We are fortunate to live in an age where many infectious diseases that would previously have been life-threatening can be treated simply and effectively with a round of antibiotics. Without a doubt, antibiotics have been over-prescribed in recent years, and their use should not be taken lightly. Having said that, when used conservatively to stop the progress of acute disease, antibiotics are extremely valuable.
The problem with taking antibiotics is that they tend not to be very discriminating. So, when they go to work wiping out the “bad” bacteria that are causing all the problems, they usually take down the beneficial bacteria as well. That means that the good bacterial colonies in our gut can suffer some extreme damage or be wiped out entirely with a course of antibiotics [source].
Both while you’re taking antibiotics and afterward, there are some steps to help support and restore a healthy gut.
What to Do While You're Taking Antibiotics
It's incredibly important that you finish out your prescription, even if you feel better partway through, as failing to do so can allow bacteria to adapt and evolve, becoming drug resistant. While you're still taking the medication, follow the guidelines from your pharmacist. For example, some antibiotics don't mix well with alcohol, dairy products, and even sunlight.
Support your immune system
Be sure to stay hydrated and get adequate sleep while you are taking antibiotics, as your system is going into repair mode and needs your support. If you don't have much of an appetite, eat what you can and aim for nutrient-dense fluids such as bone broth (miso broth is a great option for vegetarians), freshly made fruit and vegetable juices, and smoothies.
What to Do After Taking Antibiotics
Eat fermented foods
To help restore your healthy gut bacteria, go for naturally fermented foods and drinks, which introduce live bacterial cultures into your digestive system [source]. Fermented beverages such as kombucha and kefir are great options. So are fermented foods, like lacto-fermented pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi, or fermented dairy products such as natural yogurt, buttermilk, and sour cream.
Keep in mind that a jar of sauerkraut or fermented pickles from the supermarket shelf won't carry the same benefits as homemade because it has often been pasteurized to be shelf stable, effectively killing off the beneficial bacteria (make sure to check the label).
Take probiotic supplements
During times of illness and when working to repair and restore the gut, often fermented foods alone aren't enough, so you may want to seek out a therapeutic probiotic supplement. Not all probiotic supplements are created equal—you’ll want to seek out one with at least 10 billion CFU (colony forming units) per day, and studies have shown that Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, and Saccharomyces boulardii are the most effective at reducing antibiotic side effects and restoring healthy colonies in your gut [source].
You'll want to keep up the fermented foods and probiotics for a few weeks after you finish taking antibiotics. During this time, it's beneficial to support your gut bacteria by eating lots of prebiotic-rich plant foods.
Get some prebiotics
Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that work their way through our digestive tract to the colon, where they are fermented and broken down by the probiotic bacteria you're looking to repopulate your gut with [source]. That gives the healthy new bacterial colonies something to live on, so they will multiply and remain in the gut. Prebiotic-rich foods include pears, green bananas, plantains, asparagus, onions, leeks, and jicama.
If you find that even with the support of good nutrition, fermented foods, and pro- and prebiotics, your gut still doesn't recover from antibiotics, speak with your health care provider to rule out an inflammatory process or leaky gut syndrome [source].
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Gina Jansheski, a licensed, board-certified physician who has been practicing for more than 20 years. Learn more about Hello Glow's medical reviewers here. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is gut health?
Gut health refers to the proper functioning and balance of the digestive system, including the gut microbiome, gut bacteria, and gut lining. It is essential for overall health and wellness. Foods like youghurt can naturally improve gut health and boost beneficial gut bacteria naturally.
How do antibiotics affect gut health?
Antibiotics can disrupt the balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut, leading to a decrease in microbial diversity and potentially causing antibiotic-associated diarrhea. It can take some time for the gut to recover its balance after a course of antibiotics.
How can I support my gut health while taking antibiotics?
Eating prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods, such as fermented foods and supplements, can help restore healthy gut flora. It is also important to stay hydrated, eat a balanced diet, and avoid unnecessary antibiotic use.
What are beneficial bacteria in the gut?
Beneficial bacteria are essential for a healthy gut microbiome and include species like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. They play a key role in digestion, immune function, and overall health.
Can antibiotics cause harm to gut bacteria?
Yes, antibiotics can kill both harmful and beneficial bacteria and gut flora in the gut, leading to an imbalance that can negatively affect gut health. This can also result in the overgrowth of harmful bacteria like Clostridium difficile.
How can I restore my gut health after a course of antibiotics?
To restore gut health after antibiotics, it is important to consume prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods and supplements, eat a healthy diet, and avoid unnecessary antibiotic use. It may also be helpful to work with a healthcare provider to develop a plan for restoring gut flora and promoting overall gut health.
What is the gut microbiome, and how does it relate to healthy gut flora?
The gut microbiome, also known as gut flora, is the collection of microorganisms that inhabit our digestive tract. It includes bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is essential for overall health, as it helps with digestion, immune system function, and nutrient absorption. Research has shown that a diverse gut microbiome with a balance of beneficial bacteria is crucial for good health. Adding 3-10 servings of prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods to your diet can help promote a healthy gut flora.
What are some suggested actions to restore a healthy gut microbiome?
To restore a healthy gut microbiome, or gut flora, there are several suggested actions you can take. First, try to consume more prebiotic foods, such as garlic, onions, and asparagus, to nourish the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Additionally, consider adding fermented foods like yogurt or kefir to your diet to introduce more healthy bacteria into your gut. You can also take probiotic supplements to help increase the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Another helpful action is to avoid consuming excessive amounts of sugar, as this can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Finally, be cautious when taking antibiotics, as they can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut and potentially lead to antibiotic-associated diarrhea.95