years were more than half as likely to develop the condition compared to those who were given antibiotics just once, or never.
Antibiotics may affect bacteria in the gut, some of which may contribute to the impaired ability of people with diabetes to metabolise sugar.
Experts have argued that people with as yet undiagnosed diabetes may be more prone to infection, and therefore use more antibiotics.
The researchers, whose findings appeared yesterday in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, tracked the antibiotic prescriptions made out for 170,400 people with type 2 diabetes as well as 1.3 million people without the condition.
Study author Dr Kristian Mikkelsen, from Gentofte Hospital in Hellerup, Denmark, said: “Although we cannot infer causality from this study, the findings raise the possibility that antibiotics could raise the risk of type 2 diabetes.
“Another equally compelling explanation may be that people develop type 2 diabetes over the course of years and face a greater risk of infection during that time.”
Type 2 diabetes can often be caused by lifestyle factors such as obesity, and is thought to affect around 260,000 people in Scotland.
Dr Mikkelsen added: “Further investigation into long-term effect of antibiotic use on sugar metabolism and gut bacteria composition could reveal valuable answers about how to address this public health crisis.
“Patterns in antibiotic use may offer an opportunity to prevent the development of the disease or to diagnose it early.”
Experts warned that the findings do not prove that antibiotics cause type 2 diabetes, as people likely to develop the condition may be taking medicines as they are already at risk of infection.
Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at Glasgow University, said: “The study is interesting but findings are not unexpected.
“Diabetes and those with higher sugar levels in advance of diagnosis are known to have more infections due to hyperglycaemia, and potentially other risk factors for diabetes are also increasing infection risk.
“The bottom line is that this paper confirms what we already know – multiple infections signal risk for diabetes.”
Being overweight remains the key risk factor for type 2 diabetes, said Dr Richard Elliott, research communications officer at Diabetes UK.
He said: “The influence of other key diabetes risk factors could not be ruled out and it might be that obesity and type 2 diabetes cause an increased use of antibiotics, because both are thought to increase the risk of infection.
“As the researchers themselves suggest, clinical trials are needed to work out the causes involved.
“We know that being overweight is the key risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and that the best way to prevent the condition is to maintain a healthy weight by eating a healthy balanced diet and by taking regular physical activity.”