Everyone is now aware of the dangers of the systematic overuse of antibiotics in human and animal health. Microbes have a very short lifecycle and thus can evolve rapidly. We are seeing the rise of ‘super-bugs’ that are resistant to antibiotics. This is because microbes are exposed to antibiotics in the environment and are therefore developing resistant strains.
As a child, I never had antibiotics, as I was lucky and never had any serious infections; my parents treated our childhood illnesses with homeopathy and natural remedies. Even now I would never go to my GP for help with a cough or a cold – I have a drawer full of alternatives to deal with those kinds of problems!
Then sometimes you need the help that an antibiotic can give you. In March I had a serious dental abscess that I could not shift and I needed to take antibiotics to deal with it (not once but twice). I really didn’t want to, but with a face that was swelling up so fast you could almost see it happening, there wasn’t much of an option!
In the aftermath I wanted to address my gut flora. Antibiotics naturally kill both good and bad microbes without prejudice, which leaves your gut with depleted good bacteria that are necessary for digestion. I thought that taking a good probiotic for a while would re-balance my system, but six months on and I’m still feeling the after-effects. These are primarily on my digestion but also it seems to have resulted in (an unusual) lack of motivation to get up off the couch, an inclination to comfort eat and my hormones have also been out of synch. I’m not sure it can all be blamed on those antibiotics but when I read about the gut-brain link, it seems likely there is a connection!
Once my busy summer period at work came to an end, I started to research ways to rebalance my microbes and I put a plan together; I can thankfully report that I am feeling much better. However, I’m struck by the huge impact that a course of antibiotics can have on your entire body. While they are necessary and life-saving we all need to be aware of the damage they do, and we also need to get smart about what safer alternatives are out there for the more minor ailments that we can safely treat at home.
If you have had to take antibiotics recently, here are a few things to consider doing to help recovery:
1. Stay off sugary foods for a while – especially if they make you feel uncomfortable. Sugar feeds the bacteria you don’t want inside you, the ones that make you feel bloated and uncomfortable after eating.
2. Load up on a variety of prebiotic-rich plant foods. Prebiotic foods are foods that nourish and feed our good bacteria. These include leafy greens, root veggies, plantains, bananas, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, and onions, which provide an array of prebiotic fibers and resistant starches (excellent food for beneficial microbes).
3. If your raw fruit and veg is organic, the skin will contain a diverse and healthy range of bacteria that will help your system to rebalance, so don’t over-sanitise it!
4. Load up on fermented foods teeming with natural probiotics. These include raw, unpasteurised sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented beets, kombucha, beet kvass, kefir, and yogurt.
5. Take a multi-strain probiotic alongside the antibiotic. Research has shown that this hugely helps reduce side effects. Take them a few hours apart.
6. After the course of antibiotics is finished, continue to take a multi-strain probiotic for a period of time – a few times a week, for a couple of months – to help your microbiome to properly re-establish.
7. Focus on yeast! Saccharomyces boulardii is actually a form of probiotic (yes, beneficial!) yeast, which makes it particularly useful while taking bacteria-killing antibiotics, because it won’t be destroyed. It will help to keep the bad bacteria under control while your microbiome is reestablishing.
8. Drink raw unfiltered cider vinegar every morning and add seaweed flakes to your soups and stews (and I love them on rice dishes). Cider vinegar contains pectin and seaweeds contains polysaccharides which are both excellent prebiotics.
My take home – we are correct to avoid antibiotics as much as humanly possible, but they are sometimes unfortunately necessary. But their effect on our health in the long term should not be underestimated. When you have to take them, take precautions both during and after the course and then really focus on rebuilding your microbiome in the months afterwards.
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