A while ago, I received a question from a listener about the use of antibiotics in austere settings.
Off the grid, the average citizen is required to perform numerous duties to which they’re not accustomed. If someone cuts themselves chopping wood for fuel, an early infection might begin in the open wound. In normal times, this infection might be easily extinguished with antibiotics. Without these drugs, bacteria might find its way into the circulation, causing “septicemia”, a possibly life-threatening condition.
Having just written a book about antibiotics and bacterial diseases, it’s clear to me that having antibiotics in your medical storage could be very useful tools in the medical woodshed. The wise use of these drugs can save lives. Antibiotics aren’t candy, however, and shouldn’t be treated as such. Taking them has consequences.
The problem with antibiotics is that they don’t just destroy bad bacteria; they also wipe out the good bacteria that naturally coexist with you internally (also known as your “microbiome”) .
You might be surprised to know that there are 10 times more bacterial cells in your body than human cells. They help break down food and keep your intestinal tract healthy. Kill the good bacteria and it can compromise your gut. One in three patients given antibiotics develop diarrhea or suffer ill effects on digestion, immunity, and the ability to eliminate toxins.
Fortunately, there are ways to replace your body’s good bacteria after taking antibiotics. Ingesting probiotics is one of them. A 2012 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that taking probiotics can reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Some probiotics may serve as a barrier against disease-causing microbes and strengthen the immune system.
What are probiotics? Probiotics found in food like yogurt are live, healthy bacteria and other microorganisms that help repopulate the microbes in your intestines. The yogurt label should say live and active cultures. Sour cream and buttermilk may be helpful sources as well.
If you prefer to drink your probiotics, try kefir, a creamy, dairy-based drink that’s made when healthy bacteria (mostly lactobacteria and streptococci), and yeast are introduced into milk. The fermented product is similar in taste to yogurt, except that it’s a liquid.
If dairy doesn’t treat you well, you can consider foods like fresh sauerkraut and kimchi. Both come from fermented cabbage and contain probiotics. Another option is fermented pickle relish. You can also drink kombucha, a tea that uses the fermentation of sugar by bacteria and yeast to produce its probiotics
(Kombucha is one of Amy’s favorites, by the way; it’s naturally low in calories but you have to like the taste of vinegar!)
It’s important to realize that, since probiotics are usually bacteria themselves, they can also be killed by antibiotics if taken together. You should always take your meds and your probiotics a few hours apart.
After a course of antibiotics, high-fiber foods may help stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Foods that contain dietary fiber are not only able to stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut, but they may also reduce the growth of some harmful bacteria and decrease intestinal inflammation. Consider:
• Whole grains
Too much fiber, however, can interfere with the absorption of antibiotics. Therefore, it is best to temporarily avoid them during treatment and focus on eating them after your course of therapy is over.
Having a ready source of probiotics can help assure a rapid return to a normal balance in your gut and maintain good health in good times or bad.
Joe Alton MD
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