Antibiotics boost the body’s fighting chance against bacterial infections. However, sometimes, antibiotics may cause side effects, like liver damage and diarrhea. Some foods can help to minimize these side effects. Others may worsen them.
This article explains in detail how you can boost your immune system with diet during and after antibiotic therapy.
What are antibiotics?
An antibiotic is a type of medication that treats bacterial infections. Antibiotics work by halting the blocking of the infection or preventing its spread.
There are many types of antibiotics. Some antibiotics are broad-spectrum.
This means that they are effective against a wide range of harmful bacteria. Other antibiotics fight some species of bacteria.
Antibiotics play a vital role in the fight against serious infections. However, some of them may have negative side effects.
For instance, excessive use of antibiotics can harm your liver. A study has shown that of all the medications that can damage the liver, antibiotics are the most common (1, 2).
Antibiotics also have negative effects on the micro-organisms that live in your intestines. They are called the gut microbiota.
Antibiotics not only kill pathogenic bacteria, but they also kill healthy bacteria (3, 4, 5).
Taking antibiotics in excess can reduce the type of bacteria that you have within your gut (6, 7, 8).
It is worth knowing that just a week of antibiotic therapy can alter the makeup of your gut flora for a year (9).
Several studies have shown that alteration of the gut microbiota due to excessive use of antibiotics may increase your risk of obesity and weight gain (10).
Also, excessive use of antibiotics can cause you to develop antibiotic resistance, and so they become ineffective at killing harmful bacteria (11).
Also, by altering the types of bacteria that live in your intestine, antibiotics can cause side effects such as diarrhea (12).
Ensure you take probiotics before treatment and after treatment with antibiotics
We have established that excessive use of antibiotics can alter your microbiota, leading to diarrhea. This is very common among children.
The good news, however, is that several studies have proven that intake of probiotics (live healthy bacteria), has the potential to bring down your risk of diarrhea (13, 14).
A review of 23 scientific studies including 400 children discovered that taking probiotics alongside antibiotics could minimize the risk of diarrhea by 50% or more (15).
A large study including over 11,000 participants found similar results (16).
According to the studies, Saccharomyces and Lactobacilli probiotics had the greatest effects.
But then, considering that probiotics are bacteria themselves, taking them alongside antibiotics may cause them to get killed. So, probiotics and antibiotics should not be taken together but some hours apart.
Take probiotics after an antibiotic therapy so that your healthy gut microbiota will be restored.
A study showed that probiotics are capable of restoring gut microbiota to their original state after antibiotic therapy (17).
Take probiotics that contain a mix of different species, and not just one.
Add fermented foods to your diet
Some foods can restore your gut microbiota after they have been damaged by antibiotics.
Microbes help to ferment foods. Examples of fermented foods include cheese, yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut, etc.
They contain many species of healthy bacteria, like lactobacilli which can restore your microbiota to a healthy state.
Medical research has shown that consumption of fermented milk or yogurt increases the amount of Lactobacilli in the intestines and lowers the number of pathogenic bacteria, like Bilophila wadsworthia and Enterobacteria (18, 19, 20).
Fermented soybean milk and kimchi exert the same beneficial effects and can enhance the growth of healthy flora in your gut, like Bifidobacteria (21, 22).
And so, the consumption of fermented foods can boost gut health after antibiotic therapy.
Other pieces of research have discovered the benefits of fermented foods during antibiotic treatment.
Some of these studies have shown that intake of probiotic-supplemented or normal yogurt can relieve diarrhea in people on antibiotic therapy (23, 24, 25).
Eat foods that are rich in fiber
Your body cannot digest fiber. However, your gut bacteria can digest it, and this enhances their growth.
Thus, a high-fiber diet can restore your gut flora after antibiotic therapy.
Examples of fiber-rich foods include:
- Whole grains
Research has shown that foods rich in dietary fiber can stimulate the growth of healthy gut flora, but on the other hand can also reduce the growth of pathogenic bacteria (26, 27, 28).
You should understand that dietary fiber can reduce the rate of stomach emptying. This, in turn, slows the rate at which your body absorbs medicine (29).
Thus, it is best that you put away fiber-rich foods during an antibiotic course, and instead use them when you are done with the therapy.
Prebiotics are different from probiotics. Prebiotics are foods that nourish the good bacteria in your digestive tract.
Most high-fiber foods are prebiotics. The healthy bacteria in your gut digest and ferments the bacteria in your gut, thus promoting their growth (30).
Some non-fiber foods may also have prebiotic properties.
Let’s take red wine for instance. It contains polyphenol, an antioxidant, which cannot be digested by human cells but only by gut bacteria.
A certain study found that consumption of red wine polyphenol extract for one month could increase the number of healthy gut bacteria, especially Bifidobacteria, and also reduce blood cholesterol and pressure (31).
Also, cocoa is rich in antioxidant polyphenols that are beneficial to your gut microbiota.
Some studies have shown that polyphenols in cocoa increase Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria in the gut while reducing the amount of Clostridia and other unhealthy bacteria (32, 33).
As such, the consumption of prebiotic foods after antibiotic therapy can boost the growth of healthy gut bacteria after damage by antibiotics.
Get enough sleep
You must get as much sleep as you can. Sleep time of 7 – 9 hours would suffice – after your symptoms have subsided. Sleep boosts your immune system. Do not suppress sleep when you are sick or infected, as this may trigger fever and hasten recovery, according to a 2009 study.
Exercise is important
A 30-minute exercise 5 days a week would suffice. Exercise triggers the building of macrophages and T cells which of course, boosts the immune system, and fights infections and diseases.
Avoid foods that reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics
Many foods are helpful during antibiotics and after antibiotics. But then, there are some foods that you should avoid.
For instance, research has shown that consumption of grapefruit juice or grapefruit is contraindicated while taking antibiotics (34, 35).
Why is this so? Well, grapefruit juice and several medications are metabolized by an enzyme known as cytochrome P450.
Eating grapefruit during an antibiotic course can prevent the proper metabolism of the drug. This can be injurious to your health.
A study involving six healthy men found that consumption of grapefruit juice while taking erythromycin increased the antibiotic content in the blood, compared to those who took the antibiotic with water (36).
Calcium supplements can also affect the absorption of antibiotics, such as gatifloxacin and ciprofloxacin (37, 38).
Other studies have shown that calcium-rich foods like yogurt do not possess this inhibitory effect (39).
You must avoid high doses of calcium supplements when taking antibiotics.
Antibiotics are helpful when you are infected by a bacterial pathogen.
In some cases, they can cause side effects, like liver damage, alteration of the gut microbiota, or diarrhea.
You can minimize your risk of diarrhea by taking probiotics before a course of antibiotics, and after as well. Intake of probiotics will also restore your gut flora to a healthy state.
Also, eating fiber-rich foods, prebiotic foods, and fermented foods after an antibiotic course may help re-establish a healthy gut flora.