There is a good chance that you have taken both of these in some form, but have almost no idea what they are or what they do. Not knowing what you’re ingesting is never a strong move even if it comes to you from a doctor. Let’s take a journey through the world of antibiotics and probiotics so that you need not wonder anymore what is taking place inside your body next time you come home with a prescription.
The first antibiotic was discovered entirely by accident by Alexander Fleming in 1928. For most of us, getting back from holiday and discovering mould growing in your house might be a nightmare, but Fleming noticed that it was stopping any of the bacteria around it from growing and spreading. Eventually, he isolated the antibiotic in the mould that could be extracted and harnessed for good.
Antibiotics today are a range of drugs that you might be given when the regular methods of treatment might not have worked. Usually, your immune system is able to fight off harmful bacteria that has invaded your body, and you don’t even know anything about it. On occasion where the bacteria cells dramatically outnumber your white blood cells, the bacteria gains a foothold and you need an extra boost of reinforcements. They function in two ways:
- Bactericidal antibiotics kill the bacteria by interfering with the formation of the cell wall.
- Bacteriostatic antibiotics prevent the bacteria from spreading throughout your body.
It is incredibly important that you take antibiotics only when necessary, and prescribed by a doctor. They are ineffective against a virus. It would be like trying to use water to put out an electrical fire. Intuitive, maybe. Effective? Absolutely not. If anything, you might just compound your illness, because there are a number of side effects that are associated with using antibiotics.
Firstly, you might develop an allergic reaction to antibiotics with prolonged use. This tends to be more common with drugs from the penicillin group like amoxicillin. You might begin to break out in a rash or hives; your tongue and face might swell; you might have trouble breathing and could resort to coughing and wheezing. The more time you spend on antibiotics, the greater the chance that you will need to move to a drug which causes this kind of reaction. If you have ever had this kind of a reaction, you need to carry that information with you. It can develop into an anaphylactic reaction which can be fatal.
Secondly, bacteria can evolve and adapt to the point where antibiotics that might have been effective at one point lose their efficacy. This is mainly driven through doctors over prescribing them, and people not finishing the script because they’ve started to feel better. If the bacteria isn’t completely wiped out, it learns how to adapt and moves onto the next person with one fewer weak spots. This is why you might have heard about ‘superbugs’ that are resistant to antibiotics doing the rounds every few years. The moral of the story? Don’t ask for antibiotics too easily, and when you get prescribed a script, finish it regardless of how you feel (unless directed otherwise by a doctor).
A final reason you might want to avoid antibiotics where possible is that it actually isn’t good for your gut health. You might think of them as a nuclear weapon. It is incredibly effective at killing bad bacteria, but it also wipes out the good bacteria in your gut which is essential to everything from your physical health to your mental wellbeing. It nukes everything without discriminating. This will mean that you end up with:
- Fungal infections of the mouth, vagina, and digestive tract
- Becoming overly sensitive to sunlight
Imagine you’ve nuked the landscape, and all the bacteria (both good and bad) has vanished. Probiotics are an array of good bacteria which you can parachute in to repopulate your gut biome. This will improve your digestive health, reduce your risk of depression and promote good heart health. Early studies are suggesting they may also affect the health of your skin as well. Inner Health Plus is an example of a supplement which can be really helpful if you need to boost your levels of good bacteria quickly. Inner Health Plus contains lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, although there are around 300-500 different species in a healthy gut biome at any one time. May people like taking Inner Health Plus as part of their weekly supplementing, but it is good to balance this with the foods that contain probiotics naturally. A general rule of thumb: If the food is fermented, you’re probably on the right track.
Yoghurt: This contains lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria. This helps with improved bone health and reducing high blood pressure.
Kefir: This is a staple in most health food shops these days, and is beginning to work its way into supermarket shelves. It can be ingested by people who are lactose intolerant, and it supports bone health, and protects against infections.
Sauerkraut: This fermented cabbage is a popular choice in Europe. This works to kill all of the bad bacteria in your gut.
Tempeh: This is a fermented soybean product, which tastes similar to mushroom. It is currently being touted as a high protein meat replacement. Watch this space, we might all be eating Tempeh in decades to come instead of steak.
Kimchi: This is a spicy cabbage dish native to Korea. This has been reported to support the general makeup of bacteria in your biome.
Miso: This Japanese soup is not only delicious, but has also been linked to lower rates of breast cancer in middle aged Japanese women.
Kombucha: This fermented drink is high in bacteria and yeast. There have not been enough studies to show a definitive link between this and positive health in humans, though logically this should emerge in years to come.
May this information help you to make better health choices next time you are considering using antibiotics.
They truly are a double edged sword.