Antibiotics vs Gut
Good health begins with balance in the body.
Having the right kinds of bacteria (often “friendly bacteria”), in appropriate quantities, is essential for virtually everything from healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, to immunity and defence against infections. It’s no wonder that more and more people say that health starts within your gut- it really does!
What can disrupt gut flora?
The delicate balance of healthy gut flora can be disrupted by a range of circumstances, which may include:
- excess alcohol consumption,
- diet high in sugar,
- poor digestion,
- exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants.
For the purposes of this article, we will look in more detail at one of the most common causes of the imbalance of bacterial flora within the gut – the long-term or frequent use of antibiotics.
How do antibiotics affect the digestive tract?
In present times, antibiotics have been arguably prescribed and used far more than they should have been and, a result, antibiotic resistance is, unfortunately, now a fairly common problem.
If that wasn’t enough, one of the most notable effects of antibiotics is their negative impact on the digestive system and the fine balance of gut flora since antibiotics destroy both good and bad bacteria within our bodies, with no differentiation between them.
Antibiotics work by either killing bacteria or by preventing bacteria from growing – which great news in terms of ‘bad’, pathogenic bacteria, but really bad news in terms of our ‘good’ bacteria, which help to keep us healthy!
It is somewhat ironic, when you consider that people start taking antibiotics in the first place because they are ill, often not realising that the medicine is destroying one of their bodies primary lines of natural defence.
The most important part of our Immune System resides in the gut, where Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (special antibody-producing cells) works hard to prevent unwanted micro-organisms (such as bacteria or viruses) from entering our body.
I’m not completely dissing antibiotics, they do have a very significant role to play and can certainly be highly effective in resolving bacterial infections but there should be a time and a place for them, when there is no other, less drastic and more natural alternative at hand. It is so important to use antibiotics sensibly and to support your levels of beneficial bacteria both during and after antibiotic treatment, in order to ensure that they won’t cause any longer term damage. This can be done through a specialised detox treatment which can deal with any residual after-effects whilst helping your body to regain the optimal balance.
If your levels of good bacteria fall, you provide opportunistic ‘nasties’ (like bacteria, parasites and yeasts) with an excellent environment in which to thrive and spread. An overgrowth of harmful gut flora (called dysbiosis) increases gut toxicity and can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, which may include:
- abdominal pains after eating
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
- and Candida overgrowth
This is one of the main reasons why antibiotic programmes often result in thrush (an infection caused by overgrowth of Candida which is an opportunistic yeast).
Stanford University researchers in America analysed the levels of friendly bacteria in 3 healthy adult women both before and after each of two cycles on the antibiotic Cipro. Following the first cycle, they found that the drug had altered the population of the subjects’ friendly gut bacteria significantly, perhaps even permanently. Following the second cycle, six months later, they discovered that the effect was exponentially greater. As such, antibiotics should never be used as a regular “quick fix” for minor problems and, wherever possible, long courses should be avoided. Where a course of antibiotics is really unavoidable, you may consider a detox therapy or support your levels of friendly bacteria through diet and probiotic supplements, at the very least.
Cultures around the World have observed the health-supporting effects of fermented foods (often referred to as “probiotic foods”) which are often include as a regular part of their diet. These foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tofu and tempeh, to name just a few.
Introducing these foods in your diet on a daily basis is a really good way to promote healthy intestinal flora. However, it is worth noting that most of these foods do not contain strains of bacteria that can actually colonise the digestive tract. Instead, they do good work for a week or two and then pass through. Supplementing with strains of good bacteria that are capable of colonising the digestive tract (such as L. acidophilus, L. salivarius, B. infantis, B. bifidum, B. brevis and B. longum) is arguably a far more effective and powerful means of supporting healthy levels of gut flora for the long term.