How to protect your gut buddies while on antibiotics

If you have been following my Instagram stories (@nourishmehc) you will know that I have come down with an ear infection. The whole side of my face has been swollen all week and I feel like I’m underwater. Today has been the first day all week that my teeth have met correctly when I close my jaw.

You may also know that one of my pet projects and soapbox issues is caring for the microbiome in the gut. How our microbiota interacts with the rest of our body, including our brain, is fascinating to me. Our little gut buddies have a say in our mood, our thoughts, our motivation, our weight, how hungry we are, what we are hungry for, which hormones are expressed and when, and so much more. They basically run us. Our job is to keep the good guys in balance with the bad guys to keep our whole body running smoothly.

So when it becomes necessary to start a course of antibiotics, I hesitate and take precautions. 

Truth be told, I don’t have to take any prescription (or for that matter over the counter) medication very often. Preventing situtations that require medical intervention is what I do. I can’t remember the last time I had antibiotics. I am very serious when I agree to take antibiotics, and there are precautions I take when I am enduring a round. I want to do everything I can to safeguard my little gut buddies.

8 ways to protect your little gut buddies the next time you find yourself needing antibiotics:

1. Use Discretion

If you are sick with a virus, an allergy, or an overgrowth of yeast antibiotics will do you no good. In fact, they will certainly make it worse. Your immune system needs to work every so often to rid your body of these things as well as minor bacterial infections to keep it working in good order. That’s what it is made to do. Ask questions, express concern, and use the doctor’s answers to make an informed decision. If you don’t like the doctor’s answers, there is no shame in getting a second opinion. That being said, antibiotics are necessary for some situations and letting a serious infection go untreated is dangerous. Use common sense.

2. Prepare your gut buddies for battle

As soon as I started to get symptoms of an ear infection, I started preparing my gut for the possibility of antibiotics. I normally take excellent care of my gut since it does so many good things for me but in this case, I upped my game. I made sure I got my bone broth in, decreased my already low sugar intake, nixed alcohol, increased my veggie intake, and started taking Saccharomyces boulardii which is a yeast, but it is one of the good guys.

3. Supplement with probiotics

Saccharomyces boulardii is an important probiotic during antibiotic treatment because, unlike most of your gut buddies, S. boulardii is a yeast. So these little guys are immune to antibiotics. They can take up space on the gut wall where bacteria have been removed by the antibiotics and hold down the fort until the home team can be restored. Otherwise, pathogenic yeast such as Candida can take over, eventually poking holes in the gut lining with their hyphae.

It is important to supplement with other probiotics during a round of antibiotics as well. Be sure to take probiotics at least 2 hours on either side of taking the antibiotic. Taking them at the same time will kill the probiotic bacteria before it can do any good. Although the probiotics won’t set up a colony in the gut, simply their physical presence seems to do some good in protecting the existing colony. They’re like decoys. Choose varieties such as Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Streptococcus thermophiles.

I try to get probiotics from as many sources as possible. Yogurt if it is homemade or at least low in sugar; Kefir also homemade or low sugar; fermented veggies like sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchee (not the kind made with vinegar– choose the kind that has to be refrigerated and says “live culture” on the label); and low sugar kombucha, are all good sources of helpful bacteria. So is walking in nature, gardening in organic soil, and playing with your dog.

4. Cut the sugar

I know I say this one all of the time, but now it is important to actually follow through on the advice. Get sugar out of your diet while you are on antibiotics and for at least a month after finishing them. Sugar feeds the “bad” bugs and the yeast in your gut. While on antibiotics, the bad bugs will die off just like the good ones, but the yeast will remain. Most of the yeast living in your gut is bad news. The only good one widely recognized at this time is S. boulardii.

Yeast loves sugar. In fact, many people who have major sugar cravings also have yeast overgrowth in their guts–which should tell you how readily these organisms can talk to our brains. You probably already know that yeast is bad news. Ever had a yeast infection? One of the reasons why is that yeast sends out hyphae which damage the gut wall, eventually poking holes right through it. This can lead to leaky gut, IBS, mood disorders, and even autoimmune diseases.

When on a course of antibiotics, the bacteria that normally keep yeast to a tolerable level are largely wiped out leaving major swaths of gut open for the yeast to move right in and set up shop. Cutting off their supply chain is the easiest way to keep these enemies at bay until the good guys can get their numbers back up again. In other words, get the sugar out of your diet to defeat the yeast.

5. Add bone broth

If you are not already taking bone broth, now is the time to start. Bone broth is my favorite supplement. It contains loads of vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, and collagen. All of those things are important when you are sick, which is why your very wise grandmother recommended chicken soup. Don’t go for the processed canned stuff, which can actually be more inflammatory. Make broth with actual bones, veggies, and other “throw away” ingredients like skin or choose Kettle and Fire bone broth.

Bone broth is an all-around good thing to have every day, but while you are on antibiotics it is important for the collagen it contains. Collagen is good for connective tissue, like the tissue in your gut. Another way of minimizing the damage caused by the yeast’s hyphae is to improve and repair the integrity of the gut lining itself. Collagen helps hold the gut lining together.

Plus, bone broth is delicious! Use it to make soup, or just drink it from a mug.

6. Eat your veggies!

Of course, this is one of the pillars of health that you should be upholding every day, but veggies are even more important when you are on antibiotics. Vegetables contain fiber that feeds the good bacteria in your gut. So, removing sugar keeps yeast and bad bacteria from multiplying out of control and fiber feeds the good bacteria. See how this could be a good thing for every day? Now, when you are on antibiotics, feeding the good guys is even more important because so many of them are dying off, it is important to feed the survivors good food so they can repopulate the gut after the deluge is over.

7. Give the good guys resistant starch

Along the same lines, resistant starch is food for the good bacteria. It is a prebiotic. This isn’t starch like your grandmother thought of starch–corn and potatoes. We’re talking about greenish bananas, raw cashews, raw potatoes, and not quite ripe plantains. These foods remain relatively intact throughout the small intestine and into the large intestine where the majority of the bacteria live. It is food for the good guys on the front lines!

8. Get plenty of rest

This is always important when you are sick. You have to give yourself plenty of time to recover. Take it easy, clear some of the unnecessary stuff out of your calendar, be strict with your bedtime, and practice good sleep hygiene. You will not get better if you don’t sleep and your gut buddies will feel your stress. Show them, and you some love and rest up!

If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!

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