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What Exactly are Antibiotics and How are they Affecting Digestion?

What Exactly are Antibiotics and How are they Affecting Digestion?

Chances are you’ve been prescribed antibiotics at some point in your life. But what exactly are they? How come you’re able to take an antibiotic and it will kill the bacteria but won’t harm your human cells?

The story of antibiotics begins with Alexander Fleming—the man who discovered penicillin in 1928. The discovery sent a shock wave through medicine and changed the course of the world and the quality of human life. As the story goes, Fleming came back from vacation only to discover that a certain moldy petri dish’s contents would save lives. Fleming said, “One sometimes finds what one is not looking for.”

Antibiotics work in one of two ways, but in general, antibiotics are made of substances produced by microorganisms—like Dr. Fleming’s mold—that either kill or limit bacteria. Penicillin works by preventing bacteria from forming a cell wall. Today, antibiotics are produced on a massive scale. They can even be made synthetically. It’s a far cry from the early days when desperate doctors tried to grow the mold on any available surface.

While you’ve probably left the doctor’s office with a prescription for an antibiotic, it’s also likely that you’ve left the doctor with the prescriptions of “Rest and plenty of fluids.” The latter comes from illness caused by virus—the common cold, bronchitis, or the flu. In what situations are we able to use antibiotics? And when exactly should we?

For a time, antibiotics were used regularly to treat any and all illness caused by bacterial infection. However, overuse of antibiotics can be just as dangerous as not using them at all. Even more so. For example, antibiotics are not used for infections caused by viruses as they are completely ineffective. They are also not used for more trivial conditions like sore throats or ear infections.

Both the Mayo Clinic and the Center for Disease Control have copious information on their websites regarding when it is safe to use an antibiotic and the dangers of overuse. Overusing an antibiotic can either render the drug useless and/or have terrible side effects to the patient’s overall health.

Another fear and likely outcome of using antibiotics is the destroying of “good bacteria” in the gastroenterological tract. Your GI tract is composed of a delicate combination of bacteria that aids digestion. If you’ve just experienced a trip to the doctor’s office that ended in a “here’s a prescription for an antibiotic” then here are some tips on how to maintain and restore the healthy bacteria in your gut:

  1. Eat yogurt! Natural yogurt is full of healthy bacteria,
  2. Have you ever tried Kefir? Kefir is a variety of healthy bacteria that you can grow and drink!
  3. Raw vegetables

And, according to Scientific American, here are three foods to avoid when restoring a healthy biome:

  1. Sugar
  2. Red meat
  3. Undercooked eggs or seafood

The long and short of it is that we are lucky that Dr. Fleming wasn’t a particularly tidy scientist; however, as humans, we tend to go a little overboard before our discoveries balance out. So, after your course of treatment, be sure to take a few days and focus on the good bacteria too.