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24th Nov 2023

Understanding Antibiotics, Gut Health, and Probiotics

Posted by Melanie Winter

The Marvelous Microbiome

Our digestive system (gut) is the home to trillions of microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi) and are known as our gut microbiome. They live on our skin as well. Although there are many types of microbes, the ones that are most studied are bacteria. There are up to 1000 species of bacteria in our microbiome, and all have a different role. Some are beneficial, and others may cause disease.

Our gut microbiome plays a key role in digestion, immune function, metabolism, and overall health. The bacteria in our gut are influenced by the food we eat and the healthiest way to look after our microbiome is to eat a range of fresh wholefoods, from sources like legumes, fruit, vegetables, beans and nuts. Other tips to support the microbiome include:

  • Eating fermented food (yoghurt, sauerkraut, and kefir)
  • Limit intake of artificial sweeteners
  • Eat prebiotic foods (artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats, and apples)
  • Breastfeed for 6 months, if possible, it increases beneficial Bifidobacteria in infants’ guts
  • Take a probiotic supplement (live bacteria to restore the balance of good bacteria)
  • Take antibiotics only when necessary

A Deep Dive into Prebiotic Foods

Some further examples of prebiotic-rich foods include certain fruits (such as bananas, apples, and berries), vegetables (like garlic, onions, and asparagus), whole grains, legumes, and certain nuts and seeds.

Prebiotic foods offer several benefits to the gut microbiome, the community of microorganisms residing in the digestive tract.

  • Supports gut health: Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres that serve as food for beneficial bacteria in the gut. They stimulate the growth and activity of these bacteria, promoting a healthier gut environment.
  • Increases beneficial bacteria: Prebiotics selectively nourish beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. These bacteria play a crucial role in maintaining gut health, aiding digestion, and supporting the immune system.
  • Improves digestive function: By promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria, prebiotics help enhance digestion and nutrient absorption. They can also help regulate bowel movements and prevent constipation.
  • Enhances immune function: A significant portion of the body's immune system resides in the gut. Prebiotics contribute to a balanced gut microbiome, which can positively impact immune function and help protect against certain infections and diseases.
  • May impact mental health: Emerging research suggests a connection between gut health and mental health. A balanced gut microbiome, supported by prebiotics, may contribute to improved mood and cognitive function.
  • Supports overall well-being: A healthy gut microbiome is linked to various aspects of health, including weight management, metabolism, and inflammation control. Prebiotic-rich foods can contribute to overall well-being by maintaining a diverse and balanced gut ecosystem.

Antibiotics and Gut Health

Antibiotics are crucial in modern day life to fight bacterial infections and have revolutionised how the world deals with infectious disease. However, the overuse and misuse in humans and the animal world have led to some problems such as antibiotic resistance. Which means the bacteria evolve to resist antibiotics, reducing their effectiveness in treatment.

Other concerns are that broad -spectrum antibiotics can impact the gut microbiome. Research shows that a gut microbiome that is diverse and rich with varied species is essential for its optimal functioning. So, as well as killing the offending pathogens (bacteria) the antibiotics kill off the beneficial bacteria as well. Which can cause other pathogens like C. difficile to flourish.

Diarrhea linked to antibiotics affects 2–15% of users. About 20–30% result from Clostridium difficile. It is commonly known as Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhoea.

Other health effects of disturbing the gut microbiome with antibiotics include the following:

  • Antibiotics in children have been linked to diseases including asthma, juvenile arthritis, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease and mental illness. It is thought the reason is it disrupts the normal growth of the microbiome and destabilises it. Also, the antibiotics alter gene expression and therefore how the immune system functions.
  • Emerging evidence shows a link between depression and antibiotics. The research shows single use or multiple use of antibiotics affects the gut microbiota and the gut-brain axis.

Probiotics: Guardians of Gut Health

A. Understanding Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms such as bacteria and yeasts that provide health benefits when you consume them. They are present in some fermented foods, as mentioned above such as yoghurt and sauerkraut. They are also available as supplements.

B. Specific Probiotic Strains for AAD (Antibiotic Associated Diarrhoea)

Certain types of antibiotics are associated with diarrhoea more than others such as erythromycin and penicillin. Also, people <2 years and people older than 65 years are more at risk of AAD.

In Conclusion:

Antibiotics, while crucial in fighting infections, can disrupt the gut microbiome, causing imbalances that impact overall health. Informed antibiotic use is vital to minimize such disruptions. Probiotics aid in restoring gut balance post-antibiotics, reintroducing beneficial bacteria. Holistic approaches, like a diverse diet rich in prebiotics, support gut health by nurturing beneficial microbes. This balanced approach supports health by preserving microbial diversity, aiding digestion, enhancing immunity, and potentially impacting mental well-being.

Key Takeaways

  • Antibiotics while very necessary at times can disturb the microbiome
  • To support your microbiome whilst on antibiotics take a probiotic supplement that contains either Lactobacillus rhamnosus (GG) or Saccharomyces boulardii
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in prebiotic and fermented foods

If you have concerns about the health of your digestive system, please seek advice from your healthcare professional. Probiotic supplements are not designed to treat or cure any disorders of the digestive tract.

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