Will taking antibiotics negatively affect my gut microbiome?

Gut health and talking of the gut microbiome is very much on trend at the moment, but are we aware of the impact that certain things can have on our gut. For example, will taking antibiotics negatively affect your gut?

When I was a child, I was regularly put on antibiotics for kidney issues. I have vivid memories of taking antibiotics “all the time”. I continually suffered with kidney problems right up into my teens. With what I know now, I link lots of my health issues and food habits to being over prescribed antibiotics as a child.

So why did my kidney issues and antibiotic use cause issues with my health? In order to answer this it is important to understand the link between your gut and long term health.

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Why is gut health so important?

“All disease begins in the gut” Hippocrates.

Keeping this in mind, good health begins with balance in the body, particularly in the gut. Good gut health = good health.

Inside our body there are twenty times more bacteria than living cells, and maintaining the correct balance of beneficial bacteria versus harmful bacteria is a crucial part of supporting long-term health and vitality.

Do not be afraid of bacteria. For years we have been sold the idea that we need to live in this “hyper clean” environment and it is actually causing harm to our body and is damaging to our long term health too. Children that are brought up in “hyper clean homes” tend to be more sickly than the children that aren’t.

Having the right kinds of bacteria (so-called "friendly bacteria"), in sufficient quantities, is essential for everything from healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, immunity and defence against infections. We need these in our body.

What can disrupt gut microbiome?

The delicate balance of healthy gut bacteria can be disrupted by a range of circumstances, including excess alcohol, a diet high in sugar, poor digestion, stress, exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants. Today, we will look at one of the most common causes of gut flora imbalance - the long-term or frequent and unnecessary over use of antibiotics.

How do antibiotics affect the digestive tract?

Nowadays, antibiotics are arguably prescribed and used far more than they should be and as a result, antibiotic resistance is unfortunately happening more and more. This is a type of drug resistance, where a microorganism (bad bug) is able to survive exposure to an antibiotic and the antibiotic doesn’t work.

What’s even more concerning is, one of the most notable effects of antibiotics, is the adverse impact they have on the digestive system and the balance of gut flora - they indiscriminately destroy both good and bad bacteria in the body. They work by either killing bacteria or by preventing bacteria from growing - great in terms of bad bacteria, but not so good news in terms of healthy, good bacteria.

This is somewhat ironic, when you think that the people who are taking antibiotics in the first place, are doing so because they are sick, but the medicine they are taking is destroying one of the body's primary lines of natural defence - good bacteria.

Antibiotics can have a role to play in certain situations and can certainly be highly effective in resolving severe bacterial infections, but it is important to use them sensibly, in moderation and to support your levels of beneficial bacteria both during and after a course.

Too many bad bugs!

If your levels of good bacteria fall, you provide the perfect environment for opportunistic 'nasties' (like bacteria, parasites and yeasts) to thrive and spread and you may start to feel unwell.

This is one of the reasons why antibiotic programmes often result in thrush (a fungal infection caused by Candida overgrowth).

Research has shown that the damage done to the digestive systems by a course of antibiotics can last far longer than was previously thought.

Stanford University researchers in America analysed the levels of friendly bacteria in 3 healthy adult women both before and after each of two cycles on the antibiotic Cipro. Following the first cycle, they found that the drug had altered the population of the subjects friendly gut bacteria significantly, perhaps even permanently. Following the second cycle, six months later, they discovered that the effect was exponentially greater.

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How do you know if this is happening in your body?

An overgrowth of harmful gut flora (called dysbiosis), for example, increases gut toxicity and can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including:

- bloating
- constipation
- skin conditions
- diarrhoea
- abdominal pains after eating
- wind
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Candida overgrowth
- anxiety and depression

How can you support your gut health?

As such, antibiotics should never be used as a regular “quick fix” for minor ailments and, wherever possible, long courses should be avoided too.

* When a course of antibiotics is unavoidable, you can support your levels of friendly bacteria through diet and probiotic supplements, such as BLOOMZ

* Many people have observed the health-supporting effects of fermented foods (often referred to as "probiotic foods") and include them as a regular part of their diet. Examples of these foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, organic tofu and tempeh to name just a few. Including these foods in your diet on a regular basis is a good way to promote healthy intestinal flora.

However, it is worth noting that most of these foods do not contain strains of bacteria that can actually colonise the digestive tract. Instead, they do good work for a week or two and then pass through.

* Supplementing with strains of good bacteria that can colonise the digestive tract (such as L. acidophilus, L. salivarius, B. infantis, B. bifidum, B. brevis and B. longum) is arguably a more effective and powerful means of supporting healthy levels of gut flora for the long term.

* Also ensure that you have adequate fibre in your diet. Many people are not eating anywhere close to the recommended 30g of fibre a day. As a result, the gut is not getting enough fibre to help things “move along” and can result in constipation. To increase your fibre intake, include lots of veggies, fruits and do not be afraid of eating the skins of these (where possible).

* Make sure that you are drinking enough water to enable your gut to cleanse itself as well.

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If you feel that you are suffering from gut dysbiosis, consider doing a gut cleanse with GUTZO and then repopulate your gut with BLOOMZ. If you would like more knowledge on gut health, why not check out the Gut Health Masterclass.

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