Antibiotics and digestive problems

Effects of antibiotic use on the digestive system

Antibiotic resistance is perhaps the most well-known side effect of long-term use of antibiotics – a type of drug resistance, where a micro-organism can eventually withstand exposure to the antibiotic as a result of over-prescription and reliance.

However, there are actually many other side effects that can result from the long-term application and unnecessary use of antibiotics. Even short-term use (while often essential), can lead to issues.

One of the most significant effects is their impact on the digestive system, and the balance of microflora in the gut (a community of beneficial bacteria).

Can antibiotics cause digestive issues?

The simple answer is, yes they can.

Antibiotics work by either wiping out bacteria (bacteriocidal antibiotics) or by stopping bacteria from growing (bacteriostatic antibiotics).

Undoubtedly, they can be effective in overcoming bacterial infections. However, as mentioned above, the cost associated with such treatment is the risk of unwanted side effects and complications.

One of the main difficulties with antibiotic use is that, while they’re intended to destroy bacterial cells, they cannot be programmed to kill only harmful bacteria (i.e. the pathogen causing the condition). They also destroy friendly bacteria, which is vital to the proper workings of the digestive system.

As a result, antibiotics commonly lead to an imbalance of good and bad bowel flora (dysbiosis), which can in turn lead to symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), bad breath, nausea and upset tummy.

Perhaps, more worryingly, antibiotics can also have a direct and negative impact on the immune system. Good bacteria exist in their millions throughout the body – on the skin, in openings like the oral cavity, nose area and genitals and, arguably most importantly, in the intestines of the digestive system. They undertake essential functions in all of these areas, however their most important role is to protect our bodies against prospective pathogens. The antibiotics are therefore damaging our bodies’ natural ability to defend itself.

Imbalance of intestinal flora and immune function

Healthy intestinal flora is important for numerous functions in the body, including forming stools, sustaining a healthy digestive system and generating important vitamins (such as B vitamins). Yet, they’re most crucial to the ideal functioning of our immune systems.

You may be surprised to learn that the most important part of our immune system is located in the gut. 70% of all antibody-producing cells within the body are situated in what is termed “Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue” or GALT. This represents the biggest group of immune cells in the body.

Imbalances of gut flora can have a number of unpleasant side effects and manifest itself in many ways. For example, fungi (like Candida albicans) and bacteria like pathogenic strains of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and C difficile tend to make the most of the opportunity presented by the body’s reduced resistance, which means that they are then better able to grow more easily. This is a primary reason why antibiotic courses normally lead to thrush (a yeast infection caused by Candida overgrowth).

Similarly, C difficile infections have become prevalent in hospital wards and rest homes over the years. This is because, after antibiotic treatments, C difficile organisms can grow rapidly in the absence of the body’s natural defences. The bacteria produce toxic compounds that inflame and kill the cells that line the large intestine, which can in turn cause intense diarrhoea and internal bleeding. Several other digestive ailments and complaints are also quite typical, such as dysbiosis, toxic bowels and IBS to name just a few.

How to balance your gut bacteria

Research indicates that the damage caused by antibiotics to the gut can last for a far longer period than was previously believed.

In 2013*, Stanford University experts in the USA examined the friendly gut bacteria in 3 healthy adult women both before and after each of 2 cycles on an antibiotic. After the first round, they discovered that the medication affected the level of the women’s friendly bacteria in the gut drastically, perhaps even permanently. After the second cycle half a year later, they discovered that the impact was even greater.

As a result, it is advisable to take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary, i.e. when an infection is bad enough to cause discomfort and distress, or is life threatening or a risk to others. They should never be used as a repeated “quick fix” for small afflictions and lengthy programmes ought to be avoided wherever reasonably practicable.

If antibiotic intake is unavoidable, many individuals find it helpful to supplement their diets with additional friendly bacteria (probiotic supplements), before, during and after the programme of antibiotics is finished. It is believed that this will help to re-populate the digestive tract with the healthy bacteria that the antibiotics have decimated.

* https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2013/09/scientists-show-how-antibiotics-enable-pathogenic-gut-infections.html

For more information, visit our main website

Do I have a weak immune system?

In this new world that we find ourselves, it goes without saying that it is more important than ever to support our immune systems in any way we can, and to take active steps to stay healthy.

While we must all, of course, take the very necessary precautions of wearing our masks, washing our hands and practising social distancing, it is equally important to bolster our bodies’ natural defences, should those “invaders” still find a way in.

If you have noticed that you are prone to feeling tired without an obvious cause, or perhaps you regularly feel under the weather, it may mean that your immune system is under strain or has been weakened.

What are the signs of a weak immune system?

Everybody is different and, if you have concerns about your health you should always consult a qualified doctor. However, here are just a few of the main warning signs that your immune system may be compromised, as well as top tips on what you can do to give it a boost.

1. You regularly suffer from “colds” and infections

If it feels like you always have a cold, it is a good sign that your immune system is struggling. While it is completely normal for adults to have the sniffles from time to time throughout the year, the average is two or three infections. If you are experiencing cold symptoms more often than that, or it takes you longer than around a week to bounce back, your immune system could be described as weakened.

During an active cold, it usually takes a fully-functioning immune system approximately 3 to 4 days to develop the required antibodies to fight off the illness. However, if you are constantly catching colds (or have chronic colds that just won’t budge), that is a very clear sign that your immune system is struggling.

Similarly, if you seem to be beleaguered with other types of infections on a regular basis, such as Candida albicans, your immune system might be sending you signals that it needs help. A compromised immune system in the gut, specifically, can have consquences for our ability to fend off opporunitistic pathogens of this type, that are just waiting for a dip in gut flora to spread and take hold.

Other common infections that might flag a weakened immune system when experienced on a regular basis include:

  • ear infections
  • pneumonia
  • and chronic sinusitis.

2. You have digestive issues

The gut comprises a major part of the body’s immune system (as much as 70%). If you find that you regularly experience digestive complaints (such as stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea, wind or bloating), it could be a sign that your immune system is compromised.

This is because levels of friendly bacteria and microorganisms that naturally occur in the gut, which help to defend your body from viruses, bacteria and other pathogens, can be lowered during times of illness, use of medication, times of stress etc. If your microbiome is compromised, so too will be your immune system. And you experience the symptoms mentioned above, because lower numbers of good bacteria can directly impact other aspects such as digestion, inflammation and vulnerability to attack – thereby creating a viscious circle.

3. Your wounds are slow to heal

If your immune system is weakened, it can affect a number of other processes and systems around the body, as vital energy and nutrients are diverted to work harder to protect you. For example, your skin goes into damage control mode after you have a cut or scrape. Your body works to protect the wound by sending nutrient-rich blood to the injury to help regenerate new skin. This healing essential healing process depends on healthy immune cells, but if your immune system is weakened, your skin can’t regenerate as it should. Instead, it takes longer and (once again) leaves you more vulnerable to infection.

4. Your stress levels are high

You will no doubt be aware, and will have experienced first hand, that high levels of stress can run you down. Continuous stress then has the unfortunate effect of compromising your immune system further, creating a cycle of compromised immunity. You feel stressed, you get run down, which then leads to heightened stress as you find it harder to cope with your day, and so on.

Put simply, long-term stress weakens the natural responses of your immune system by lowering lymphocyte levels (the white blood cells that help fight off infection). The lower your lymphocyte levels, the more you are at risk of infection.

5. You feel tired all the time

If you feel chronically fatigued, without obvious cause, your body is definitely trying to tell you something. A compromised immune system can directly impact energy levels, as your body attempts to conserve energy to ensure it can fuel your defence against invaders.

So you’ve worked out that you have a weak immune system. Now what can you do about it?

How can I boost my immune system?

There are a number of simple steps that you can take to boost your immune system naturally and effectively:

  • Eat a nutrient-rich diet – eating a diet that is rich in a wide variety of natural, seasonal (preferably organic) whole foods, is a key way to protect and strengthen your immune system. This is because it will give your body all the nutrients that are essential for a optimally functioning immune system, such as vitamin C, vitamin D, essential fatty acids, antioxidants etc. Where necessary, perhaps supplement your diet with additional vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients that you may be concerned are lacking in your diet.
  • Get enough sleep – allowing your body to rest and repair is a very obvious, yet easy and effective, way to support a weakened immune system.
  • Exercise regularly – the other side of the coin is getting regular exercise. Not only does the strengthen the body, it also offers a highly effective means of body detoxification, through the movement of lymph around the body (the fluid that flows through the lymphatic system, that contains white blood cells).
  • Maintain a healthy weight – it seems very likely that obesity is a key factor in adverse response to COVID-19 infections. But aside from COVID, maintaining a healthy weight is a key aspect in maintaining a healthy body generally, with a strong immune system that is fit and able to fight off infections of all kinds.
  • Don’t smoke or over-indulge – try to make good choices on a daily basis and don’t make it harder for your body to function at it’s best. Indulging in smoking, drinking in excess, unhealthy foods etc is only going to compromise your immune system if done on a regular basis.
  • Try to minimise stress – perhaps easier said than done, try to avoid stressful situations wherever possible and increase activities that make you feel good. Exercise will help to release endorphins, and activities like yoga and Tai Chi have been shown to actively increase T-cell counts.

A strong immune system is the key to good health and longevity, so the more you can do to protect it, the better.

For more information, visit our main website

How antibiotics affect the gut

Good health begins in the gut

Many health experts agree that good health begins with balance in the body, particularly in the digestive system.

Inside our bodies there are twenty times more bacteria than living cells, and maintaining the correct balance of good bacteria versus bad bacteria is a crucial part of avoiding illness and supporting long-term health and vitality.

Having the right kind of bacteria (so-called “friendly bacteria”), in sufficient quantities, is essential for everything from healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, to immunity and defence against infections.

What can disrupt the balance of gut flora?

The delicate balance of healthy bowel flora can be disrupted by a number of things, including excess intake of alcohol, a diet high in sugar, poor digestion, stress, as well as exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants. For the purposes of this article, we will look in more detail at one of the most common causes of bowel flora imbalance – the long-term or frequent use of antibiotics.

How do antibiotics affect the gut?

It is now generally accepted that antibiotics have historically been prescribed and used far more than they should be. While this is in the process of slowly changing, the result has sadly been an upsurge in antibiotic resistance – a type of drug resistance where a microorganism is able to survive exposure to an antibiotic.

What’s more, one of the most notable effects of antibiotics is their adverse impact on the digestive system and the balance of gut flora – they indiscriminately destroy both good and bad bacteria in the body. They work by either killing bacteria or by preventing bacteria from growing – obviously good in terms of bad bacteria, but bad in terms of friendly bacteria.

This is somewhat ironic, when you consider that people are taking antibiotics in the first place because they are ill, but their medicine is destroying one of the body’s primary lines of natural defence. In fact, what is arguably the most important part of the immune system resides in the gut – Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (special antibody-producing cells) work hard to prevent unwanted micro-organisms (such as bacteria and viruses) from entering the body.  

Of course, antibiotics have their role to play and can certainly be highly effective in resolving bacterial infections. However, it is important to use them sensibly, in moderation and to support your levels of beneficial bacteria both during and after a course.

Too many bad bugs

If your levels of good bacteria fall, you provide opportunistic ‘nasties’ (like bacteria, parasites and yeasts) with an excellent environment in which to thrive and spread.

An overgrowth of harmful gut flora (called dysbiosis), for example, increases gut toxicity and can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including:

  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pains after eating
  • wind
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Leaky Gut Syndrome
  • and Candida overgrowth.

This is one of the reasons why antibiotic courses often result in thrush (a fungal infection caused by Candida overgrowth).

How to support the good guys

Research has shown that the damage done to the digestive tract by antibiotics can last far longer than was previously thought.

Stanford University researchers in America analysed the levels of friendly bacteria in three healthy adult women both before and after each of two cycles on the antibiotic Cipro. Following the first cycle, they found that the drug had altered the population of the subjects’ friendly gut bacteria significantly, perhaps even permanently. Following the second cycle, six months later, they discovered that the effect was exponentially greater.

As such, antibiotics should never be used as a regular “quick fix” for minor ailments and, wherever possible, long courses should be avoided. Where a course of antibiotics is unavoidable, you can support your levels of friendly bacteria through diet and probiotic supplements.

For instance, many cultures have observed the health-supporting effects of fermented foods (often referred to as “probiotic foods”) and so include them as a regular part of their diet. These foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tofu and tempeh to name just a few. Including these foods in your diet on a daily basis is a good way to promote healthy intestinal flora.

However, it is worth noting that most of these foods do not contain strains of bacteria that can actually colonise the digestive tract. Instead, they do good work for a week or two and then pass through.

Supplementing with strains of good bacteria that can colonise the digestive tract (such as L. acidophilus, L. salivarius, B. infantis, B. bifidum, B. brevis and B. longum) is arguably a more effective and powerful means of supporting healthy levels of gut flora for the long term.

For more information, visit our main website

Could I have Candida?

What is Candida albicans?

Candida (also sometimes referred to as a thrush, yeast or fungal infection) is a single cell, plant-like fungi. It starts life as a yeast, which everybody has in their digestive systems and other mucous membranes from birth. It also lives on the skin.

In terms of how it acts in the body, Candida is an overgrowth of yeast (referred to as Candidiasis) that usually starts in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and gradually spreads to other parts of the body. It is a resilient and invasive parasite, which usually attaches itself to the intestinal wall and can (if left untreated) become a permanent resident of the internal organs.

You might be surprised to learn that recorded incidences of Candida overgrowth date back as far as the 1700s. Hippocrates identified the presence of yeast infections as thrush in patients.

What are some of the known causes of Candida?

When all is well, the Candida yeast is kept under control by the healthy flora that we have in our bodies and, more particularly, in our digestive tract (sometimes referred to as “friendly” or “good” bacteria). In this way, it normally co-exists with many other types of bacteria, in a state of balance.

For instance, Candida albicans is part of the normal flora of the mucous membranes of the female genital areas, gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, which cause no disease. However, overgrowth of this species may be the cause of infections that could include thrush (oropharyngeal Candidiasis) and vaginal Candidiasis (vulvovaginal candidiasis).

Unfortunately, the modern diet, lifestyle and environment are not always conducive to healthy bacterial growth. We are exposed to an ever-increasing amount of toxins and junk foods on a daily basis, as well as stress in our lifestyles and pollution and chemicals in the air we breathe and the water we drink.

It is thought that overgrowth of yeast tends mainly to occur in those with weakened immune systems or those whose levels of good bacteria have diminished as a result of some external factor (e.g. through stress, disease (such as diabetes), pregnancy and/or the use of antibiotics, birth control pills, steroids or other long-term medication).

When the body’s defences are weakened, it provides fungus with optimum conditions to grow. This allows Candida to enter the bloodstream, travelling through the body to colonise areas such as the urinary tract, vagina, tissue, nails, mouth, skin and other organs.

Once such overgrowth has begun, if not diagnosed and treated appropriately and promptly, it can result in a chronic systemic problem. It is thought that large numbers of yeast germs can weaken the immune system further, thereby perpetuating the problem.

Candida has the ability to produce around 75 toxic substances that can poison the human body. These toxins are believed to contaminate tissue and weaken the immune system, glands, kidneys, bladder, lungs, liver, brain and then the nervous system.

What are some of the symptoms of Candida?

Overgrowth of Candida can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms, including:

  • fatigue
  • sugar cravings
  • brain fog
  • allergies
  • blurred vision
  • depression
  • digestive problems
  • joint discomfort
  • muscle pain
  • chronic diarrhoea
  • yeast vaginitis
  • bladder infections
  • menstrual problems
  • and constipation.

A Candida diet

It is widely advocated by natural health practitioners that people suffering from a Candida overgrowth might benefit from eliminating certain foods from their diet, restoring gut health and altering their lifestyle.

Some yeast is always present in the digestive system, but its growth is kept in check by way of the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. This is thought to be assisted by a diet which maintains correct acid/alkaline characteristics.

Therefore, a diet dominated by high sugar intake (which the yeast demands to maintain its presence and growth) and foods containing yeasts or fungi (such as mushrooms, cheese and milk) can lead to a disturbance of this delicate balance.

Supplements can also offer much needed support. For instance, to alkalise the body, remedy disbiosis (by helping to increase numbers of good bacteria) and to elimiate parasites and other pathogens. High-strength, multi-strain probiotics, anti-fungals, digestive enzymes and plant-based powders are all possible additions to support a Candida diet.

Product suggestions…

Item added to cart.
0 items - £0.00