How often have you caught a cold or had a sore throat, and after 5 minutes at your doctor’s office, you’re given an antibiotic prescription and sent on your way? You think, “well, that was easy,” but then you cycle through these steps again in a couple of months.
If this “quick fix” is causing more harm than good on your well-being, would you still choose it?
Sadly, this is the issue with antibiotics use. While it may help in the short term (sometimes), it can lead to other detrimental problems throughout the body. The main side effect of antibiotic use is gut issues- short term and long. I want to inform you of the risks of antibiotic usage, so you can make an educated decision when you are presented with the option to take them.
Don’t get me wrong; there is absolutely a time and place for antibiotics. Antibiotics have been marked as a milestone in fighting infectious diseases and can be lifesaving and certainly needed in certain situations. Countless lives have been saved because antibiotics exist. Please do not think that I am anti- antibiotics.
The issues with antibiotics are that they are widely overprescribed in our medical system today. They are handed out as the first line of defense when they should be the last. Many of the reasons why antibiotics are given out – colds, flu, sore throats, ear, or sinus infections- could be fixed on their own or with the help of some natural remedies.
As a functional medicine provider, I see many clients who struggle with long-term health issues because of antibiotic use, whether from when they were babies, childhood, or current usage. Not to blame previous doctors and parents for using antibiotics more than they should, but now we know better. There is mounting evidence that antibiotic usage can lead to some serious health problems.
Antibiotic resistance is becoming a concern, even in the conventional medical community. Antibiotic resistance is when the bad bugs in your body develop the ability to fight the drugs that are created to kill them. The weaker bacteria die off from the antibiotics while the stronger ones stay alive. These stronger ones that are resistant to the drugs then reproduce. More potent drugs are then needed to kill off the overgrowth of these, yet the same thing happens. Eventually, the bacteria become so resistant that even the strongest antibiotics can’t fight infections, ultimately leading to death.
In fact, back in 2015, antibiotic resistance pathogens caused over 50,000 deaths a year in just Europe and the United States alone. What’s even more alarming is that it’s projected to rise to 10 million deaths per year worldwide by 2050. While antibiotic resistance is just one concerning side effect that is seen with taking antibiotics, gut damage is what many doctors are concerned about now.
The biggest issue I see around antibiotic use is damage to the gut. It is estimated that our gut contains approximately 100 trillion microbes from over 1000 species, along with other microbes like yeast, fungi, and viruses.
Some of these bacteria are beneficial to our health, while others are not. When we take antibiotics, it kills off all those harmful bacteria (bugs) that are causing your issues. However, it also wipes out all your good bugs at the same time! We need those healthy bacteria in our body because they play a vital role in digestion, immunity, energy production, and they even produce vitamins and minerals for our body.
Antibiotic use can lead to gut dysbiosis (aka microbial imbalance). When all the bacteria are wiped out, it leaves room for the harmful bugs, candida, and yeast to grow. This leads to numerous health issues. You could experience acute problems like diarrhea from taking antibiotics, or it could lead to longer-term health problems.
These could include:
When clients come to me with any of these health complaints, many times when we get to the root cause, it is from antibiotic use – even from years ago! I hope to inform my readers of the side effects of taking antibiotics, so it doesn’t take a toll on their health later in life.
Something I commonly see in my practice is people that have chronic allergies, itchy ears, acne, sugar/carb cravings, eczema, athletes foot, ringworm and vaginal yeast infections. These can all be symptoms or conditions that are related to candida overgrowth. So, what causes candida overgrowth? Well, oftentimes it is caused by frequent or long term steroid or antibiotic use. I cannot tell you how many women I work with that have been on antibiotics for months for their skin or people that have been on mission trips or been deployed and taken antibiotics for extended periods of time. Remember, antibiotics are not inherently evil, but when they are overused and prescribed they can have detrimental effects on the body, especially the gut.
(always check with your medical provider and be assessed, do not take this as medical advice)
But, when you are suffering from a bad cold or virus, there are things you can do to help with the symptoms so you can ride it out easier and faster. Many times your body has the ability to fight off these illnesses; it just takes some time. Next time you come down with something, consider these simple techniques that my family and I use:
Warm lemon water or herbal tea with honey
Lemon, garlic and ginger juice
Avoid alcohol consumption
Use essential oils
Use homeopathic remedies
Consume bone broth
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
Hot showers to let the steam reduce congestion
If you’ve weighed your options and antibiotics are necessary, there are still practices you can do to lessen the harmful side effects. The focus here is to support your gut as many ways as possible to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and to limit harmful bacteria overgrowth.
Prebiotics are soluble fiber that helps promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. While there are supplements you can take that are on the market, you can also find prebiotics naturally in food sources. These include resistant starch, sweet potato, squash, green bananas, garlic, and onions. With this, be sure to start with a smaller amount at the beginning and work your way up. If you consume too much, too fast, it can irritate your gut lining.
Taking probiotics while on antibiotics might sound counterintuitive, however, there are benefits. While the antibiotics are killing off the good and bad bugs, probiotics can help the presence of beneficial bacteria even if it’s for a short period of time. Studies show that people who take probiotics, specifically Lactobacillus, while on antibiotics, reduce their risk of C difficile associated diarrhea. Patients who take probiotics during antibiotic treatment, as well as after treatment, were shown to have less gut dysbiosis compared to those who didn’t take probiotics.
During your antibiotic treatment and after, it’s important to consume a wide variety of whole foods. Eat colorful fruit and vegetables as well as fermented food. This can help the beneficial bacteria build up once again. It’s been shown that what you eat can alter your microbiome, with temporary microbial shifts within 24 hours.
Taking supplements during and after antibiotics can help your gut recover faster, reducing the risks of other side effects down the road. These supplements can help heal your gut lining, so you’ll be able to actually absorb and use all the nutrients you are consuming.
Aloe Vera Extract
*One of my favorite gut-healing supplements is Gut Support from Taylor Dukes Wellness.
Before you take any antibiotics, really decide if they are useful and /or necessary. This can also be determined by your doctor. Be aware that antibiotics won’t do anything for the common cold, flu, sore throat, or some ear and sinus infections. In my house, we will ride it out and use natural approaches to reduce symptoms while our body fights the illness like it’s designed to do. But hear me when I say this, you also don’t have to be miserable and tough it out, you can be proactive in helping shorten the severity and duration of symptoms by supporting your immune system.
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