Antibiotics play a huge role in today’s medical world to treat and prevent bacterial infections. A recent report from The Guardian showed a 65% increase in global antibiotic use over a five-year period, demonstrating the prevalence of antibiotic consumption today. Alongside the concern of overuse leading to resistant bacteria, the consumption of antibiotics can affect the user in the short term too. The widespread use of antibiotics in the past eighty years has saved millions of lives, with their ability to treat life-threatening conditions such as sepsis. But like all medicines, they have the potential to cause side effects, particularly affecting the delicate digestive tract and the friendly bacteria which reside there.
What are the consequences of an antibiotic course and can the gut fully recover? This blog explores how antibiotics work and the ideal ways to support gut health after a course of the medication.
Only available with a prescription in the UK, antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and work by preventing bacterial cells from multiplying or killing certain species. They are especially useful when the immune system cannot cope with the number of harmful bacteria and needs help to fight off the infection.
There are hundreds of different types of antibiotics, with Penicillin-based ampicillin and amoxicillin being the most well-known.
There has been much concern surrounding the use of antibiotics, with antibiotic resistance at high levels in all parts of the world. This means antibiotics are becoming less effective, pushing health organisations across the globe to reduce the use of antibiotics, especially for health issues that are not serious. In other countries where antibiotics are prescribed, pharmacists also recommend prebiotics and probiotics alongside to increase the levels of healthy gut bacteria.
Antibiotics and the gut
It is becoming more evident that a balanced gut is essential for overall health and wellbeing, representing almost 70% of the entire immune system. Colonies of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract aid the digestion and absorption of food, as well as deterring harmful bacteria that make you unwell.
Studies have demonstrated that excessive use of antibiotics can dramatically change the diversity (the balance of individual, good and bad bacteria) within the gut microbiome. Without this balance, the body is prone to a variety of health issues including autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome and diabetes.
The challenge with antibiotic use is that they indiscriminately destroy bacteria in the gut, not only killing off the bacteria responsible for the infection, but also the friendly, healthy bacteria.
Until recently, the impact of antibiotics was thought to be temporary, with any disturbances going back to normal after several weeks of treatment. However, emerging research has suggested the effect could potentially be more long-term, with imbalances still present months, and even years, after antibiotic treatment. One particular group of good bacteria, bifidobacteria, has been shown to be a species that does not fully recover after antibiotic treatment.
Thankfully, there are ways to help make a positive difference when it comes to antibiotic use and the impact on the gut.
The power of prebiotics
Not surprisingly, there is a high level of interest in discovering ways to offset the impact of antibiotics, with one solution coming from non-active cultures - prebiotics.
Prebiotics are non-digestible fibre that probiotics (live bacteria that help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut) can feed off, nourishing the beneficial bacteria that reside in the gut microbiome and encouraging the production of good gut bacteria. They are unaffected by the body’s enzymes and gastric acids, meaning they can travel through the digestive system to reach the colon intact and unaltered to deliver stimulating benefits to groups of beneficial bacteria.
These gut-healthy food ingredients occur naturally in foods such as leeks, onions and beans. However, while prebiotics can be found in these foods, to experience meaningful health benefits they would have to be consumed in large amounts. Thankfully, prebiotics can now be taken in supplement form. For example, Bimuno®, a unique prebiotic supplement developed by Clasado, is a blend of galactooligosaccharides (GOS) which encourages the production and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut. It selectively focuses on increasing the levels of bifidobacteria, a type of good gut bacteria that digests fibre and other complex carbohydrates that the body cannot digest on its own.
Bimuno comes in three varieties designed for individuals looking to support their digestive health. It has been shown in pre-clinical and clinical studies to have a unique triple mode of action, including the ability to generate positive change in gut microbiota. It has also been shown to be highly effective in individuals whose bacterial balance has been altered by triggers such as stress, ageing, travel abroad and antibiotic use.
All the products in the range contain unique and patent-protected second-generation GOS developed by Clasado and have been tested in independent scientific studies.
Prebiotics are a powerful way to minimise the impact of antibiotic use on the gut. With the collection of prebiotic-based supplements becoming increasingly available, it seems easier than ever to add these to a diet.