Updated: Mar 7
Antibiotics can be literal medical lifesavers when it comes to fighting bacterial infections - no doubt about it - however they can also disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria within our guts so learning how to support this is key.
The gut microbiome is an incredibly complex ecosystem of microorganisms that live in our digestive tract. This colony plays a crucial role by helping us digest food, produce essential nutrients like vitamins B and K and even regulate our immune system - and is increasingly linked to various aspects of our physical and mental health, including metabolism, inflammation and depression.
The sad reality is that sometimes antibiotics can be over-prescribed. Overuse and incorrect use (such as prescribing antibiotics for viral infections) can lead to issues such as antibiotic resistance, allergic reactions, development of super bugs and increased risk of secondary infections because antibiotics don't just kill the 'bad' bacteria but also friendly and protective bacteria such as the Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium families. Antibiotic use has also been linked to an increased risk of asthma and other challenges in children.
When your child's doctor prescribes antibiotics, some questions can help you fully understand why they may be necessary.
Questions you may want to ask your doctor:
What type of infection does my child have, and how does antibiotics help treat it?
Are there any over the counter alternatives we could try first?
Are antibiotics absolutely necessary right now, or is it more a precaution?
What is the expected duration of antibiotic treatment?
What should I do if me/my child experiences new symptoms while taking them?
Will the infection likely return once we finish this course?
This isn't about suggesting to avoid antibiotics if they are necessary but rather help develop a clear understanding so that you can make an informed decision.
The good news is that we can take steps to help our guts recover after antibiotics - although it can take some time. Some studies have even shown that even after two to four years following a short course of antibiotics, some bacterial groups do not recover completely and antibacterial resistance genes can persist for one to two years.
Gut Recovery Strategies
Here are five strategies you could consider:
The first step is to help replenish beneficial bacteria in your gut. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts similar to these microorganisms in supplement form - capsule, tablet, powder or drops. Taking probiotics during and after antibiotic use can decrease the risk of opportunistic pathogens taking hold, however different strains will have different levels of efficacy and some probiotics may even inhibit the return of native gut microbiota - it's certainly not always a straightforward solution.
Some of the best probiotic strains to take after antibiotic use include:
Lactobacillus - one of the most well-known types of beneficial bacteria to help support digestive health and boost the immune system.
Bifidobacterium - commonly found in the gut and can help support overall gut health.
Saccharomyces boulardii - a type of beneficial yeast that can help reduce diarrhea and other gut issues.
Streptococcus thermophilus - can help support the immune system and reduce inflammation in the gut.
Not all of the strains mentioned above are histamine-friendly, and probiotics for children should be chosen based on their age and weight. It's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplements. Here are a small selection of potential probiotic suggestions to consider:
LoveBug Baby Probiotic Drops infants
By analyzing the composition of your gut microbiome, a microbiome test can help identify which probiotic strains may be most beneficial for your needs: Microbiome Test - NZ
Microbiome Test - USA (0-5yo) code RAISEDONREALFOOD
Fermented food and drinks are naturally rich in live cultures of beneficial bacteria and are also often useful to incorporate. Check out my recipe for probiotic guacamole.
2. Incorporate Prebiotic Rich Foods
You can also support the growth of beneficial bacteria with prebiotic dietary fibre - a type of non-digestible fibre found in certain plant foods that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut by providing the nutrients they need to thrive.
Excellent sources include: onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, green bananas (plantains), apples, cocoa, flax seeds, cooked potatoes, chicory root and jerusalem artichokes.
Not all dietary fibre is prebiotic, and some people will experience digestive discomfort when consuming large amounts of prebiotic or fibre-rich foods.
You can also buy prebiotic powders to add to drinks and meals: KOS Organic Inulin Powder
3. Limit Sugar and Processed Foods
High sugar intake can promote the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut. Limiting sugar intake especially creates a less favourable environment for that bacteria to thrive by reducing the availability of easy, quick fuel that those strains thrive on.
I recommend focusing on nutrient dense foods that are also easy to digest, such as: soups, broths, cooked vegetables and animal proteins to help support recovery.
4. Stay Hydrated
Water is essential for the health of your gut - preferably rain or spring water that is mineral rich and free from unnecessary chemicals. By hydrating the body including the digestive tract, this helps to flush out toxins and waste products, help keeps digestion running smoothly and can help prevent constipation and other digestive challenges.
5. Take Time to Rest and Recover
If your body has been dealing with a bacterial infection, taking the time to support restoration and recovery can make all the difference. Prioritising sleep is essential to support gut health as well as overall wellbeing. Getting enough sleep appears to help to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Aim for between 7-14 hours of sleep per night (the higher range is for a child) by creating a regular sleep schedule and practice good sleep hygiene. This usually means avoiding all electronic devices and blue light exposure before bed, making sure your environment is comfortable and dark, and opening your curtains wide as soon when you wake each day.
Antibiotics are essential for fighting bacterial infections, but they can also have a negative impact on gut health.
After a course of antibiotics, it is usually considered helpful to introduce probiotics/fermented foods, consume prebiotics, limit sugar as well as processed foods, stay hydrated and make time for adequate sleep and recovery.
If you want more robust and indepth support, it may be helpful to work with me 1:1 so I can tailor a holistic wellness action plan with tailored recommendations based on your situation and health history.
This article is not meant to replace the advice of your primary healthcare practitioner or to provide medical advice. It is intended to share knowledge and provide additional information to help you make informed decisions about supporting your body after probiotics. It is recommended that you always consult with your doctor if you or your child is suffering from a medical condition.