Does it make sense to supplement with beneficial bacteria when you're taking antibacterial drugs or is it a waste of time and money? Nutrition Diva explains how probiotics and antibiotics work together.
Mickey writes: "Do you recommend using 'probiotics' when taking antibiotics? If so, when should I start?"
It's a great question, Mickey, and one that's plagued nutrition scientists for years, for reasons I'll explain in a moment. Fortunately, we finally have some solid data on which to base an answer!
Most of you are familiar with the concept of probiotic foods, which include things like yogurt, kefir, and traditionally fermented vegetables. These foods all contain beneficial bacteria that set up housekeeping in your digestive tract, where they perform all kinds of useful functions, such as helping digest your food, manufacturing certain nutrients, and keeping unfriendly bacteria from moving in and making you sick.
See also: What Is Gut Microbiota?
At some point, you've probably also taken an antibiotic, a drug that kills infection-causing bacteria in your body. Although they aren't much help against the common cold or flu, which are caused by viruses, antibiotics are a very effective way to treat sinus infections, pneumonia, skin infections, ulcers, and other problems caused by rogue bacteria.
While they're taking out the bad guys, however, antiobiotic drugs can also do a number on the good guys - the beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. That's why people commonly experience diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues when taking antibiotics. Which leads us to Mickey's question: Can taking probiotics or eating probiotic foods during antibiotic therapy help prevent or alleviate these unintended side effects? Historically, this has been a controversial question.
In the past, some practitioners believed that taking probiotics at the same time as you are taking antibiotics was a waste of time and money, reasoning that the antibiotics would simply kill off the beneficial bacteria as fast as you could take them in. According to this argument, it made more sense to start taking probiotics at the end of the course of antibiotics. Others felt that eating yogurt or taking probiotics during antibiotic therapy made good sense and advised their patients to do so. But both sides were really sort of guessing.
Fortunately, we don't have to guess anymore! Researchers have compiled data from dozens of studies, involving many different types of probiotics, and they've come up with a clear answer (drum roll please...)