Despite my crunchy mama tendencies and over a decade working as a holistic health practitioner, I still believe that antibiotics are one of the miracles of modern medicine. I, for one, won't be passing up a chance to heal a life threatening bacterial infection if I need it.
The problem is, however, that overuse of antibiotics is a massive problem these days. In my practice my patients often receive scripts for these meds for everything from an ear ache to sinus congestion, sore throat, cough, and ingrown toenails. Now I'm not going to dispute the occasional need for pharmaceuticals, I'm just saying – antibiotics are grossly over-prescribed.
If you have taken them recently (or chronically), it's important to know how to recover from antibiotics.
The big picture of antibiotic overuse
It’s important to keep in mind that antibiotics are not effective against viruses. They are only meant to treat bacterial infections.
What this means is that for the most part, antibiotics will do nothing for your cold, flu, most of your sore throats (strep throat is an exception, but even that doesn’t necessarily require antibiotics – see my post on Natural Remedies for Strep Throat), bronchitis, and most of your sinus and ear infections. It’s true that some sinus and ear infections may be bacteria-based, but this is often not the case.
So what happens when we repeatedly reach for the antibiotics every time we’re feeling ill? The most disturbing idea is that our overuse of antibiotics may be creating superbugs.
Bacteria are ingenious little creatures. They’re one of the earliest life forms that developed on our planet, and they have survived throughout millions of years because they are brilliant at adapting to all kinds of crazy situations.
One of the adaptations bacteria can make is becoming increasingly resistant to the very drugs that we’ve designed to kill them. This isn’t just some kind of unrealistic, sci-fi fantasy. It’s a real problem with real impacts.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) calls antibiotic resistance one of the most serious health threats of our time. Around 23,000 people in the U.S. die each year specifically from antibiotic-resistant infections. Many more wind up staying sicker longer because of it, often with more hospital stays that are pretty risky in and of themselves, not to mention insanely expensive.
Antibiotic resistance is even blamed for up to $20 billion in direct healthcare costs and $35 billion in lost productivity due to the illnesses it causes. Mind-boggling figures, eh? (source)
How antibiotics impact YOUR body
Aside from putting unnecessary cash into the pockets of big pharma, antibiotics can cause short and long-term damage to the human body.
We actually need a healthy balance of good bacteria in our bodies to maintain health. While there are different kinds of antibiotics that are more effective in particular circumstances, they all cast a wider net in killing bacteria (including the beneficial kind), creating a solution that brings its own problems.
The various kinds of bacteria in our digestive tract play a crucial role not only in digestion, but also immune system and overall health. When your body lacks diversity in friendly gut flora, you become much more vulnerable to a whole range of diseases and complications.
For example, in my practice I have worked with many women who suffer from chronic UTIs (urinary tract infections), an uncomfortable bacterial infection that causes frequent, painful urination, and if untreated, can lead to severe kidney infection. While antibiotics are sometimes necessary to halt the infection, unfortunately they also kill off a lot of other helpful bacteria that naturally keep yeast in check. Often these women then develop a persistent yeast infection.
Often times treatment of an upper respiratory infection (sinusitis, cough, etc) with antibiotics, leaves the patient suffering from extreme digestive upset (loose stools, gas, bloating, etc) – and only occasionally resolving the initial infection. Many of my eczema patients have a history of repeat courses of antibiotics.
Antibiotics during pregnancy can cause newborns to start out life with an altered or reduced level of healthy gut flora. Unfortunately, with 30% of births occurring by c-section, where antibiotics are routinely used to prevent infections, protecting our newborns from altered gut flora is an uphill battle (source).
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all this is that even a single course of antibiotics can permanently alter your gut flora. Gut flora plays a critical role resisting a wide range of pathogenic organisms, and antibiotics throw that system into disarray (source).
How to recover from antibiotics
Having said all of that, there are still going to be instances where antibiotics should be used to treat a bacterial infection. If you find yourself in need of antibiotics, here are some steps you can take to make sure you keep your body as healthy as possible in the aftermath.
Heal your gut
Take these steps to restore healthy gut flora and digestive function during and after a course of antibiotics…
- Probiotics – whether that’s through a supplement or by eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kombucha, or naturally fermented pickles, kraut or kimchi. Take the probiotic during and for at least a month after antibiotic treatment. Saccharomyces boulardii is a beneficial yeast that can can help with antibiotic recovery. Read more about probiotic supplements and foods here.
- Bone broth is another important food that should be used for healing your gut. Though it may seem intimidating at first, bone broth is essentially grandma's chicken soup – made from scratch. Learn how to make chicken bone broth here and beef bone broth here.
- Avoid cold and raw foods (smoothies, juices, fruit, salads) in favor of more easily digested cooked foods like soup and simple dishes of cooked rice, meat, and veggies.
- PREbiotics – Both during and after antibiotics, it's important to focus on getting a lot of soluble fiber – which is found in foods like peeled fruits and root veggies and will feed good bacteria. Insoluble fiber, which is found in foods like whole grains, beans, and difficult-to-digest veggies, should be avoided because it will irritate your already compromised gut lining.
- Ginger – Make a simple tea by simmering fresh slices of it in boiling water and adding a touch of raw honey and lemon. This will help to gently ‘warm' your digestion as your recover from the ‘cold' nature of antibiotics.
Protect your immune system
Aside from probiotics, a few simple supplements will help your keep your immune system performing at it best, including the following:
- Unprocessed Cod liver oil. Omega 3 fats in fish oil reduce inflammation and the rich levels of vitamins D and A in unprocessed cod liver oil help optimize the immune function. I recommend this one.
- Vitamin D. Regular sunshine on your skin (without sunscreen) is the best way to get this important immune supporting nutrient. If you're feeling under the weather, a high dose of vitamin D3 for no more than three days has been shown to halt or at least greatly reduce the symptoms of an infection. Read more about vitamin D here.
- Plenty of antioxidants by consuming fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables daily. If you need an extra boost, you can take extra vitamin C or another antioxidant-rich supplement – read more about sourcing and dosages in this post.
If you do get sick again
Consider safer and often equally effective treatments first, rather than running for antibiotics with a knee-jerk reaction to illness.
Support your immune system with the points mentioned above. Additionally, Chinese herbal medicine can be extremely effective in resolving various types of infections both bacteria and viral.
One of my newer favorite tools is colloidal silver, which can take on a wide range of microbial organisms. Like antibiotics, it doesn’t distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys, but it is less harsh than traditional antibiotics when used only on occasion. For more on colloidal silver, see my article Is Colloidal Silver Safe?
In what ways have you suffered from the after-effects of antibiotics?