You may have heard about the new antibiotic resistant, Superbug, found in a patient on the east coast, which is causing alarm considering the number of antibiotic prescriptions written in the United States (the CDC says 268 million prescriptions were written in 2013). Luckily, new Superbugs are rare and when they do occur they draw the full attention of organizations like the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. What is a far more common problem with antibiotic use that has a much higher chance of causing you and I problems is Antibiotic Associated Diarrhea or AAD.
Recent research into the effect of antibiotics by microbiologist Andreas Bӓumler at the University of California, Davis, shows that antibiotics can rapidly deplete beneficial gut bacteria. The research demonstrates that antibiotics often reduce important “good” gut bacteria. When antibiotics reduce the number of good bacteria the environment is negatively affected. For example, good gut bacteria produce a specific short chain fatty acid (SCFA) called butyrate, which the cells lining our gut use as a source of energy for their metabolism and health. Healthy gut cells produce carbon dioxide as a byproduct of butyrate metabolism, which acts to acidify the gut and also reduces the amount of oxygen in the gut. This is important because many pathogenic bacterias, such as salmonella, require at least a low level of oxygen to survive, which is normally limited by the healthy interaction of good gut bacteria and the cells lining our intestines.
However, as bad as AAD may sound, a more pressing concern associated with chronic antibiotic use is the risk of developing Clostridium difficile infection in the gut. C.difficile or C.diff is most often associated with elderly people on antibiotics, but C.diff can infect individuals of all ages from children to adults. C.diff can cause significant health issues and is also highly communicable. Anyone who has been touched by this bacterial infection knows the troubles associated with this, at times, long-term condition.
Because of AAD and C. difficile, researchers have been trying to figure out how to best prevent these troubles, and the most successful treatments have been with the use of probiotics. When combined with an antibiotic prescription, probiotics can help to reduce the chances of complications or opportunistic infections by replenishing the “good” gut bacteria that are killed by the antibiotic treatment. Therefore, this suggests that when an antibiotic is prescribed, a probiotic should be co-prescribed with it.
Further research into the beneficial use of probiotics and their close relationship to antibiotic use has also shown that not only can probiotics provide a short term benefit, but regular use can also prevent the need to take antibiotics in the future.
Katri Korpela et al, at the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology, in the University of Helsinki, Finland conducted a three year study with 501 children to investigate the beneficial effects of daily probiotic consumption on overall health as well as the relationship to antibiotic use. The study clearly demonstrated that:
Therefore, these and other studies offer very compelling reasons to think about adding probiotics to one's daily routine. Not only do probiotics offer a general health benefit, but regularly consuming probiotics can replenish our gut microbiome with “good” bacteria after a course of antibiotics, improving recovery time and reducing the risk of AAD and C. difficile infection. In addition, regular probiotic use can also reduce our reliance on antibiotics, thereby helping us stay healthy using a natural approach, and simultaneously helping to reduce the risk of the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria.