As someone with an immunodeficiency disorder who has had multiple surgeries, I’ve had to take more antibiotics in my life than the average person, unfortunately. Antibiotics are one of the most important advancements in healthcare and are a powerful tool against bacterial infections. Yet they can also cause unwanted side effects, including liver damage and digestion complications. Why? Because antibiotics kill the good bacteria in your gut along with the bad. Faced with this dilemma, I often wonder, ‘How do I protect my gut when taking antibiotics?’
According to a recent study, “even a single antibiotic treatment in healthy individuals contributes to the risk of resistance development and leads to long-lasting detrimental shifts in the gut microbiome,” researchers write. In addition, the ongoing use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance and the rise of superstrain bacteria, like certain staph infections and MRSA. To protect yourself and your gut when taking antibiotics, consider only taking them if you absolutely must. Make sure they’re prescribed by a doctor (instead of borrowing them from a friend), so you can discuss your concerns. If taking antibiotics is unavoidable, here are a few things you can do to help your gut heal and restore the good bacteria:
Probiotics are live healthy bacteria—studies show that the probiotics, Lactobacilli and Saccharomyces, can help protect the gut when taking antibiotics and may prevent diarrhea, a common side effect. Talk to your doctor about whether to take the probiotics during or after you complete your course of treatment.
While many probiotics come in pill and powder form and are available online and over the counter at grocery stores, you can also get probiotics by eating fermented foods, such as yogurt, tempeh, or kimchi. If you have IBS or digestive issues, some fermented foods and probiotics can aggravate stomach symptoms. Check in with your doctor, if you haven’t incorporated these foods into your diet before.
Drink bone broth
Another tool that I found helpful to protect my gut when taking antibiotics was drinking bone broth daily. As a lifelong vegetarian, this was challenging to try, but it was recommended by my integrative doctor and acupuncturist, and I found lasting results. Bone broth—and the gelatine that releases from the bones as they cook—can help improve the gut lining that has been damaged during the course of antibiotics. Try to make it yourself to avoid preservatives and extra sodium in the store-bought kinds. If bone broth isn’t your cup of tea, try collagen supplements, which are said to provide similar gut-healing benefits.
Follow Rx instructions
One of the most important ways to protect your gut from antibiotics is by complying with all directions, warnings, and precautions on the label and from your pharmacist. During treatment, it’s generally recommended to avoid all alcohol and certain foods, such as grapefruit, which can interfere with how the liver and intestines break down antibiotics. Always check with your doctor on what you should avoid while taking any medication. And ask about supplements they’d recommend to support your digestive system while on antibiotics.