There is usually a time in everyones life, however health conscious we are, and with the best will in the world, where we are presented with a compelling reason to take antibiotics. The decision to do this, can be a hard one, especially for those of us whose health is already compromised. It can be upsetting and disheartening when you have spent time and energy building up a healthy microbiome only to take antibiotics and feel like you are going back to square one.
Recently, on the night of my birthday, I felt a nagging pain in my top left molar. I wasn’t too worried as I had felt this ache many times before. I would feel a dull ache from time to time, which although annoying, would stop as quickly as it had started. More often than not it would happen when I was under the weather and my immune system was low. This time however was different, by the middle of the night the niggleing ache had turned into a full blown toothache, which was both relentless and excruciating. By the next day I would have done anything to stop the pain. I quickly got an appointment with my dentist who confirmed that my nagging wisdom tooth had finally gone into full blown combat and that I was suffering from a nasty infection which would need a course of antibiotics.
This post is about what helped me. I want to focus on the optimal way to take antibiotics and, most importantly, how to recover from them so that they do as little damage as possible. Antibiotics have a time and a place, and although it is always a good idea to avoid them if you can, there are times in your life where an infection will make it necessary.
When they were first invented, antibiotics were heralded as the wonder drug of the day. They saved millions of lives and they still do to this day. Sadly, because of overuse and misinformation they have also had a hugely negative effect upon modern health. One of the most worrying things about antibiotics is how they have been allowed to systematically enter the food chain via modern-day livestock and husbandry practices. Many people fail to understand that antibiotics will only be effective against a bacterial infection, and are completely ineffectual if you have a virus, which has also lead to massive over prescription. This overuse of antibiotics has created super bugs, where once infections responded quickly, there are now strains of bacteria which have become antibiotic resistant. This irresponsible attitude has left much of the population with damaged gut flora and poor health.
The body is full of both good and bad bacteria. The good microbes are essential to our health and wellbeing. Not only do they help us digest our food but they are also responsible for synthesising vitamins and repelling pathogens. The main problem with taking antibiotics is that they do not distinguish between the good and the bad but kill indiscriminately, thus seriously compromising the health of our guts. This is why it is of primary importance to replace the good bacteria which have been lost after a course of antibiotics, so that a balance can be maintained between the bacteria and fungi in our digestive tract. This is especially important if you have taken a broad spectrum antibiotic. Opportunistic pathogens such as Candida can take advantage of the death of good bacteria and get into the digestive tract where it will quickly multiply, and in time take over the entire body causing both misery and havoc.
Here are some guidelines if you are prescribed antibiotics:
- Ask your doctor if they are absolutely necessary (i.e. most sore throats, colds, and the flu are viruses)
- Finish the course, however tempting it is to stop when you feel better, not completing the course is more detrimental to your health in the long run.
- Take your antibiotic at regular intervals so that they are well spaced apart.
- You can take a quality probiotic, but make sure that you take this several hours apart from your antibiotic so that they don’t cancel each other out.
- Drink lots of water
What you can do to replenish the friendly bacteria that the antibiotics have destroyed:
To repopulate the remaining good bacteria in your colon and encourage them to multiply you will need Prebiotics, which are foods that act like fuel for healthy bacteria, nourishing them and providing insoluble fibre.
Foods which contain a lot of prebiotics include:
- green leafy vegetables such as kale
- jerusalem artichokes
- dandelion greens
- Prebiotics are often overlooked, but are in fact just as essential as probiotics in maintaining and restoring a healthy microbiome. They actually work synergistically together complementing each other for balanced health and wellbeing. One of the easiest ways to do this is to eat a large salad everyday with plenty of raw vegetables.
- Avoid all processed sugar, including natural sweetners like honey, agave and maple syrup. Sugar will not only feed the Candida and the unfriendly bacteria, but also the pathogens that the antibiotics are trying to kill.
- Drink bone broth, the minerals and gelatine released from the bones as they cook will help the body to heal, restoring the lining of the of the intestines which has been damaged. Bone broth is anti- inflammatory and will boost the immune system. If you cannot get hold of organic bones easily simply boil up a few chicken carcasses or a left over roast chicken bones. Add ginger, garlic and a tablespoon of cider vinegar. Allow this to simmer slowly in a slow cooker if you have one for 12-24 hours. Otherwise for as long as you can. Strain and drink the broth several times a day.
- Probiotics are foods and supplements which contain live microorganisms. They will help to recolonise the digestive tract with beneficial bacteria. However not all probiotics are created equal. The problem being that it is not easy get to the live friendly bacteria past the stomach acid and into the gut. Check that you buy a good quality probiotic supplement with strains that will overcome this. Fermented foods are one of the best ways of getting probiotics into the digestive tract and restoring gut health. Raw fermented vegetables are a great way to deliver beneficial bacteria into the gut along with all the added nutrition and enzymes they contain. You can find recipes for Sauerkraut and kimchi here and here.
Foods which contain natural probiotics include:
- Raw sauerkraut
- coconut water kefir
- Live Yoghurt
As with probiotic supplements make sure that the fermented food you choose to eat is raw and not sweetened and pasteurised.
***Some of these suggestions and supplements are not advised if you are following a low FODMAP diet and are sensitive to these foods. This is an interesting article to read here.
Ultimate Prebiotic Salad
2 cups finely sliced kale
juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 little gem lettuces
1 carrot grated
1/4of a leek finely sliced, white part only
half a small red onion finely sliced into paper thin rings
finely sliced radishes
1 tin of beans of your choice (I used haricot)
a handful of cherry tomatoes
roasted pumpkin seeds to garnish
2 cloves garlic finely chopped and mixed
1 tablespoon Malden salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
Assembling the salad
- Finely slice the kale and massage it with the juice of half a lemon, place in a large salad bowl and leave to wilt.
- Lightly steam the asparagus and leave to one side.
- Chop the remaining ingredients and grate the carrot and then add to the salad bowl tossing in the beans.
- Make the dressing by chopping the garlic roughly, then mix it with the salt and mash together using either the back of a knife or a pestle and mortar to make a paste. Transfer to a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and balsamic vinegar and then whisking with a fork slowly add the olive oil. Check it for tartness and adjust if you need to add more olive oil.
- Slice the asparagus and add to the salad bowl
- Top the salad with a large spoonful of sauerkraut
- Pour over the dressing and toss until well combined
- Sprinkle the roasted pumpkin seeds over the top. To roast pumpkin seeds, heat a small skillet or frying pan and dry roast the seeds until they start to colour and pop, keeping a close eye that they don’t burn. Any extra can be stored in a glass jar until needed.