There are about 200 trillion microbe cells of over 1,000 species living in or on our body. Many of these are beneficial to us; most are harmless; and the few that are pathogenic are kept in control by healthy populations of the others. When some of the bad guys proliferate, we become sick and are usually prescribed an antibiotic to get rid of them. The problem with this is that the drug indiscriminately kills all the bacteria in the gut, including the good guys.
Michael Tennesen in an article “The Ecosystem Inside” (Discover, March 2011) described the use of antibiotics as “dropping a bomb on a microbial community”. I use the analogy of spraying your entire lawn with Roundup to kill a few weeds. Sure if the weeds are bad enough it may be justified, but then you need to reseed your lawn right away or it will grow up with solid weeds the following year. Healthy grass is the best way to control weeds.
Similarly antibiotic use often results in various digestive complaints due to the loss of beneficial bacteria, but can occasionally lead to something more serious. After an antibiotic treatment pathogens are able to repopulate the microbial desert that your gut has become and grow unchecked. Then you become really sick and antibiotics may no longer be effective. A good example is Clostridium difficile, a bacterium which causes life-threatening diarrhea.
A novel treatment that has shown great promise in dealing with C difficile is fecal transplants – implanting fecal material from a healthy donor into the patient’s gut to replenish the beneficial flora. A recently published trial in the Netherlands had a 93% success rate with fecal transplants compared to 31% for vancomycin, the usual antibiotic for this infection. Other trials are underway around the world.
But you don’t need to wait for a serious infection, or to go to the extreme of a fecal transplant, to replenish your gut flora following antibiotics. Probiotics, sold in most health food stores and pharmacies, provide beneficial bacteria of known species and strains. Probiotics now come in potencies of 50, 80 and even 100 billion, strong enough to quickly recolonize the gut and prevent serious infections.
"The Ecosystem Inside", Michael Tennesen, Discover magazine, March 2011
"Fighting Microbes with Microbes", Margaret Munro, PostMedia News, Star Phoenix, Nov 13, 2013
"Duodenal infusion of donor feces for recurrent Clostridium difficile" NEJM 16 Jan 2013
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.