Frequent coverage on the over prescription of antibiotics to common ailments like flu and coughs has been gracing our media lately. The concerns underlying these articles are without a doubt a legit concern.
Antibiotics are used effectively against bacterial infections. Overconsumption of antibiotics in cases when it is not actually needed or not useful to treat the condition (e.g. a viral infection) can create resistance to certain bacteria strains, which could in turn prove to be problematic in future cases. But antibiotics can also be lifesaving when prescribed and used for the right conditions. If it had not been for the discovery of penicillin for example, many lives would not have been spared from infectious diseases such as typhoid and other common infections.
Antibiotics however, do not discriminate between dangerous, life threatening bacteria and friendly bacteria that thrive primarily in our intestines and gut lining. So even though it is useful in treating infections, it also foes a ‘clean sweep’ and affects the gut-bacteria environment that plays an important role in breaking down our food as well as maintaining a healthy immune system. Extensive studies have also been done to show the role that gut microbes have in maintaining optimum functions of our brain and its health making it all the more critical for us to cultivate and maintain these friendly tiny helpers in our digestive system.
There are helpful ways for you to immediately reinoculate your gut with friendly bacteria following a course of antibiotics. These are general rules of thumb that I feel is necessary for those who had been taking a course of antibiotics irrespective of the length of time it was prescribed for or the strength of the antibiotics itself. If following a course of antibiotics you are plagued with constant bouts of stomachache, diarrhea or indigestion, this could potentially be the result of the antibiotics on your internal gut bacteria environment.
Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain – For Life, Dr. David Perlmutter, 2015
Increase consumption of vegetables and fresh fruits
Including a generous amount of vegetables into your daily food intake can’t be bad whether you have or have not been on a course of antibiotics recently. The presence of vegetables will help create and support an environment in which the friendly digestive bacteria can thrive and multiply. Raw vegetables are preferred but cooked vegetables would work too. Aim to include a big serving of salad at least once in your daily meals for a week following the course of medicine you were prescribed with. Along with vegetables, fresh fruits supply the necessary fibre to help your gastrointestinal (GI) functions. Fruits like papaya provide beneficial digestive enzymes in the form of papain, and pineapple contains bromelain that assists in the breakdown of proteins. Do not however overload on fruits that contain high levels of sugar like mangoes and melons as the sugar could encourage the growth of yeast instead in your GI tract.
Include probiotics supplement
Probiotics supplements are available in abundance in our local market these days but not all probiotics are created equal so it may be worthwhile to do some research before buying from a certain brand. I get mine from Iherb only because it comes with reviews and I get to have an idea of its effectiveness before buying it. Look for probiotics that have been stabilised to ensure they are still active and “alive” when it reaches your doorstep as heat and humidity can play a role in killing or deactivating the bacteria. Powdered form should never be mixed into hot water, but instead in lukewarm or cold water or juices before consuming it. Consume probiotics between 30 minutes to an hour before your meal to ensure they survive through the acidic conditions of your stomach before finally reaching your intestines.
Avoid or reduce consumption of dairy
I had to find out about this one the hard way recently after completing a round of antibiotics that was given to me when I caught a horrible bug that left me sick and voiceless for a week. After drinking a yoghurt smoothie thinking that it would help me replace the probiotics that I had lost, I ended up instead rolling around on the floor in pain as my stomach protested on my choice of drink. Dairy, along with animal protein can be particularly tough for your body to break down and digest. When the intestine is lacking the necessary bacteria to help break down your food, it can cause undue stress and inflammation. Avoid dairy, including milk, cheese and yoghurt. Yes, the latter two items may include probiotics but they can prove to be too hard on the digestive system when it is weak. Choose instead to eat more sourdough bread, sauerkraut (a fermented German side dish made from cabbage), miso, tempeh or kimchi (a fermented Korean side dish that is also made from cabbage) that not only contains good amounts of probiotics but are also easier for the body to digest.