Antibiotics – A Few Things to Understand
Let’s talk about antibiotics for a bit and start with a definition. Biotic means “of, relating to, or resulting from living things, esp. in their ecological relations.” In other words, “LIFE!” So, an ANTI-biotic literally means “Anti-Life.” Meaning an antibiotic is literally a death pill. Its purpose is to suppress (kill) the bacteria normally found in the gut or body. So when you take one of these pills, you kill off bacteria by the millions or even billions.
Of course, the threat we face comes from all directions, starting at birth. Antibiotics and penicillin have a devastating effect on beneficial bacteria – not only in the gut but also in other organs and tissues. Antibiotics and bacteria-destroying chemicals are found throughout our sanitized environment and food supplies – including our water. This is pretty much common knowledge these days, but when babies are given antibiotics, it can also have long-term negative effects on them.
We know it takes AT LEAST 4 to 8 weeks (depending on the species of beneficial bacteria) to re-establish in a baby’s gut after antibiotics, if they are re-establish at all (ASM, 2016). This provides a pretty big opportunity for the pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and fungi to move in and establish a home for themselves on the gut wall because many beneficial bacteria have died off for some reason.
This is not just a baby issue either. The same situation is said for adults. If you have ever wanted to glimpse into why so many people have chronic medical conditions, this might be a great start. Of course, other factors play a role as well. Birth control, high levels and long bouts of stress, dentistry work, and exposure to other toxic substances all damage our beneficial bacteria, not to mention diet, which directly impacts our gut flora.
Antibiotics are the big one, though, and as a species, we ingest entirely too many. However, it is interesting to note that antibiotics are often not even needed. Viruses cause a good portion of the ailments doctors are seen for. Antibiotics simply will not work for such infections because a virus is very different from bacteria. This is part of the reason antibiotic-resistant bacteria are on the rise.
The truth is that even if it is bacterial, you may still not need antibiotics. Your immune system will deal with mild infections. Mild eye infections, sinus infections, skin infections, urinary tract infections, chest infections, and even sore throats will usually clear themselves with proper fluid intake and diet. Of course, “mild” is a relative term, but consider this: even many bacterial sexually transmitted diseases can resolve without treatment. Nationally recognized and award-winning physician Dr. H. Hunter Handsfield, M.D. has stated that “in the pre-antibiotic era, it was generally believed that urethral gonorrhea in men cleared up without treatment in an average of 6 weeks or so. Genital infection in women took longer but was believed to usually resolve in 3-6 months (Handsfield, 2011).”
As stated, drug-resistant “superbugs” are on the rise. A special editorial in The Lancet (a health journal) suggested that even routine operations could become deadly “in the very near future” because bacteria can evolve to resist the antibiotics we use to fight them. This is alarming.
This is not to say that antibiotics do not have their place. Yes, antibiotics still have a place in treating life-threatening and severe bacterial infections. Unfortunately, their overuse and perhaps misuse have led to “superbugs” like CRE (Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae) and autoimmune diseases (Mayo Clinic, 2014) (Thomas Jefferson University, 2014). Compound this with everyday stress, environmental and food toxins or pollutants, poor diet, lack of exercise, etc., and we have a problem on our hands.
When the body’s immune system is weak, it is easier for some of these bugs to attack. When they attack, and your immune system is not strong enough, you cannot fight the bug, resulting in infection. Then you have to take medications such as antibiotics. Since your immune system is already weak and your diet is poor, secondary infections can occur, such as yeast or fungal infections (or worse) (Dugdale, 2013). So, by logical processes, perhaps simply reversing that model would stop an infection before it ever happens or significantly reduce the effects when they occur.
Whatever your situation is, it is important to understand the cause and effect of the problem because the solution is found in that understanding. So let us explore this a little before we get into recommendations.
Poor diet alone can set up the body for failure. Let us get back to Hippocrates (Father of Modern Medicine – and where we get the Hippocratic Oath), who said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Truer words have never been spoken. A strong diet can and will help your body resist many different types of infections (Field, Johnson & Schley, 2002). It keeps systems flowing, and if you are doing it right, it is feeding the beneficial bacteria in your gut and starving the bad bacteria and yeasts, which helps protect you from other nasty (often transient) bugs, including parasites (Wassenaar, 2002).
Understand that antibiotics effectively kill both pathogenic and beneficial bacteria. The point is that while antibiotics do a great job of killing bacteria, they can compromise your immune system. They do not affect viruses, and they do not affect the many forms of yeast, such as Candida albicans, naturally found in the body (WebMD, 2016). And as we have already learned, if you make room, one of the other groups will fill the void. The winner is usually yeast (LifeExtension, 2016).
Regardless, it can take years to heal from this type of imbalance, especially if the fungal infection is allowed to get out of control in the first place and when diet remains “less than optimal.” The point is that it is absolutely vital to protect the gastrointestinal tract from yeast or fungal overgrowth while taking antibiotics.
While on antibiotics (and for a few weeks after), it would be wise to maintain a diet void of starches, grains, and sugars. Your diet should consist of fresh and organic meat and fruits such as dark berries and pineapple. These types of food do a few things: 1) starve harmful yeasts and 2) feed beneficial bacteria, and 3) improve immune function. Just a thought: why not maintain such a diet in the first place?
The next question is, “doesn’t fruit have sugar?” Yes. And you are correct if you are worried about feeding the harmful bacteria or yeast. After all, both are like government; if you give them an inch, they will take everything they can. So while we do not want to avoid them, we must keep this food category in a “limited” status. Especially those sweeter fruits.
As mentioned before, as antibiotics begin killing bacteria, yeasts like Candida albicans can overgrow and become fungal. When this occurs, they attach themselves to the gut wall lining. This may result in lesions in the cell membranes, which lead to things like “leaky gut.” As a result, you can develop inflammation, food intolerance, autoimmune diseases, and other digestive disorders. Not good.
So a proper diet helps, but I have two other recommendations. Take antifungal herbs (like garlic or olive leaf extract) with your food. Or, if you prefer, explore taking Caprylic Acid with your meals.
The third task is to replenish beneficial gut bacteria when taking your antibiotics and when your course is complete (Kresser, 2014). Probiotics supplements are a great source of this, or you can consume fermented foods. Either or both (in moderation) is fine.
On rare occasions, this may not be enough. If this is your situation, I would recommend trying a soluble fiber supplement along with your probiotics – for the same reason; I recommend that you eat foods with high amounts of soluble fiber. You want to feed the beneficial bacteria and encourage them to host up.
There are two more important things to consider: exercise and drinking lots of water. You want to eliminate the death from your body. Exercise and lots of water will help tremendously. If you do not run or cannot run, do not worry! Hippocrates also said that “Walking is man’s best medicine.”
The point is this: while taking antibiotics is never ideal, it can sometimes be necessary. If it is necessary, there are steps that you can take both during and after to protect yourself and substantially reduce the harmful effects of taking such medicines while at the same time encouraging the regrowth and diversification of your gut flora. And finally, if you are already dealing with the aftermath of antibiotics, such as chronic fungal infection, the recipe for recovery is very similar. I’ll address that in a later article.
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This article was originally published as a chapter in the book Natural Health Made Easy: The Briobiotic Protocol (2016). It has been updated and edited.
Dr. Robertson is a health researcher and educator, not a physician. The information provided here is not medical advice, a professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or service to you or any other individual. The information provided is for educational and anecdotal purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation, or the advice of your physician or other healthcare providers. Dr. Robertson is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or additional information, services, or product you obtain or utilize. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY CALL 911 OR YOUR PHYSICIAN.