This week, nutritionist Nonie De Long talks about taking probiotics with antibiotics
This week’s question comes from June in Colborne. June wrote asking if taking probiotics has any benefits when taking antibiotics. She wondered if the antibiotics nullified the benefits of the probiotics and whether it was better to wait until the antibiotics were exhausted before starting the probiotic therapy. This is a great question that has been hotly debated among nutrition experts for some time. New research suggests there is a clear answer, and today we’re going to examine it in depth.
do i take her
The verdict stands! There are clear advantages to taking probiotics while on antibiotic therapy. First, they can help mitigate some of the uncomfortable side effects of taking antibiotics. Have you ever experienced diarrhea, upset stomach, or yeast infections due to antibiotic treatments? This is because antibiotics attack bacteria, which reduces bacterial infections in the body. That’s why we take them! And in some cases, this can be life-saving. However, because antibiotics have a global effect, they don’t just discriminate against bad bacteria. They can also wipe out beneficial bacteria. Think of them as a kind of atomic bomb for bacteria. Any bacteria they encounter will be wiped out. Our digestive system is lined with beneficial bacteria very an important role in maintaining good health.
When we think of bacteria, we’ve been trained by the media for the past two years to automatically arm ourselves with a bottle of Lysol or disinfectant wipes, but our immune systems are actually developed and shaped by exposure to bacteria! From our journey down the birth canal to eating food, we grow in soil—we are inoculated with bacteria that both program and boost our immune systems. Bacteria are the most abundant life form on the planet. In fact, we are made up of about 10 times more bacteria than human cells! Most do not harm us and many are essential to our survival (source).
Beneficial bacteria improve immunity, digestive function and nervous system function. Studies by Caltech show a surprising connection between the bacteria in our bodies and our brain health (source). Other researchers theorize that a lot of inflammation actually starts with an imbalance of good bacteria in the gut (source).
We want a strong, diverse microbiome that teams up with good bacteria. Adding probiotics when taking antibiotics can help ensure our beneficial bacteria are not wiped out by antibiotic use. They can alleviate the unpleasant symptoms associated with antibiotic therapies and boost our immunity to overcome the infection at hand.
A large-scale analysis of 63 studies found that subjects had 48 percent less antibiotic-associated diarrhea after taking probiotics (source). Another study showed that taking a high dose of probiotics with antibiotics reduced the risk of diarrhea from the antibiotics by 46 percent (source). Another study showed that treating H pylori with a combination of probiotics and antibiotics can help reduce the gastrointestinal upset that usually occurs (source).
Another study showed that taking probiotics with antibiotics during hospital treatment reduced the incidence of drug-resistant bacteria from 25 percent to 8.3 percent (source).
In fact, it’s now recommended that probiotic therapy be recommended when patients are taking two or more antibiotics to reduce the risk of Clostridium difficile infection (source).
how to take them
Since there are times when most of us need antibiotics for something, let’s look at how best to use probiotics during this time. It’s believed that it’s best to take them two hours before/after taking antibiotics so they have a chance to make their way through the digestive system without being wiped out by the antibiotics. If you can’t remember, just take them when it suits you. You don’t have to take probiotics with a meal or on an empty stomach.
In the above studies, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces boulardii were found to be beneficial. Additionally, soil-based Bacillus species have been shown to be important. Some people don’t do well until soil-based probiotics are added. But there’s really no need to remember different tribes. This shows that taking an enteric-coated, broad-spectrum probiotic with a high number of active bacteria at the time of manufacture can help ensure you benefit. If you’re not sure which ones are good, consult your nutritionist for a recommendation.
What about fermented foods?
At the same time, it is very beneficial to eat a portion of fermented food at least once a day. These include kimchi, kombucha, fermented pickles, sauerkraut, miso paste, natto, fermented soy products, and fermented dairy products like kefir and yogurt. Just look for products that have not been pasteurized as this kills the beneficial bacteria.
You can also make many of these products at home to enjoy the benefits for less money.
Thanks June for the great question! I hope the information contained herein applies to your family and that you remember to reach for your probiotic when taking antibiotic regimens. As always, when readers have their own health questions, I welcome them! Just email me. If you are looking for more specific health information, visit my website.