What’s the best thing for a person to do after taking antibiotics? If you’re asking that question you’re smarter than the average bear! A lot of people learn the hard way that after taking antibiotics there are certain things that need to be done or some unpleasant results can occur. Problems that can arise after taking antibiotics range from relatively minor nuisances like yeast infections or diarrhea, to more serious conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, to very serious even deadly issues like Clostridium difficile (C-Diff). It’s easy to understand why certain measures are needed after taking antibiotics when you understand what an antibiotic does. Antibiotics really should be avoided if at all possible. The negative effects they have on the body are significant, which I’ll get to, but first let me tell you about your amazing body!
Something magical happens when your body gets sick and then recovers all on its own. That magic is called antibodies! Every time you get sick, whether due to a bacterial or viral infection, the immune system makes antibodies which are like a magic antidote to combat that particular germ. When the body is allowed to do what God designed it to do, the body develops a natural immunity to whatever bacteria and viruses have made it sick. Over time a person becomes immune to all kinds of things. This is especially exciting for mothers of babies. The more developed a mom’s “antibody profile” is, the better her babies will be protected for about a year, if the baby is breastfed.
Guess what the body does when an antibiotic is used to fight the infection. Nothing. No magic. The body is just as vulnerable to the virus or bacteria that made it sick as it was before. No immunity is developed when antibiotics are used. So the best choice for long term health is not to use antibiotics. I recently read a great story here about a mom’s experience with strep throat. This mom has some compelling reasons not to use antibiotics for strep throat. Check out this cool video on how these antibodies work!
Antibiotics Kill a Very Important Organ!
So what do antibiotics do? They kill bacteria. (Antibiotics have no effect on viruses, so if your infection is viral, antibiotics will not help.) Doctors prescribe antibiotics to kill the harmful bacteria which cause illness. The big problem with antibiotics is that it kills off the good bacteria too, the microflora that we all have and our bodies need to function properly. Today the gut flora is viewed as an actual organ on our bodies. There are 10 times as many of these good bacteria on the body than cells in the body! The cumulative weight of these microbes is heavier than the brain. These little guys get no respect but do some really amazing and important jobs in the body. The gut flora is responsible for breaking down certain carbohydrates. Often when a person is “lactose intolerant” or has a lot of gas associated with beans, the root issue is that there are not enough of these good guys to break down the carbs in the milk or beans. The gut flora also helps in the absorption of minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron. Absorption of vitamin K and even water, production of vitamins like folate and biotin, cancer prevention, protection from infections of yeast and C-Diff, allergy prevention, increased energy levels, decreased obesity, prevention of irritable bowl syndrome and even colitis are all functions of the good bacteria in the intestines.
It is also important to understand that these good guys don’t just live in the gut. There are good bacteria everywhere on the body. I have only given you some of the jobs they do in the gut, but there are all kinds of important functions outside of the gut performed by the good bacteria. The diversity of these microbes is continually being discovered. After antibiotics have done their damage, the team of good guy flora has taken a serious beating. Can you see how HUGE this is to health?
Before I write about what to do after taking antibiotics, I want to emphasize just how serious antibiotic use is. There are times when antibiotics are needed, however they’re over-used and abused much too often. The focus should be to work on being healthy so the immune system is strong and capable. Having a doctor who knows how to treat illness without antibiotics, by helping your body do what it’s designed to do, is very important. If all a doctor knows is to say, “This will have to run its course,” or to write a prescription for a drug, the patient is not getting real healthcare. I call this “drugs or nothing” mentality disease-care, not health care.
So, what can be done when antibiotics have done their damage on the good flora our bodies need? I hope I’ve made it abundantly clear that after taking antibiotics it is really important to restore the good flora to the body! That’s what needs to happen. There are four categories to the subject of restoring the good microbes.
Prebiotics are food for the good microbes. Prebiotics are important after antibiotics to give the new good microbes lots of good nutrition so they multiply well. Understanding how important these good microbes are makes including prebiotics in the diet on a regular basis a smart practice. Prebiotics are things like inulin and oligofructose, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and other oligosaccharides. There are supplements that contain really high doses of this stuff and there are foods that have prebiotics in them. Foods like asparagus, burdock, chicory, dandelion root, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks, onions, grains, legumes, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, radish and rutabaga are all good sources. Cooking these foods, however, reduces the prebiotic content. I recommend using a high quality prebiotic supplement after antibiotics, in addition to diet, to get the good microbes off to a good start. Then once the body has had about a month to get a good start on the good microbes, focus on keeping the prebiotics in the diet through food. If you look at the list of foods that are high in prebiotics and think that you will not eat very much, especially raw, a great way to get many of them on a daily basis is with Greens First.
Probiotics From Supplements
Probiotics are the actual good microbes that live in and on us. There are thousands of different types of these microbes. Some of the most well-known probiotics are lactobacillus, bifidobacteria and saccharomyces boulardii. There are over 50 kinds of lactobacilli. The diversity of these microbes seems to cause many different effects in humans. Research on types of good microbes and their effects is on-going. For example, some of the health benefits discovered that are linked to the different lactobacilli are treating and/or preventing yeast infections, urinary tract infection, irritable bowel syndrome, antibiotic-related diarrhea, traveler’s diarrhea, diarrhea resulting from Clostridium difficile, treating lactose intolerance, skin disorders (fever blisters, eczema, acne, and canker sores), and prevention of respiratory infections.
There are around 30 kinds of bifidobacteria. These microbes are the first to show up in a healthy baby’s colon. One of the biggest benefits to breastfeeding is all the great flora the the mom gives the baby through breast milk. The different benefits associated with bifidobacteria are treating and/or preventing irritable bowel syndrome, dental cavities, improved blood lipids, and blood sugar tolerance.
Saccharomyces boulardii has been studied extensively especially for use with the diarrhea that often comes after antibiotics. This stuff makes it through the acid in the stomach and gets to multiplying right away. Saccharomyces boulardii does not require refrigeration so as a supplement it is very convenient and practical. Some of the other benefits with saccharomyces boulardii are preventing and treating diarrhea associated traveler’s diarrhea. It has also been reported to prevent the re-occurrence of Clostridium difficile, to treat acne, and to reduce side effects of antibiotic treatment of Helicobacter pylori.
This is one category in which it would be wise to seek professional advice before starting supplementation. The time after antibiotics is a very good time to take a probiotic supplement. Choosing the right supplement is critical to a good outcome. Too often people go to the store and buy something and it doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s easy to choose the appropriate natural supplement and sometimes it is really quite complex to figure out what is right for you. There are many factors that you would probably never think of. Besides the actual type of probiotic in the supplement, there are factors like how many are in it, which prebiotics are in it, and what are the inactive ingredients. Sometimes a supplement can do more harm than good. A professional who works with supplements all the time is not only able to know whether the ingredients on the label are good, but also if it actually works. To help with choosing the right probiotic I have created a Probiotic Buying Guide. You can download the guide HERE.
Probiotics From Food
Adding to the microbe portfolio of the body is always a great thing especially after taking antibiotics. There are some real surprises in this category. Everyone knows that yogurt can be a good source of probiotics. Good old Consumer Reports did a great investigation of yogurts, which you can read HERE. Basically all the yogurts tested pretty well on the amount of probiotics in them. Some of the surprising foods that are great sources of probiotics are sauerkraut, dark chocolate, spirulina, chorella, Miso soup, sour pickles, some cheeses like gouda, kefir, sourdough bread and tempeh. How about the fact that dark chocolate and pickles could be considered “health foods”? 😉 I’ll go ahead and put in another plug for Greens First here. It has several different kinds of probiotics and probiotic foods, and is a tasty and really easy way to hit a homerun on probiotics.
Probiotics From Fecal Transplants
Yes, you read that right. I was just as surprised when I discovered that today some patients are receiving fecal transplants. Obviously fecal transplant is not a procedure that is done routinely after taking antibiotics. These are people who after taking antibiotics went from bad to worse. What is amazing to me is how this treatment shows just how important the gut flora is to health. In a world where we can give someone a new hip or heart we can’t figure out a better way to give someone healthy gut flora.
A Healthier You
I hope this has been helpful in your understanding of antibiotic use, the immune system, the good flora in the body, and how important it is to restore these beneficial microbes after antibiotics are used. Keeping the body and its immune system healthy through good nutrition, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep and exercise, is the best way to fight illness. Knowing what nutrients are key to fighting infection and illness is critical if you’re going to avoid the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics should be a last resort, but if they are necessary, restoring and nourishing the body’s beneficial microbes through pre-biotics and pro-biotics after taking antibiotics is essential. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and am happy to assist you in achieving a healthier you!