We are fortunate to live in an age where many infectious diseases that would have formerly been life-threatening can now be treated simply and effectively with a round of antibiotics.
And whilst there is undoubtedly a time and place for antibiotic prescriptions to be effective, we are commonly hearing more and more about the potential consequences of the inappropriate use of antibiotics; from antibiotic resistance, damage to our own gut bacteria and even to environmental issues as a result of antibiotic-laden livestock and their waste products getting back in to our soils and water supplies.
When you’re up against something stronger than the common cold—pneumonia, sinusitis, strep throat—your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics and this can be extremely valuable. The trouble is that antibiotics have been over-prescribed in recent years, and their use should not be taken lightly.
At this time of year when chilly weather keeps us indoors, where close contact, runny noses, and common coughs and sneezes conspire to spread bacterial infections, many people take antibiotics unnecessarily.
The problem with taking antibiotics is that they tend to not be very discriminating. So, when they go to work wiping out the “bad” bacteria that are causing all the problems, they also take out the beneficial bacteria as well.
They don’t know how to distinguish between the good bacteria in your gut and the bad stuff. That means that the good bacterial colonies in our guts can suffer some extreme damage, if they’re not wiped out entirely, with a course of antibiotics.
The “good” bacteria, also known as your gut flora, are made up of thousands of different species of bacteria that live in your intestines. They are a diverse community of bacteria that help you to break down food, synthesize various nutrients, keep harmful substances from entering your body, and even strengthen your immune system.
When this community is disturbed, it can quickly become unbalanced. This is also why digestive issues are a common side effect of taking antibiotics as the delicate bacterial balance in your intestines is upset.
The extent of the effects to your gut flora will depend on the strength of the antibiotic and the length of time that you take it, though fortunately, there are ways you can support your body and heal your gut during and after taking antibiotics to help reduce the side effects and ultimately strengthen your immune system.
No. 1 – Don’t Quit!
If your doctor prescribes you antibiotics and believes you have a bacterial infection that may not clear on its own, take the antibiotic course prescribed completely. It’s incredibly important that you finish your prescription, even if you feel better part way through, as failing to do so, you risk your infection returning or mutating into an antibiotic-resistant form. If it returns, you may even have to take another course of antibiotics, and that’s not fun for anyone, especially your gut.
No. 2 – Eat Real Food and Stay Hydrated
Diet has a major effect on your gut flora. The typical western diet is high in processed foods, added sugar and omega-6 fats, and low in omega-3 fats, fibre and nutrient dense veggies. This diet causes negative changes to many strains of gut bacteria, and when your gut is already taking a hit from the antibiotics, you definitely don’t want to add a meagre diet into the mix.
Instead, opt for a low-glycaemic, whole-foods diet rich in fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, good fats like avocado, coconut, hemp, flax and omega-3 oils, and plenty of fibre.
And don’t forget to stay hydrated with plenty of pure water and herbals teas as well as nutrient-dense fluids such as fresh veggie juices and smoothies, miso broth or bone broth for meat eaters.
To further support your healing, add in foods that will help combat infection, like oregano, garlic, onion, horseradish, turmeric, cinnamon, lemon, ginger and manuka honey. Check out my fire cider recipe here for some super immune support.
No. 3 – Find a Quality Probiotic
Make sure to get your hands on a good quality probiotic like Super 8, Bio Kult or Optibac. These can be taken whilst you’re taking antibiotics and afterwards. Just remember to take them at least 2 hours apart, if not longer as this will give the probiotics a better chance of settling in and not getting killed instantly by the antibiotics.
Studies have shown that taking probiotics along with antibiotics can be effective in both preventing and treating side effects, such as diarrhoea and candida.
Since the antibiotics will wipe out your good gut bacteria, look for a probiotic with a large variety of strains since you want to replenish as much of the bacteria as you can.
No. 4 – Add Fermented Foods to Your Diet
To help restore your healthy gut bacteria, go for naturally fermented foods and drinks which introduce live bacterial cultures to your digestive system.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, lacto-fermented veggies, milk and water kefir, live yoghurt, greek yoghurt, kimchi and kombucha all naturally contain probiotics, and the more probiotics in your diet the better!
Of course, a probiotic supplement will help replenish your gut bacteria during and after a bout of antibiotics, but the more sources and varieties you can get in, the better!
Check out our Nourish fridges for some of the products mentioned above, or why not try making your own? See my blog here on making your own sauerkraut.
No. 5 – Don’t Forget Your Prebiotics
Prebiotics are indigestible fibres that work their way through your digestive tract to the colon, where they are fermented and broken down by the probiotic bacteria. Try thinking of prebiotics as the probiotics food source if you will.
You’re looking to re-populate your gut with plenty of happy probiotics, so by eating prebiotic foods, you can help feed and support your gut bacteria and, as a result, your immune system.
Prebiotic-rich foods include artichoke, leafy greens, garlic, onion, chicory root, pears, green bananas, plantains, asparagus, dandelion greens, leeks, and jicama.
No. 6 – Focus on Gut Repair and Support with Glutamine
This becomes especially crucial after you’re finished using antibiotics.
Glutamine is an amino acid that helps to improve gut function and immunity. It also repairs and replenishes the cells that line your intestines, thereby keeping your intestinal barrier strong and keeping harmful things from being absorbed.
After a stressful period, disease or bout of antibiotics, glutamine may just be the ticket to enhancing your gut repair and supporting you from inside out.
Red cabbage is an uber-high plant source of L-glutamine, therefore eating cabbage in the form of fermented sauerkraut is one of the most bioavailable ways to get in L-glutamine – woo hoo!
Due to the fact that it is fermented, it also provides your gut with important probiotics that help your body absorb this nutrient.
If you require extra glutamine support in the form of L-glutamine supplements, we also stock those in store and online.
I hope you feel better soon and rest up well 🙂
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication