Antibiotics are some of the most useful medications in use today. They combat a wide range of health issues and treat life-threatening disorders. They are perceived to be effective while having minimal risks. This combination of factors explains why they are also among the most widely prescribed medications despite the fact that they come with their own set of risks and side effects.
In fact, some studies have shown that doctors often prescribe antibiotics before they know whether an infection is viral or bacterial.1 Doctors prescribe antibiotics for a majority of adults with upper respiratory tract infections. These infections are usually caused by viruses, and if the problem is viral, antibiotics cannot help.
How do Antibiotics work?
Antibiotics work by killing bacteria in the gut. There are several kinds of antibiotics that are categorized based on the way they kill bacteria. Beta-lactam antibiotics kill bacteria that are surrounded by cell walls. Macrolide antibiotics prevent bacteria from building proteins, and bacteria that can’t build proteins cannot survive. Quinolone antibiotics cause bacterial DNA strands to break apart without the ability to repair them. Bacteria cannot live or reproduce without intact DNA.
The problem is that antibiotics do not distinguish between good and bad bacteria. They kill many kinds of bacteria – good or bad. Your body is host to a wide range of healthy bacteria that help to protect you and defend you from harmful pathogens. When antibiotics kill off large numbers of these healthy bacteria, it can give the bad bacteria room to multiply and leave you vulnerable to other kinds of infections. Many issues can result from this bacterial imbalance, such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD), abdominal cramps, Leaky Gut, and yeast infections. Some experts think that even in cases where antibiotics do not cause noticeable symptoms, the changes to the gut bacterial balance can have negative effects on long-term health.
One of the most common infections is from a harmful bacteria called Clostridium difficile (C. difficile or C. diff). This bacterium is responsible for antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) and can cause several other symptoms like fever, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. It also can lead to more serious intestinal conditions like colitis and can even result in death.
Antibiotics kill healthy bacteria, but probiotics can help
Scientists are currently working on targeted antibiotics with the aim of killing off only the bad bacteria, but this effort is still very much a work in progress. In the meantime, probiotics can be used to help offset the negative effects of antibiotics. The National Institute of Health recommends waiting at least two hours before or after taking your antibiotic to consume a probiotic supplement. By spacing them out, the antibiotic will be less likely to kill off a large percentage of the healthy bacteria that you are trying to feed back into your system.
Proper probiotic supplementation can help to repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria and maintain a healthy balance. Maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut helps to combat immediate side effects like AAD and abdominal cramps, but more importantly, it helps to prevent more adverse effects on long-term health that can result from bacterial imbalance, such as colitis. Save yourself from the discomfort and pain created by antibiotic side effects, and make sure you look into supplementing with a probiotic the next time antibiotics are prescribed to you.
De La Cochetière MF, Montassier E, Hardouin J-B, et al. Human intestinal microbiota gene risk factors for antibiotic-associated diarrhea: perspectives for prevention. Risk factors for antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Microbial Ecology. 2010;59(4):830-837. doi:10.1007/s00248-010-9637-2.
PJ Rooney et al. A short review of the relationship between intestinal permeability and inflammatory joint disease; Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology 8:75-83. 1990
Zoetendal E, Rajilic-Stojanovic M, de Vos W. High-throughput diversity and functionality analysis of the gastrointestinal tract microbiota. Gut. 2008;57(11):1605-1615. doi:10.1136/gut.2007.133603.
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