If your doctor has prescribed an antibiotic, you may be worried about the negative side-effects from taking this medication. This is a reasonable concern given that a quarter of patients stop taking their full course of antibiotic therapy due to antibiotic associated diarrhea.
The good news is that taking probiotics with antibiotics can alleviate some of the problems associated with taking these medications. Read below to learn exactly what to do when taking probiotics while on antibiotics.
Why are Antibiotics Prescribed?
Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria, fungi and certain parasites. These drugs are routinely prescribed after surgery to prevent infection. Antibiotics are also used in the treatment of acne to reduce the overgrowth of a bacterium called P. acnes that normally resides on the skin.
Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat viral infections such as colds, the flu, most coughs and bronchitis, sore throats (except from strep throat) and some ear infections. However, antibiotics can’t cure these types of infections. Antibiotics kill bacterial infections and are not effective against viral infections.
While antibiotics are credited with saving lives and reducing the chance of dying prematurely from an infectious disease, their overuse has led to antibiotic resistance. This occurs when bacteria adapt or change to render the antibiotic less effective. The surviving bacteria become hardier making it more difficult for other antibiotics to work.
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What’s the Problem with Antibiotics?
Many antibiotics used today are not targeted but medium and broad spectrum. That means they kill bacteria without prejudice – killing both the bad and the beneficial bacteria that reside in the gastrointestinal tract.
Upsetting the natural balance in the digestive tract causes all sorts of digestive problems. But, the most common complaint associated with these medications is antibiotic associated diarrhea. In fact, this negative effect is the number one reason why patients discontinue antibiotic therapy.
In women, another common side-effect of taking antibiotics is a yeast infection caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans. This yeast normally inhabits your GI tract. But, if allowed to reproduce too quickly, can cause a yeast infection.
With an increasing number of bacteria-resistant illnesses in the U.S., more antibiotics are required to kill a bug. As more antibiotics are used, the immune system is weakened, which lowers a person’s resistance to new infections and the cycle continues.
How do Probiotics Help?
Studies support the use of probiotics for avoiding diarrhea resulting from antibiotic use. Importantly, researchers found that probiotics were found to rarely cause adverse effects, even in children.
Probiotics restore bacteria lost due to antibiotics. Taking a probiotic helps to repopulate the digestive tract with beneficial bacteria to get your digestive function back to normal. These “good guys” reduce the symptoms of antibiotic associated diarrhea by killing off the bad bacteria. How do they do this? These beneficial flora produce compounds that are toxic to bad bacteria, suppressing their growth. In addition, they prevent bad bacteria from adhering to intestinal walls.
In addition to normalizing your digestive tract, probiotics can strengthen your immune system. With more than 70% of your immune system located in your digestive tract, bolstering this system with beneficial bacteria makes perfect sense and helps prevent future illness.
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Will Taking Probiotics Make Antibiotics Less Effective?
Taking a probiotic will not make an antibiotic less effective. But, antibiotics can make probiotics less effective.
Taking Antibiotics and Probiotics
Should you take antibiotics and probiotics at the same time? Or, should you take probiotics with antibiotics or after? The answer is to take antibiotics and probiotics together but not at the same time. A rule of thumb is to take your probiotic 2 hours before or 2 hours after taking your antibiotic. This gives sufficient time for the antibiotic to work while not killing off the beneficial bacteria. If you wait until your antibiotic therapy is over to take your probiotics (typically 7-10 days), then you will have needlessly suffered digestive upset for over a week.
Are Probiotics Safe?
Yes. Probiotics have an excellent safety track record. Many studies have documented their safety and efficacy in alleviating a wide range chronic conditions such as allergies, Candida, diarrhea, eczema and other skin conditions, infections, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease.
What’s the Best Probiotic Supplement?
Not all probiotics are created equal. So, you want to choose a probiotic that best meets your needs while taking an antibiotic.
Many antibiotics used today are broad spectrum meaning they wipe out a wide range of both bad and good bacteria. To compensate, you’ll want to select a probiotic that replenishes your digestive tract with a broad range of beneficial bacteria. Two key probiotic families are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Find a probiotic that contains species from both of these families such as L. acidophilus and B. bifidum.
Within each of these two families are species that are hardier than others. Species like L. acidophilus. L. rhamnosus and L. salivarius are remarkably tolerant of the harsh conditions in the digestive tract. Other species like L. casei and B. longum are beneficial in preventing diarrhea associated with antibiotic use.
The best probiotic supplement will also be enteric-coated. This ensures that the probiotic supplement bypasses the harsh conditions of the stomach and doesn’t break-down until the small intestine where the beneficial bacteria are liberated.
VitaMedica’s Probiotic-8 supplement meets all of these criteria. The supplement contains a wide range of beneficial bacteria to restore your body’s natural flora including 4 strains of Lactobacillus, 4 strains of Bifidobacterium and 1 strain of Streptococcus. Enteric-coated capsules ensure that the friendly bacteria survive the trip to the GI tract.
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How much Probiotics with Antibiotics?
Numerous studies indicate that to alleviate antibiotic-associated diarrhea, adults should consume at least 4 billion organisms with each dose or a total of 8 billion per day. With VitaMedica’s GI Balance Probiotic, just one capsule taken twice daily provides 50 billion live organisms.
How Often Should I take Probiotics?
You should take probiotics twice a day, about a half hour or more before eating. Taking probiotics on an empty stomach helps to eliminate bloating or gas that a small number of patients get while taking a probiotic supplement. Be sure to not skip a dose to ensure the colonization of helpful bacteria.
How Long Should I Take Probiotics After Antibiotics?
Most antibiotic therapy lasts between several days and two weeks. Experts recommend that you continue to take probiotics after antibiotics for several weeks to ensure that your digestive tract gets back to normal.
Many people take probiotics on a daily basis. Regular use of probiotics helps to keep your digestive system healthy by keeping you regular. Probiotics also bolster your immune system and enhance the absorption of nutrients.
Do Probiotics Need Refrigeration?
The viability of some probiotics last longer when refrigerated. You’ll need to check the label of the product. Keep in mind that moisture and heat can easily destroy probiotics. Refrigerating probiotics helps to maintain their shelf-life.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.