‘Issue and answer’ from Dr. Devaki Lindsey Berkson

LindseyBerkson1-200x3003The issues — Antibiotics – when you need them they save your life, but how to protect your gut so you don’t ruin your health down the road?

Antibiotics are lifesavers; they can save us from pneumonia or that serious infected tooth or that infection in our kidneys. But, they are well known to wallop the health of the gut. And, 80% – 85% of our immune system is located in the gut wall. When we take antibiotics to kill a specific bug, the shadow side of antibiotics is that they damage this huge part of our immune system for a period of time. For 4 weeks after taking antibiotics the gut immune system acts like it’s hands are tied behind it’s back. As antibiotics damage our immune system in general, we then are more prone to other infections, requiring more antibiotics, and we can get caught in a nasty vicious cycle of more antibiotics and more infections.

For up to 2 years after taking one round of antibiotics, genes in the wall of the gut act dazed.

Antibiotics alter bacteria, viruses and fungi from acting benign, to becoming downright dangerous and nasty, now being capable of actually attacking organs.

The answer — So since we all need antibiotics now and then… how do we protect ourselves when we need to take them?

According to research from the University of Maryland and Harvard, we should take probiotics while we are taking antibiotics, twice a day, 2 hours away from the antibiotic and ½ hour away from food. We should take strains that are not damaged by stomach acid (Lactobacillus rhamnosus and lactobacillus GG) as well as others like Lactobacillus Bifidus, and we should continue to take probiotics twice a day away from food for 2-4 weeks after we stop the antibiotics.

If we begin to experience intestinal upset, irritable bowel, a change in bowel habits, within several months after stopping the antibiotics, then just do another bottles worth of probiotics for protection. You can also eat foods high in probiotics such as yogurt and sauerkraut, but these do not contain the ones resistant to stomach acid and you must make sure you get some of those, which can be purchased in commercial products.

Many drugs, not just antibiotics, especially when taken for long periods of time, can damage the gut. For example, pain killers or analgesics (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) are often taken ongoing for chronic pain and inflammation. These drugs can stimulate the growth of nasty bacteria like Campylobacter in the gut, and contribute to disease. Birth control pills play havoc with gut bacteria. All drugs have a shadow side, and often part of that shadow lurks over the gut.

Take home message — if you have to be on meds long term, take a bottle of good probiotics several times a year to play it safe for your gut, immune system and overall health.