As we head into winter and the coughing, sniffling, and sneezing begins, you might find yourself visiting your doctor to get a prescription for antibiotics, or even reaching for last year’s leftovers. You certainly wouldn’t be alone, right now, antibiotics are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. Antibiotics are being commonly prescribed for conditions that aren’t even associated with a bacterial infection – like the common cold and flu, which are caused by viruses. However, nearly 50 percent of antibiotics prescribed for home use are unnecessary.
So what’s the harm in overexposing ourselves to antibiotics, aren’t we “better safe than sorry”?
The answer is no, taking unnecessary antibiotics can actually do more harm than good. While antibiotics have saved millions of lives over the years, the excessive use and over-prescribing of these medications are wreaking havoc on your health because of their impact on your gut. In this article I’ll explain how antibiotics disrupt your gut microbiome, how that disruption affects your overall health, and how you can restore your gut’s balance if you do have to take antibiotics.
According to a 2014 report published in BMC Medicine, broad-spectrum antibiotic prescription use has doubled from 2000 to 2010. The animals we eat, unless certified organic, are typically given courses of antibiotics as well, to prevent disease in their crowded and dirty living conditions and to stimulate their growth.
Your Gut’s Thriving Ecosystem
Your gut is its own ecosystem, providing a home to 100 trillion microorganisms, including 400 different species of bacteria. These microbes in your gut play crucial roles in digestion, immunity, metabolism, and mental health. Sixty to eighty percent of your immune system is located in your gut and ninety percent of your neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers that help regulate mood – are produced in your gut. In fact, the gut is often nicknamed the second brain because of how significantly it can affect your mood and mental state. Maintaining the proper balance of bacteria and other microorganisms in your gut is crucial, not just to your digestion, but to your overall health and wellbeing.
How Antibiotics Mess with Your Gut
Antibiotics work by blocking vital processes in bacteria that either kill the bacteria or stop them from multiplying. Unfortunately, antibiotics cannot differentiate between the “bad” bacteria that may be causing a bacterial infection and the “good” bacteria that belong in your gut. Instead, antibiotics come through like a tsunami, destroying everything in their path.
When antibiotics kill the bacteria that belong in your gut, it disrupts the delicate ecosystem, creating a state of dysbiosis – or bacterial imbalance. When the number of good bacteria in your gut falls, it leaves you susceptible to the overgrowth of other organisms, like yeast, frequently referred to as Candida, because Candida Albicans is the most common strain of yeast. Yeast is opportunistic, which means that when given the chance, it will grow and multiply, especially when given its favorite food source – sugar. When yeast starts to multiply, it can damage the lining of your intestinal walls, leading to what’s known as leaky gut.
Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Disease
Technically, everything that’s in your small intestine is still considered to be outside of your body. It’s not until substances pass through the intestinal lining that they become a part of your bloodstream. A healthy small intestine keeps toxins and undigested food material out, while a small intestine that has become “leaky” allows microbes, toxins, partially digested food, and other particles to pass through.
When foreign substances make it into your bloodstream, your immune system flags them as invaders and begins to attack. Over time, this causes your immune system, liver, and lymphatic system to become overwhelmed and overworked. When the immune system can no longer keep up with this demand, your immune response goes haywire, and you can develop autoimmune disease. This is why “Heal Your Gut” is the first step towards preventing and reversing disease.
How to Heal Your Gut If You Do Take Antibiotics
So what if you have to take antibiotics or you’ve taken antibiotics in the past? Luckily, there are things you can do to help protect your gut and keep the bacteria in balance, using the Functional Medicine 4R approach.
1. Remove the Yeast Overgrowth
Antibiotics, as well as a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol are key risk factors for developing yeast overgrowth. To get your yeast population back under control, our functional medicine practitioners will generate a personalized wellness plan that asks you to follow a low-carbohydrate diet to starve the yeast, and take anti-fungal supplements to kill it.
2. Restore the Good
Add back in the essential ingredients for proper digestion and absorption that may have been depleted by your antibiotics. Our functional medicine practitioners will likely include digestive enzymes in your personalized wellness plan, which is a key component of this step, because they help you digest your food properly, reducing the strain on your digestive system and ensuring that you receive the full nutritional benefit of the foods you eat.
3. Reinoculate Your Gut with Healthy Bacteria
Probiotics are live bacteria strains that help repopulate the gut and restore bacterial balance.
Prebiotics come in the form of soluble fiber, and help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut by providing them with a food source that helps them grow and multiply. But, they feed yeast too, so you’ll want to take these after you’ve treated the yeast overgrowth. Prebiotics are available in supplemental form – or you can up your intake of soluble fiber-rich foods like chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, onions, and sweet potatoes.
4. Repair Your Gut Lining
Our Heal Faster functional medicine practitioners utilize specialty and science and personal care on the person to create an individualized actionable plan that supports you throughout the journey of repairing your gut.
*Content above is adapted from Dr.Amy Myers.
Your gut is its own ecosystem, providing a home to 100 trillion microorganisms, including 400 different species of bacteria. These microbes in your gut play crucial roles in digestion, immunity, metabolism, and mental health.
Use the Functional Medicine 4R approach to heal leaky gut:
Remove, Restore, Reinoculate, Repair!
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