You feel that tickle in the back of your throat. You’re fever is spiking. You’re exhausted and ache all over.
Streptococcal pharyngitis (more commonly known as strep throat) has infected your body. The pain is intolerable, so you head to the doctor to get a dose of antibiotics to send that infection away.
Antibiotics are a natural part of modern life, and most people will find him or herself in a situation where antibiotics can do more than cure your aching throat, they can be lifesaving.
But, with all of the benefits of antibiotics, they come with their own set of negatives. Antibiotics don’t know how to differentiate the bad bacteria from the good bacteria, and they end up clearing your body of everything, even though you desperately need bacteria to be healthy.
In the article, we’ll look at recommendations for using antibiotics wisely, best practices to follow while taking them, and ways to repair your gut afterwards using prebiotics and probiotics.
How Antibiotics Work
Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria. They are usually used to treat bacterial infections, such as strep throat, ear infections, urinary tract infections, and sinus infections (sinusitis).
There are many types of antibiotics and their uses vary just as widely. Each antibiotic drug works differently and acts on different types of bacteria.
Antibiotics don’t cure illnesses caused by viruses (such as common colds, influenza (the flu), or acute bronchitis). Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can cause all sorts of unpleasant side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain.
When you take antibiotics, they effectively remove all of the bacteria inside your body, which is great for getting rid of the infection, but not good for the parts of your body that require bacteria to function properly. Because of this, side effects can include yeast infections for women and irritation of the large intestine, or colon. This is called Clostridium difficilecolitis (or C. diff) and can be very dangerous if it isn’t treated quickly.
You should always consult your doctor if you feel you need antibiotics. It isn’t safe to take antibiotics without a prescription from a doctor.
One reason for this is because bacteria can become antibiotic-resistant, which means bacteria can mutate into forms that are unaffected by antibiotics and makes a bacterial infection incredibly hard to treat.
Never take antibiotics that aren’t your own, or share your prescriptions with others. And make sure if you do get a prescription to take the full recommended program, because stopping using antibiotics too soon can also result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Although antibiotics are sometimes necessary, make sure you talk to your doctor about your concerns with antibiotics. There may be other treatment options or lower doses of antibiotics that you can take to reduce the damage done to your gut.
Things to Do While Taking Antibiotics
Although most of your efforts will be done after you’ve finished your antibiotic program, there are a few things you can do during (and even before) taking antibiotics to help reduce the damage done to your natural microbiome.
If you’re able to prepare for antibiotics before taking them, consider taking probiotics. Probiotics are the “good bacteria” that our guts need. Variety is important when considering probiotics because our bodies don’t just need bacteria, it needs a lot of different kinds of bacteria.
It might seem like taking antibiotics and probiotics at the same time is counter-productive, but keep in mind that probiotics don’t need to colonize in the gut to be beneficial. Even introducing various strains while on antibiotics can be helpful for maintaining gut health.
Probiotics can be taken via fermented foods (see below) or supplements. Some of the most common strains of probiotics include Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, and Saccharomyces boulardii.
When taking antibiotics, it’s important to help your gut out. You don’t want to consume foods and beverages that require your intestines to work too hard. Cut down on (or cut out completely) processed and packaged foods, sugar, and simple carbs. Bad bacteria thrives on these foods.
Instead, eat plenty of soluble fiber, which can be found in foods like starchy tubers, squash, and peeled fruits. These feed the good bacteria in your body. Avoid insoluble fiber, as it can be irritating to the gut lining. This includes foods like wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains.
Fermented foods naturally introduce probiotics to your gut. Not only to they increase the volume of good bacteria in your body, they also greatly increase the diversity, which is essential for a healthy microbiome.
Fermented foods that you should consider adding to your diet are yogurt, milk kefir, water kefir and kombucha. These foods and beverages contain live bacteria that can do wonders for your gut. Because of their benefits to your natural microbiome, you should consider making fermented foods a part of your everyday diet, whether taking antibiotics or not.
Prebiotics help protect and rebuild a healthy microbiome and should be taken before, during, and after using antibiotics. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not bacteria themselves, but are non-digestible food ingredients that make it easier for beneficial bacteria to thrive within your digestive system.
Although many foods can do this, prebiotics are particularly good at cultivating a good environment for healthy bacteria, as well as selectively stimulating the growth of these bacteria.
Some foods that are considered prebiotics are leeks, garlic, honey, bananas, onion, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes. Do your best to include these in your daily diet before, during, and after taking antibiotics.
Things to Do After Taking Antibiotics
After taking antibiotics, you need to first repair your gut and liver, and then reintroduce a variety of good bacteria to your body. To reintroduce, you can use the practices listed above, such as consuming probiotic and prebiotic supplements and foods. But to repair, try these two tricks.
The digestive system and colon goes through a lot when taking antibiotics, so it’s important to promote healing after your antibiotic program has ended.
Bone broth is a common suggestion for repairing the gut after taking antibiotics. Bone broth is glycine-rich, which helps your body heal and restore the mucosal lining in your digestive system, as well as encourage healthy inflammation.
Although this article has mostly addressed repairing the gut, antibiotics can also take quite a toll on your liver. The liver is responsible for processing and detoxifying medications, as well as dealing with extra circulating lipopolysaccharides from the increased bacterial death and intestinal permeability that occurs over the use of antibiotics. This is especially detrimental if you’re on antibiotics for a long period of time.
A common remedy is milk thistle, which helps detoxify and repair the liver. On top of stabilizing liver cell membranes and supporting the hepatic system, milk thistle is a powerful antioxidant, which helps fight free radicals and oxidative stress.
The Importance of Gut Health
More than 1000 trillion bacteria live in our digestive system—and although that seems like a lot, the microbiome is always in a delicate balance that’s needed to maintain health. The level of complexity that makes up the human gut means that medical science is still trying to understand exactly how the gut works and a lot of research is still needed.
One of the many mysteries is “leaky gut syndrome.” Although this isn’t a medical diagnosis, it points to issues in the gut that can’t yet be defined. “We don’t know a lot but we know that it exists,” says Linda A. Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center. “In the absence of evidence, we don’t know what it means or what therapies can directly address it.”
Leaky gut is said to present in symptoms such as bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivities, and aches and pains, but exactly what causes it, what all of the potential symptoms are, and how it gets cured remains a medical mystery.
Although much isn’t known, antibiotics and leaky gut syndrome have been related. A possible cause of leaky gut is increased intestinal permeability or intestinal hyperpermeability, both of which could be brought on by long-term use of antibiotics without effective repair protocols being introduced.
The human gut has a lot to be discovered, but scientists do know that it is our biggest immune system organ. When the gut is unhealthy, the whole body is unhealthy, so extra attention should be paid to this vital organ.
Antibiotics can’t always be avoided, but there are recommended protocols that can be followed to keep microbiome damage to a minimum.
Remember to always consult a doctor before, during, and after taking antibiotics and consult your doctor on the repair program you want to follow to keep your microbiome healthy.
When looking for natural ways to take care of your gut, look no further than Nature’s Sunshine. We have a number of gut- and liver-related products that are designed to fit your gut needs and help one of your body’s largest and most important organs function at optimum levels.