A magnifying glass examining gut flora

The dark side of antibiotics AND probiotics

We know antibiotics kill the gut microbiome and therefore digestion, immune system function, metabolism, etc. But do you know what else kills the gut flora? And do you know how long it takes to restore it and how you can do that (hint: not by taking probiotic supplements!)? Read the article below to find out.

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Microbiome: more than meets the eye

Even a short course of antibiotics has been shown to wipe out about 90% of the gut microbes. Sadly, this includes the microbes that fight candida. So we not only end up with less of the good guys in our gut; we create perfect conditions for candida to proliferate (note that candida is a fungus and cannot be killed with antibiotics). Importantly, roughly the same conditions are created when we consume too much sugar, alcohol and ultra-process foods, when we don’t exercise, when we don’t sleep enough, and when we experience too much mental and emotional stress.

Now, the natural questions that come up are whether gut damage can be reversed and if so, how and over what time period. The degree to which you can restore your gut flora depends on the extent of the damage already done. Obviously, if you have been taking large doses of antibiotics repeatedly (or if you have been abusing your gut health through bad lifestyle), you may never be able to recover some of the microbes that have been wiped out. Remember that gut health is all about diversity of bugs! There are over 100 trillion bacteria in our gut and although some strains can recover, others can disappear forever given a prolonged and repeated abuse of gut health.

On a positive note, the strains of microbes that do recover may or may not take a long time. Interestingly, research shows that some bacteria deploy a strategy to re-establish themselves after antibiotics. More specifically, these bacteria use the so called restriomes (resistance genes) to ensure they are never wiped out. Thus, said bacteria have been shown to recover to almost normal levels within a month and half, whereas 180 days post antibiotics the population of the same bacteria is completely restored.

Surprisingly, a small study in Israel found that the use of probiotics as a supplement could potentially inhibit the return of the native gut flora. This study showed that the original microbiome of people who took probiotic supplements for 28 days took longer to return compared to people who didn’t take a probiotic supplement. Hence, leading gut specialists are now de-prescribing probiotic pills.

So what’s your best course of action to optimize gut health? Consciousness-wise, the gut is linked to discernment (of what’s serving us and what doesn’t), so the more we cultivate that the better the gut as well. In terms of probiotic supplements, even if they do work (the jury is still out on that one), using those alone is not going to cut it. You also need to consume pre-biotic foods (these are fiber-rich whole foods, preferably minimally processed or not processed at all). Additionally, make sure you exclude sugar, alcohol and ultra-processed foods from your diet. Last but not least, exercise regularly, reduce stress, and optimize your sleep – all of these have been shown to positively impact the gut flora (along with many other health benefits).

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