Antibiotics are considered one of the most revolutionary discoveries in the history of medicine and are still the most prescribed drugs worldwide. However, while antibiotics can be lifesaving, they can also come with a downside.
A number of studies have been conducted on its physiological responses to gut health. This article explores what the gut microbiome and antibiotics are and what antibiotics do to the gut.
What is the gut microbiome?
Our digestive system is home to trillions of microorganisms, which include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms that live in our body, especially the intestines. The term microbiota is used to refer to the collection of microbes in a particular environment, while microbiome refers to the microbiota together with their habitat.
Therefore, the microorganisms that reside in the human gastrointestinal tract are collectively called the gut microbiome or gut flora.
The gut microbes aid in different bodily functions like digestion, regulation of the immune system, protection against pathogens, regulation of metabolism, and the production of serotonin. That is, the gut biome impacts both the physical and mental health of a person.
The gut biome is unique to each individual and is influenced by factors like age, sex, diet, and environmental conditions.
Our gut is home to a variety of good and bad bacteria. Good bacteria help carry out the above-mentioned functions, while bad bacteria cause infections and diseases. We need large quantities of highly diverse microbes, or good bacteria, to stay healthy.
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are medicines used to treat infections caused by bacteria, both in humans and animals. Antibiotics work by killing bacteria or reducing their growth and reproduction.
They are commonly used to treat respiratory, urinary tract, and skin infections. Antibiotics can be taken orally in the form of capsules, tablets, or liquids; topically as creams, ointments, drops, or spays; and through injections.
What are the effects of antibiotics on the gut?
For most of the past decades, after the discovery of medicines, scientists were not aware of the good bacteria that live in our gut. Now, new research offers a better understanding of their significance as well as evidence to support the impacts of antibiotics on gut health.
Antibiotics work by killing the bacteria and restricting their growth and their chances of multiplying. Most antibiotics cannot distinguish between good and bad bacteria, causing imbalances in the gut bacteria.
These changes can have severe consequences for gut health, like an alteration in metabolic activity, a reduction in microbial diversity, and increased chances of recurring infections. When these medications are used for extended periods of time, they cause gut bacteria to proliferate and become resistant to antibiotics, resulting in further growth of the bacteria.
This increases the risk of getting diseases like Crohn’s disease, asthma, rhinitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and immunity disorders.
Additionally, studies have found that even short courses of antibiotics can change the diversity of the gut microbiota. Even if much of the diversity is recovered in the next few weeks, there is still a percentage of microbes that fail to recover even after a 6-month period.
How to restore gut health after antibiotics?
While being treated with antibiotics, health experts say it is essential to take precautions to maintain and restore your gut health, as keeping good bacteria is just as important as killing the bad ones.
Probiotics: This is one of the commonly recommended methods to keep the gut biome balanced. Probiotic foods are typically foods that contain good gut bacteria and are rich in fiber and nutrients. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, and tempeh contain naturally occurring probiotics.
And these foods are cheaper compared to probiotic supplements. If you do not get enough of these from your diet, physicians would also prescribe probiotic supplements. It is reported to be helpful for people with severe antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
High-fiber foods: Fiber helps stimulate the growth of gut bacteria. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are rich sources of fiber.
Regular exercise and proper rest: Both of these habits are said to be beneficial in restoring balance in your gut. Exercise helps reduce inflammation and increase good gut bacteria, while enough rest helps reduce stress and impair gut health.
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It is certain that we need antibiotics to survive, but we should not use them if it is not necessary. It is wise to take antibiotics only under the guidance or recommendations of a physician. It is proven that even a single antibiotic course of treatment in healthy individuals can have long-lasting effects on gut health and increase the risk of recurrence of bacterial infections.