Antibiotics and Gut Health: Side Effects and How to Heal

antibiotics woman taking

We can’t always prevent every illness. Sometimes, we come in contact with bacteria that just don’t mesh with our greater aspirations. When that happens, we find ourselves with an infection that requires medical attention. Luckily, scientists have been using antibiotics to treat harmful bacterial infections for centuries. But the use of antibiotic treatments can come with an unforeseen downside.

Though antibiotics are an important last defense against infection, the lingering effects after a therapeutic antibiotic regimen can feel like a kick in the gut. That’s because pharmaceutical antibiotics don’t discriminate with their attack. When we have pathogenic bacteria running rampant through our system, that treatment is going to take down any bacteria it comes in contact with - including the beneficial ones thriving inside our gut.

This can typically result in some uncomfortable consequences, like bouts of constipation, GI upset, gas, and stomach pain due to the antibiotic aftermath. Simply put, sometimes antibiotics are necessary. But knowing how to help your body recover post-treatment can help you recover faster on the path toward healing.

What Happens After I Take Antibiotics?

Our gut microbiome relies heavily on a sense of balance. Though microbes in our gut experience their own ebbs and flows to their life cycles, it’s important that our gut experiences a sense of equilibrium. When one colony of bacteria grows, it can increase competition for resources from other microbes. The same goes when they shrink. These changes happen normally when we make different choices in our diet. One week we may eat a ton of red meat, and the next we’re on a seafood kick. Even when the foods seem similar in composition, these small changes impact our gut microbiome and vary the kinds of activities of our commensal bacteria (even on a day-to-day basis!).

But when we ingest antibiotics, instead of a subtle variation to different colonies, our gut gets hit like a war-zone. The sudden upheaval and death of many different types of bacteria can turn our gut microbiome into a disaster zone - think tornado running through a populous town. All that destruction can suddenly change the ecosystem and put a wrench into our regular digestion. It can interrupt the uptake of certain nutrients and can open up our gut microbiome to other bacteria who were unable to thrive.

For example, many of the beneficial bacteria inside us naturally keep out many pathogenic bacteria by making it difficult for them to attach or settle in our gut. But when antibiotics disrupt the ecosystem, suddenly there is a lot more room to grow and it’s not usually good for us. 

In severe cases - like with C.diff - it can become life threatening. In these cases, fecal transplant is required to help quickly re-introduce healthy gut bacteria to help compete for space in the digestive tract.

How to Beat Antibiotic Stomach Upset

While you’re taking your antibiotics, it may seem like there is little to do other than wait for the wave of potential GI upset. But truth be told, there are actually a few things you can do to ease the process of taking antibiotics (like consuming food with your treatment to try to buffer the effects of many gastrointestinal symptoms) and the recovery after.

But as a reminder, the average recovery period for a gut microbiome after a bout of antibiotics is estimated to be nearly 6 months or longer! But there certainly are steps you can take to regain control over your gut and get your gut flora back to business as usual.

1. Adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet while taking antibiotics.
It may seem counterintuitive, but consuming probiotic rich foods (like yogurt, kefir, and kimchi) might help reduce the extreme side effects from taking antibiotics. As you take your antibiotic treatment, adding beneficial bacteria to replenish those that are wiped out each day may prevent exhausting the colonies in your gut.

2. Boosting your prebiotic foods to help support the beneficial microbes inside your gut.
Let’s not forget, our microbes need to eat, too. Eating healthy prebiotic foods right for your gut ecosystem can help support the microbes you don’t want to lose. Even after your treatment is over, it’ll be increasingly important to provide your gut flora with the food and support they’ll need to recover balance in your gut. Fiber-rich foods are a natural go-to, but other prebiotic foods include nutrients and antioxidants to support their growth.

3. Reintroducing beneficial probiotics to help support a healthy ecosystem.
After your antibiotics, you’ll need to work rapidly - and consistently - to recuperate your gut. During this time, sticking to your probiotic routine is important. You can actually reap benefits from taking your probiotic supplement during and after your treatment. And with Viome’s Precision Supplement line that includes the specific probiotics right for you (including Health Intelligence or Gut Intelligence test kits for your precise, personalized formulation), you’ll be fully equipped to boost your colonies in just the right areas.

And Last But Not Least

Some foods may actually reduce how well your body absorbs the antibiotics you’re taking. When in doubt, studies have found that foods with enriched calcium levels (like your favorite milk, or milk alternative) and grapefruit may actually reduce how effective your antibiotics are.

Trust us, it’s better to be cautious about these foods so that you don’t have to extend your antibiotic regimen longer than normal. 

But with the right tips and the right preventative action, you can reduce the risk of GI symptoms from antibiotics and get back to the life you deserve - free from discomfort, bloating, or gas. And certainly free from infection!

The information on the Viome website is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that Viome is not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Viome provides this educational information to share the exciting developments being reported in the scientific literature about the human microbiome and your health. Viome products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.