Killing You Softly – The Side-Effect of Antibiotics

I think I’d be pretty safe to say that just about everyone reading this will have taken an antibiotic at some point in their life. Fair enough. But every drug has side-effects, we all know this. So what is the side effect of taking antibiotics?

Antibiotics are chemicals that either inhibit the growth of bacteria (by preventing bacterial cells from multiplying) or kill bacteria. They can be classified as narrow-spectrum, for example Penicillin G will only destroy a few different species of bacteria, or broad-spectrum, for example tetracycline, which is effective against a very wide range of bacteria.

The problem for us as humans however lies in a oft-forgotten fact of life, we are composed of ten times as many microbial cells (including bacteria, fungi, viruses and moulds) than we human cells! YEP! You are actually 90% microbial and only 10% human!!
And in killing off some, many, most, the majority, or all of the bacteria present (predominantly the gut) you end up creating an environment that is just perfect for opportunistic and pathogenic bacteria to move right on in and set up shop.

This means all manner of nasty bacteria, which would normally be intercepted on some level by our gut bacteria and through our gut immune system, can slide on in there and make themselves at home. There’s no one to kick up a fuss really.

One of these nasties is Clostridium difficile, he particularly likes to hang out in hospitals and sometimes in the community, and is a bacteria that creates it’s own toxins (gross) and gives you diarrhea. CDAD as it’s medically known. Clostridium difficile associated diarrhea.

The biggest risk factor for this delightful bug…. Antibiotic use (SURPRISE!), and it is the leading cause of AAD. Antibiotic associated diarrhea. Believe it or not, the cost of this to global healthcare is rising, as are morbidity (sickness) and mortality (death) rates.

Now some people might be thinking, “Yeah sure, I’ve taken Antibiotics before and I’ve had the runs, maybe it happens every time you take them. Isn’t that what they do?”
Others are possibly thinking, “Where the hell was the disclaimer that we were talking about diarrhea??”

Both very valid questions, but the answers would be, no, well not directly, and c’mooooon I’m a naturopath, it’s what we do, we talk about poo, and wee, and diarrhea and all of the other charming things that go into, and come out of, your body. It’s not disgusting, it’s fascinating, and you should be really, REALLY interested. No-one will ever know your body better than you, and it’s constantly giving you feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. Constantly! Not convinced? That’s probably because you’re not actually listening!

But back to question one, I wonder then if the diarrhea is a direct side effect of the drug itself or rather a side effect of the environment that the Antibiotic created, or rather destroyed?

Haha, I’ve just realised there might be a metaphor in here somewhere….

All of the natural bacterial populations are out of balance, there have been some invaders, outside pathogenic bacteria were introduced into the system, there has potentially been some in-fighting between dis-organised branches of the defence system in all the chaos, and there has been some resistance from within, but not enough to satisfy the outside, from the outside it appears that the system is failing..!

We introduce antibiotics into the system and over hours, days, and weeks the system is bombarded with chemical warfare, destroyed, obliterated, the invaders are finally knocked out, thankfully, mostly, (we hope!), and the immediate threat to the system is over. The outside can go back to normal.

But the situation inside the system is very different. For the system, that decimation has not just knocked out the damaging invading pathogens, it has also knocked out most of the local, endemic bacterial populations too.

Unfortunately for the system, with no natural resistance, insufficient defenses, and no way of protecting itself or fighting back, opportunistic populations begin to move in, but these are deeper, darker, deadlier, and the next thing you know…. EVERYTHING TURNS TO SHIT!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

But really, the whole reason I started writing this is because you NEED to know that each time you take a course of antibiotics your internal gut flora is so severely knocked out that it can take up to 12 MONTHS OR MORE for your system to return to what it was!!

WHAT IT WAS. Not necessarily optimal, perfect, super shiny, happy insides that glean with health, but just your bog standard I’m mostly ok here levels.

One year for every course of antibiotics… that’s C R A Z Y! And if you’re the type that might go to the doctor once a year for an infection of some sort, an injury, accident, has a clumsy kid, or an over-prescribing doctor, that once a year dose could mean that you don’t really have a properly functioning gut at ANY TIME!
Or, if you grew up like I did with chronic tonsillitis, glue ear, had your adenoids and tonsils ripped out, and spent most of the time on course after course of antibiotics, chances are your gut bacteria are right royally fucked!

[And P.S If this sounds like your child, this is the CLASSIC DAIRY INTOLERANCE PICTURE. Take your child off dairy NOW! If you’re worried about their calcium intake let me be frank, alright lets call it blunt… dairy is the shittest form of calcium on the planet, it will not give your child strong bones and teeth, it WILL do the opposite, and the countries with the highest dairy consumption levels also have the highest osteoporosis levels. If I’ve just blown your mind please feel free to read my expanded dairy article coming soon! ]

So back to antibiotics…. Don’t get me wrong, antibiotics definitely have their place, and they have saved many lives, allopathic medicine (doctors and drugs) is particularly fantastic at emergency and trauma medicine, but HEALTH-CARE… forget it. There is no money to be made in health, money is made in sickness, so taking any drug prescribed long term will never get you any closer to health, it will keep you in a loop of side-effects, dependency and low-grade chronic dis-ease.

So what can you do? You can support your natural bacterial populations before, during and after antibiotic therapy with probiotics. Will some of them die due to the antibiotics? Possibly, it depends on what you’re taking. Will some of them survive? Yes. Is it a waste of money taking them at the same time then? Definitely not. The benefits of supporting your good bacteria far, FAR outweighs the risk of a few of them dying off in the process and you being much more susceptible to additional infections as a result. Hello post-antibiotic thrush ladies!

You should consider probiotics even if you’ve never taken antibiotics because there are just so many other things that will negatively affect your good bacteria.
Chlorine, fluoride, alcohol, pesticide and herbicide residues on non-organic foods, household cleaning products, particularly “anti-bacterial” ones, exhaust fumes, pollution, drugs and my favourites, the contraceptive pill and STRESS!

Yep, all of these things will kill off your good bacteria which makes you more susceptible to illness, infections, disease, behavioural problems, mood swings, depression, food allergies, cravings, fatigue, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, asthma, eczema, acne, mental disturbances, fungal overgrowth (hello again Candida/ thrush), inflammatory conditions and metabolism problems.

And the kicker to finish…. this population of good bacteria is seeded at the moment of your birth. So if you were born naturally, vaginally, with your mother receiving no drugs, no interventions, she had no fungal infections, thrush, candida, took no antibiotics during pregnancy or birth, and was super healthy throughout, then congratulations(!!) there’s a great chance that you were seeded with healthy human microbes which formed the basis of your gut bacteria and immune system. This happened as you swallowed her bacteria on your way down the birth canal, and the growth of these bacteria was directly supported by the nutrients present in breast milk (whether hers or others).

If not, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but chances are you didn’t get all you needed on the way down. If you were a C-section baby fed on formula, you got nothing. Harsh I know, but true. These babies NEED appropriate probiotics or they will experience a lifetime of sensitivities, allergies, and non-communicable diseases (i.e. asthma, eczema, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, crohns, coeliac disease, thyroiditis, depression, renal failure and obesity) not just as children but into adulthood too.
The good news? All of these conditions (and more) can be helped with effective probiotic supplementation. 

If you would like to know more information about the probiotics that I recommend to my clients, or would like to chat about which ones may be specific for your situation, please send me an email or get in touch via the tab above.

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