Bacteria are important for our health, and after taking antibiotics we may become unhealthy.. This article explains why we need bacteria and how to get them back after taking antibiotics.
Antibiotics were once thought to be the "silver bullet" for curing all infectious diseases, but these days, we are lucky they work at all. Extensive usage of antibiotics has resulted in widespread resistance to almost all antibiotics. We may not get better by taking antibiotics, and worse than that, they can actually make us sick. In rare cases, this may happen because antibiotics can be toxic to our bodies, but usually this occurs because antibiotics kill off the bacteria that are helpful to our bodies.
We need bacteria
It may seem strange, but our bodies actually contain more bacterial cells than human cells. Even stranger, we need those bacteria to keep us healthy. Our bodies know this and support the growth of the bacteria that are healthy for us to have. A striking example of this is that mothers milk contains carbohydrates that can't be digested by her nursing baby, but that can be digested by bacteria. In essence, a nursing mother is feeding her baby's bacteria along with her baby.
What bacteria do for us
One of the most obvious benefits of bacteria is that they provide our bodies with the Vitamin K that we need. There are many other benefits as well. The bacterial flora that colonizes our guts and skin protects our bodies from invading pathogens and they may also reduce inflammation. Additionally, ongoing research suggests that the bacteria that make up our gut flora may be involved in helping us maintain a healthy weight.
What happens when we take antibiotics
When we take antibiotics, especially for a long period of time, it can kill off our personal microbial flora as well as whatever invading pathogen is making us sick. The dead and dying bacteria can slough off from the inside of the gut. When that happens, they pull water into our intestines which causes diarrhea. Usually, the diarrhea stops soon after we stop taking antibiotics. Sometimes however, invading pathogens take advantage of the weakened state of our gut flora and start growing inside of us. Salmonella can do this and then the diarrhea will continue for a couple more weeks. Worse that Salmonella however is Clostridium difficile or "C. diff" as doctors and nurses call it. This is a spore forming species of bacteria that can invade the intestine after a person has taken antibiotics. It causes diarrhea as well as bleeding. Patients experiencing C. diff infections often lose a lot of weight and in some cases the C. diff infection is lethal. The only patients who experience C. diff infections are those who have taken antibiotics.
How to recover our gut flora
After taking antibiotics, establishing healthy gut flora once again isn't an easy process. It can take as long as six months. It is important to take appropriate measures to re-grow a healthy gut flora. This can be done by eating foods with live bacterial cultures. Yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese are all good choices. Some individuals also like fresh pickles and sauerkraut. These carry bacteria that are beneficial to our intestines. However, many of the bacteria contained in food are killed in our stomachs by stomach acid. Probiotics can deliver a larger dose of bacteria into the intestine, where it is needed. The best probiotics are those that are either acid resistant, or delivered as a pill encapsulated in a protective coating that dissolves after the pill has passed through the stomach and into the intestine.
Sometimes eating foods with live bacterial cultures is not enough. Many patients who experience C. diff infections have to go back on antibiotics again to clear their intestines of that pathogen. Many people are reluctant to do that after finding out that antibiotics were what started their troubles in the first place. An alternative therapy that works well for replacing gut flora is stool replacement therapy. In this procedure, a healthy donor contributes stool to the ailing patient. First the stool is liquefied by mixing in a blender and then administered to the patient either through an enema or a drip-line down the throat. While this may seem excessively disgusting, it is the most effective therapy available. The healthy flora from the donor rapidly colonizes the guts of the patient and replaces the C. diff which causes the patient to become healthy once again.
How to keep our gut flora healthy
When we are healthy, so are our gut flora. Eating diets rich in lean foods, fruits and vegetables contributes to a gut flora compatible with lean people. Eating yogurt, cheese and other foods with live cultures is another way to maintain healthy flora. Exercise is likewise important because it boosts our immunity and makes us less likely to need antibiotics. Additionally, saving antibiotics for the times when we are really sick with a serious bacterial infection is also important. It is a bad idea to insist that the doctor prescribe antibiotics for a cold which is probably viral. It is important to take care of our bacteria so that they can take care of us.