Question: I've heard that taking antibiotics can kill the "good" bacteria in your gut. Is this true? And if it is, is it harmful to overall health?
Dr. Brownstein's Answer:
The term dysbiosis refers to a condition in which the body has an imbalance of microorganisms. It occurs most commonly in the gastrointestinal tract, which contains a host of different microorganisms including bacteria, yeast, fungi, and even parasites.
If everything is in a healthy state, these different organisms live in a state of symbiosis, which is a close, long-term, and beneficial interaction between biological species. These microorganisms aid the body in digesting food, producing vitamins (vitamin K2), and preventing overgrowth of other, harmful organisms.
Unfortunately, dysbiosis is very common. The two most common causes are overuse of antibiotics and eating a poor diet. Antibiotics are indiscriminate killers — they kill both the “good” and the “bad” bacteria. So if you have a sinus infection and take a strong antibiotic to kill the bacteria in your sinuses, the same antibiotic will also kill the good microorganisms in your gastrointestinal tract (your “gut”).
The gut has the highest concentration of microorganisms in the body. If the body cannot replace the good microorganisms killed by the antibiotics, dysbiosis will occur as bad microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, and parasites) overgrow. Eating a poor diet full of refined food, including excessive amounts of refined sugar, will also fuel the growth of bad microorganisms. The overgrowth of these bad microorganisms results in complaints of bloating, gas, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation — exactly the same symptoms as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
In many cases, treating the underlying cause — dysbiosis — will result in a complete cure from the symptoms of IBS. I have seen it happen numerous times in my practice. Unfortunately, dysbiosis is very common in IBS patients. Or maybe I should rephrase that sentence: fortunately, dysbiosis is very common in IBS patients. Why do I say “fortunately”? Because there is a lot you can do to remedy dysbiosis — which, in turn, resolves many symptoms of IBS.
So what can you do if you have dysbiosis? First, identify the underlying problem or problems. In cases of overgrowth by bacteria or yeast, a therapeutic plan can be implemented to enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria and lower the bad organisms.
When there is significant overgrowth of bacteria or yeast, I will prescribe a short course of antibiotics or antifungal medications for the specific organism. Simultaneously, I place the patient on a probiotic to enhance their own flora. Over the years, this treatment plan has proved very successful.
But just taking an antibiotic or an antifungal medication will not solve the underlying problem. The patient will have to clean up his or her diet.
Usually, dysbiosis goes hand-in-hand with a poor diet. As I noted, a diet high in refined foods (refined sugar, salt, flour, and oil) will not give the body what it needs to facilitate growth of healthy bacteria. Worse yet, continual ingestion of refined foods will feed the bad microorganisms at the expense of the good ones.
Eating a diet free of refined foods supplies the body with the necessary nutrients for the immune system to overcome illness and heal from injury.
Furthermore, antibiotics added to conventional animal feed make their way into our food supply. These trace amounts of antibiotics can devastate the good microorganisms of the gastrointestinal tract. For this reason, it is important to eat organic food that is free of antibiotics and pesticides.
More information about a healthy diet can be found in my book, "The Guide to Healthy Eating."