Re-thinking antibiotic effect on the gut - can natural solutions save the day?
A crazy stat that I recently learned was from a 2008 study (linked here) on the effects of antibiotics on the human gut microbiome. The study showed that some gut microbiomes do not fully recover even six months after taking antibiotics. This led me on a journey to go deeper into all things antibiotics.
Today, we're going to look into that study and more science-backed research, as well as looking at why the overuse of antibiotics can be damaging as well as how to repair your gut during and after antibiotics (if you have to take them); my top recommendations and our top Agent picks for natural alternatives.
Let's get into it.
Antibiotics usually act alongside an organism's immune system to eliminate an infection. However, the drugs can have broad side effects, and it's long been known in the holistic health community that antibiotics can do good but also can be very damaging en route to their end goal. The human microbiome is essential to the health of the human. It plays a massive role in our mental health, nutrition, metabolism, pathogen proliferation, resistance and regulation of the immune response, and more.
The main negative side effects of antibiotics include:
*disrupting the gut
impacting the bacterial strains (including the good ones) that we need to thrive
*interfering with our neurotransmitter production
*remodeling the biochemical environment inside us
*driving leaky gut, and more.
It's not just adulthood antibiotic usage that can be damaging though, taking them as children can have impacts too and a 2020 study states that "there is also evidence that early childhood exposure to antibiotics can lead to several gastrointestinal, immunologic, and neurocognitive conditions." Crazy. Our gut health is so important and still remains overlooked by so many people today - popping antibiotics for fun or at the slightest sign of infection without understanding the repercussions. It is also thought that these changes to our gut microbiome can cause acute disease, as well as leading to chronic health problems.
The damage that antibiotics cause takes place in the gut and, more specifically, involves:
- Reducing the species diversity of bacterial strands in the biome / reducing the good bacteria in the biome (as part of the process of killing off the bad guys);
- Altering metabolic activity; and
- Driving the creation of antibiotic-resistant organisms that can continue to cause health problems over time and more issues further down the line when you take your next batch of antibiotics.
The connection of our microbiome to our mental health and immunity also can't be overlooked. An incredible study in 2015 investigated how changes in the microbiome, specifically gut dysbiosis, were thought to be linked to the increased risk of psychiatric disorders and conditions through metabolic, immunologic, and neurologic pathways. The study wanted to go deeper into this and concluded that "recurrent antibiotic exposure is associated with increased risk for depression and anxiety but not for psychosis".
The side effects don't stop just in the gut, though. A recent study by Harvard has shown and suggests that antibiotic treatments cause changes to the broader body, not just the microbiome, by impacting directly on the tissues within the body of the mouse that was tested in the study.
The study also showed that these changes might trigger responses that could *PROTECT* the bacteria the antibiotics are trying to kill.
What this means is that antibiotics and treatment may make the body less effective at killing bacteria, thus reducing the ability of the body's macrophages to do what they need to do in terms of engulfing and killing the bacteria the body is trying to kill.
I know that more research is always required around these areas, but this, plus the damage they can do to us short, mid and long term is a red flag for me.
So, what to do if you need to take antibiotics?
I understand that some situations occur when taking antibiotics is non-negotiable and absolutely necessary.
If that is you or someone you love, it will take time & effort. Still, the good news is that you can do things during and after a course of antibiotics to minimize the damage to your gut, and to help to encourage re-growth and diversification of the bacterial strands you might have killed off by taking the antibiotics.
Here are my top tips and product recommendations on what to do during your antibiotic experience:
- Find the right pre and probiotics for you - for me, this always starts with testing so you can see what strands you particularly are struggling with. It is often thought that prebiotics is more effective than probiotics at promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, but both are important if you're taking antibiotics, particularly with studies showing that probiotics can help prevent diarrhea associated with antibiotics. As with anything else, the best probiotic for you to take personally will depend on your circumstances (such as the antibiotic you're on and the state of your digestive system) but the strands that we always think you should look out for include:
- Saccharomyces boulardii - this supports good bacteria and prevents inflammation.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus - one of the most well-known strands (from yogurt). It's known to be good at treating and preventing infections, reducing the digestive side effects of antibiotics; and
- You can also look into the following strains - casei, L. Rhamnosus GG, L. Plantarum 299v, B. subtilis, B. coagulans lactospore , B. clausii
Regarding other product recommendations, I love Mega spore probiotics from Microbiome Labs - it is a 100% spore-based, broad-spectrum probiotic shown to maintain healthy gut barrier function. The formula effectively RECONDITIONS the gut by promoting microbial diversity and maintaining key health-promoting, commensal gut bacteria. I always also advise people to look into taking one of my very, very favorite products - Ion biome from Zach Bush for full gut support. You can now find it at Erewhon, and it is such an incredible product, and I love Zach. Zach is also a big proponent of 'getting your hands dirty' and that getting out into nature and gardening is an incredible way to incorporate a more diverse set of gut bacteria into your body.
Other products I love include:
- Purethera Leaky gut Defense - packed full of L-Glutamine, Arabinogalactan, Licorice Root Extract and Aloe Leaf Extract for gut reconditioning.
- COLLAGEN! I always talk about the beauty benefits of collagen and how incredibly anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, and pro-hydration collagen is, as well as being backed by a ton of scientific clinicals - but I don't do enough is talk about how healing it is for the gut. The power it holds for protecting and rebuilding leaky gut is epic. The effect of collagen peptides on intestinal mucosal protection has been showcased in both cell and animal models. There is a direct connection between the relationship between the epithelial barrier and the functional and protective mechanisms of collagen. Our very own holi (mane) contains the ultimate quality collagen that will help to coat your gut lining and prevent leaky gut (which is driven by the antibiotics). Our holi (mane) collagen truly is the best out there - it's packed full of marine collagen - absorbable, sustainable types 1, 2, 3 and 4 and all derived from the scales of wild-caught, deep-sea fish. This means it is derived from non-GMO deep caught kosher cod, pollock and haddock. Top-quality and major impact, like with everything at Agent!
- Aloe vera juice - this is also powerful at protecting the intestinal lining and is so easy to get hold of and to drink.
I also advise totally overhauling your diet, lifestyle, and wellbeing routine when on antibiotics - focusing on cutting out anything associated with leaky gut and gut issues. This looks like anything that is inflammatory (i.e. an inflammatory diet driven by grains, bread, sugar, GMOs, unhealthy oils, alcohol, etc).
It's also good to put back in healthy foods during this time. I always advise those with multiple bacterial strains (homemade where possible) - think kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and other fermented foods, fruits and goods. Upping your soluble fiber is important too - think squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, plantains, etc.
Finally, focusing on human connection and reducing stress levels is also important here to take your body out of fight and flight mode, where possible, to help with your healing.
And if you can avoid antibiotics? I always advise people to look into natural antibiotic options. These can be powerful by incorporating them into your diet. Always be sure to seek medical advice before self-dosing.
My favorites are high quality:
- Garlic (Allimax is my brand of choice)
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- & Propolis
Friends, I hope this is helpful. I find that I take such personal power in understanding that there are alternative options when antibiotics are not critical to survival. It just takes some investigation and proper sourcing and focusing on other areas of your life rather than approaching this with a band aid mentality.
Let me know your solutions to replacing antibiotics, I'd love to add to my toolkit.
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS; THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST****