Why antibiotics cause digestive upset and how to protect your gut long-term
Why antibiotics cause digestive upset? How to protect your gut?
We know that antibiotic overuse is a concern due to creating antibiotic resistant bacteria strains. But are you aware that antibiotic use can also upset your digestive system? There are times when antibiotic use is essential, so read on for advice to help take care of your delicate gut and its microbiome.
Antibiotic use side effects
It is not uncommon to experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal pain and indigestion during the course of antibiotic use.
One study noted that up to 35% of patients taking antibiotics experience diarrhoea.
Whilst the NHS website appears – to me – to play down the impact of antibiotics on symptoms, saying the symptoms are usually “mild and should pass” once the antibiotics are finished; it does not reflect the reality of what occurs to the gut microbiome longer-term.
Antibiotics are powerful to halt the growth and destroy harmful bacteria that has caused your symptoms, such as a painful ear infection or bacterial vaginosis. But antibiotics are not prescribed selectively. This means that whilst they destroy the harmful bacteria, they also destroy beneficial bacteria too.
When the beneficial bacteria population starts to decline, it creates an environment and space for other, more troublesome microbes to take a hold and multiply. This is not just bacteria, but fungi and virus too. They reduce the diversity of the bacteria population, and we now know that diversity of microbial species is important to our health.
The antibiotics can also upset the delicate gut mucosal barrier, which is home to your important immune fighting antibodies. These antibodies neutralise pathogenic bacteria that pass through the gut from food you may have eaten. If levels of these antibodies decline, it creates an even more unfavourable environment.
The role of the gut microbiome
The gut microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, yeast and virus that should work in harmony to protect its host (that’s you!) and drive health throughout the body. We now know that 90% of disease originates in the gut. These microbes support digestion, immunity, metabolism, manufacture certain vitamins, metabolise oestrogen, communicate with the brain and so much more.
How can we protect the gut microbiome when taking antibiotics?
Taking a high strength probiotic – at different times of the day to taking the antibiotics – can help protect the microbial diversity and abundance. Look for one containing important strains like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus species at a strength of 20 billion bacteria. Look for a product tested to withstand stomach acid (often described as “enterically coated”) as the acid destroys the bacteria. Take a full month’s course, even if the antibiotics are for just one week.
Prebiotics fibres may actually be more beneficial than a probiotic, as the prebiotics provides the actual fuel that the bacteria require to survive and multiply. Look for prebiotic fibre like PHGG, GOS and FOS.
One well researched yeast supplement called Saccharomyces boulardii can help protect the gut microbiome when taking antibiotics. It is transitory (it does not stay in the gut) and can also help hinder pathogens from colonising the gut and protect the gut mucosal barrier. There is positive research to show it helps prevent antibiotic associated diarrhoea.
Foods that can are good to consume during antibiotic use are those that naturally feed the beneficial bacteria. Stewed apple contains pectin and also has an anti-inflammatory action in the gut; slightly green bananas are high in resistant starch. Rice that has been cooked then cooled quickly (and stored safely in the fridge before reheating) is also high in resistant starch. Fermented foods containing bacteria like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir also have a protective role. Making these foods part of your regular diet is helpful to maintain microbial diversity.
It is extremely important to protect your microbiome when taking antibiotics, not just to help avoid unwanted digestive upset at the time of their use, but to help protect the delicate commensal bacteria for the long-term.
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