Antibiotics & Your Gut: Make Sure the Good Guys Don’t Finish LastPrescription Drugs
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Depending on your age, health status, diet, medications and overall lifestyle, your gut microbiomes are essentially ever-changing landscapes of living organisms (trillions of them!). As with any community, both good and bad bacteria reside in your gut. And whether your gut has more of the ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ may depend on your health and lifestyle.
For example, if you drink a lot of alcohol and follow a diet void of nutrient-dense foods, like fruits and veggies, you will likely have more pro-inflammatory (bad) bacteria in your gut. On the other hand, if you eat healthily, drink in moderation and avoid smoking cigarettes, you will likely have more anti-inflammatory (good) bacteria in your gut.
A general rule of thumb regarding gut health is the more diversity of the good bacteria, the better.
Your Stomach Feels Fine. Why Should You Care About What’s Living in Your Gut?
Even though you may not suffer from chronic indigestion or an upset stomach, you should care deeply about what’s going on and living in your gut. A vast body of credible medical research has shown that the gut microbiome plays a major role in the following:
- Your body’s ability to absorb nutrients
- Your risk of being obese or having other metabolic conditions
- Your risk of developing cancer
- Your mental health
So it is extremely important to be proactive about maintaining the community of good bacteria in your gut.
So This Brings Me to the Discussion of Antibiotics.
Most of you have taken antibiotics to treat an infection at some point in your lives. And if you are a parent to a young child, you’ve probably questioned whether your child needed antibiotics due to having an ear infection. You may have heard that taking antibiotics kills the bad bacteria. But what you may not know is that they may also negatively affect the population of good bacteria in your gut.
One recent study revealed that it may take a long time, as in half a year, to repair the gut after antibiotic use. Furthermore, the study revealed a drop in gut species diversity, with some of these species not re-appearing.
The study involved 12 men who took a “cocktail of different antibiotics,” according to a report on the study. The men, who were otherwise healthy, were given antibiotics to treat a variety of issues, including drug-resistant bacterial meningitis and chlamydia.
The results revealed that the men “were able to recover to a mostly-normal microbiome level within six months. Nine species of gut dwellers, though, never reappeared; instead, there were some undesirable species of bacteria that managed to take hold.”
And it appears that the antibiotics not only depleted beneficial bacteria but also set the stage for the bad bacteria to thrive.
“Follow-up analyses confirmed that some species had disappeared. And there were some bacteria that hadn’t been detected before the treatment but appeared in the samples afterwards. These are from species that form spores—almost like seeds for bacteria—when conditions aren’t ideal, so they might have been lurking in the gut before the antibiotics and emerged only when the other species were wiped out.”
Researchers saw a depletion of Bifidobacterium species (which people often take as probiotics) and butyrate producers. And as we have previously discussed, butyrate may be beneficial for colonic health.
But sometimes it is absolutely necessary to take an antibiotic to fight a life-threatening infection.
Take, for example, the story of this sepsis survivor. Without antibiotics, she would most likely not be here today. And even in perhaps less extreme cases, antibiotics are sometimes necessary to treat conditions, like urinary tract infections (UTIs) and pneumonia.
So sometimes you may have no choice but to compromise your gut microbiomes in order to overcome an illness. The benefits of taking them far outweigh the risks in most cases. This is why many medical professionals, including the pH health care team, stresses protecting your gut before, during and after antibiotic therapy.
The hope is that we can always repair our guts so that the good bacteria outweighs the bad.
This Does Not Mean You Should Avoid Antibiotics at All Costs.
Although this recent study revealed some unsettling information, it demonstrates that although it may take some time, the gut can usually get back to where it needs to be.
We just have to remember that we should only take antibiotics if a competent healthcare professional determines that it is absolutely necessary.
We also have to be proactive about preventing infection by boosting our immune systems, which can be greatly influenced by nutrition. This may reduce the need for frequent antibiotic use.
“Mounting evidence shows that antibiotics influence the function of the immune system, our ability to resist infection, and our capacity for processing food. Therefore, it is now more important than ever to revisit how we use antibiotics,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
(To revisit how to promote and maintain gut health, including by avoiding certain artificial sweeteners, click here).
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.