Best way to protect your gut when taking antibiotics
Antibiotics are a useful tool in fighting bacteria but they can wreak havoc on your gut health. Here’s how to find the right balance.
In a typical year, more than 40 per cent of Australians are prescribed at least one antimicrobial medication, most often antibiotics.
Antibiotics have been a valuable weapon in treating infections and diseases caused by bacteria.
They work by killing bacteria and stopping them from multiplying so our natural immune system can rally and fight an infection.
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Side effects of antibiotics
While they are effective, antibiotics can have some unwelcome side effects.
Dietitians Australia spokeswoman Nicole Dynan says this is because antibiotics kill good and bad bacteria in our body.
“Antibiotics are designed to kill everything – most of them don’t discriminate,” Nicole says.
“We have a range of microbes in our gut and they all work synergistically.
“It’s normal to have good and bad bacteria in there, but we need to keep the balance in check for good immune health.”
Gut health research has shown that good gut bacteria or microbes also play a role in metabolism and our nervous system, so protecting them is important for general health.
“Throughout your life, these gut microbes assemble into a highly diverse community that accomplishes important functions in your body,” lead author of a study on breaking down antibiotics, Dr Andres Cubillos-Ruiz, said.
“The problem comes when interventions such as medications or particular kinds of diets affect the composition of the microbiota and create an altered state.
“Some microbial groups disappear and the metabolic activity of others increases.
“This can lead to various health issues.”
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How to reduce the impact of antibiotics on your gut
If you are taking antibiotics, what can you do to help your gut health?
Boost your fibre intake
Some fibre-rich foods pass undigested through the small intestine into the colon and feed good bacteria.
“Eat a wide variety of plant foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains,” Nicole says.
Some plant foods that are particularly beneficial include wholegrain or dark rye bread, oats, chickpeas, lentils, garlic, leek, onion, nectarines, watermelon, dates, figs, cashews and pistachios.
Choose probiotics, such as plain yoghurt and kefir yoghurt drinks, that contain populations of good bacteria and can help support your existing gut bacteria populations.
Drink plenty of water and fluids
“If you have diarrhoea or are vomiting – stay hydrated to help with the replenishment of your system,” Nicole says.
Don’t skip on protein
“Eat a variety of animal and plant sources of protein including seafood, lean meat, poultry, milk, eggs, beans and peas, soy products and unsalted nuts,” Nicole says.
Protein plays a key role in the body’s immune system, the growth of new cells and in healing and recovery.
Include foods with vitamin C
Oregon State University researcher Dr Maret Traber says there is some evidence that adding vitamin C-rich foods to your diet when taking antibiotics can support general gut health.
“Eat your fruit and vegetables,” Dr Traber advised in a report.
“Five to 10 servings a day will get you the fibre and antioxidants you need to restore beneficial bacteria and protect your gut.”
Avoid processed and packaged foods
“Instead opt for nutrient-rich wholefoods to support your recovery,” Nicole advises.
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Written by Sarah Marinos.