Clash of the Titans: How to Benefit from BOTH Antibiotics and Probiotics

At first glance, antibiotics and probiotics claim clashing objectives. Antibiotics, a term derived from “antibiosis,” means “life destroying life.” It refers to substances that kill bacteria—both good and bad. Probiotics, which means “promoting life,” refers to live micro-organisms added to the human body to “confer a health benefit.” Although both of these colossally important substances are intended to improve health, their functions conflict, which causes both issues and advantages.

Probiotics and antibiotics fight different ways, but they fight for the same thing: good health.

Probiotics and antibiotics fight different ways, but they fight for the same thing: good health.

The discovery of antibiotics
Antibiotic medicines have been available in an institutionalized form since the 1890s, when German doctors made a drug called pyocyanase. Even though it often didn’t work the way it was supposed to, there was no going back. Doctors and researchers continued to search for substances that would help them defeat diseases by destroying destructive germs.

In the 1920s, Sir Alexander Fleming began using the mold Penicillium notatum to destroy staph infections. The first sulfa drug came along in the 1930s. Mass production of penicillin began in the 1940s. Now, more than 150 different types of antibiotics help medical practitioners fight disease.

The downside of antibiotics
Antibiotics work by stopping the functioning of bacteria. The drugs either kill the bacteria or keep it from multiplying. When this happens, the human body’s amazing natural systems are able to take over, using built-in germ-fighting and recovery processes to return the body to good health.

Antibiotics work in a number of different functional ways specific to the bacteria they are fighting. Some work only on one or a few types of bacterial infections. Others, called “broad spectrum” antibiotics, work on a wide variety of destructive bacteria. In most cases, but especially with broad spectrum antibiotics, the functions of beneficial bacteria are shut down the same way damaging bacteria are shut down. The destruction of good bacteria leaves the body vulnerable to the reintroduction of bad bacteria or the commencement of damaging functions the good bacteria was blocking.

Among other discomforts and complications, the destruction of good bacteria in the gut during the course of antibiotic treatment can cause diarrhea, nausea, yeast infections and thrush.For the most part, we put up with the potential risks of damaging good bacteria, because the use of antibiotics saves lives and reduces a great deal of suffering.

The introduction of probiotics
For many centuries, Greeks and Romans recommended the ingestion of cheeses and fermented products to benefit health, although they were unaware of the science behind the benefits. Fermentation has been used for eons around the world as a way to preserve food. In modern times, scientists have been interested in using the science of microbes to benefit health since the early 1900s, when Russian scientist and Nobel Laureate Elie Metchnikoff suggested it would be possible to modify flora in the gut by replacing harmful microbes with helpful microbes. He experimented by adding sour milk to his own diet with positive results. After that, several scientists explored the positive benefits of adding microbes to treat babies for diarrhea, soldiers in the field for gastrointestinal infections and others.

The word “probiotics” was first used in 1953 to describe any organic or inorganic substance that promoted the growth of bacteria instead of destroying it. In 1989, Roy Fuller suggested the following definition: a “live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance.”

Probiotics defeat antibiotic side effects
In recent years, some medical practitioners, nutritionists and others have suggested probiotics could be used to treat symptoms of a variety of diseases. Science hasn’t quite caught up with circumstantial evidence of probiotics’ usefulness, but that’s changing with new studies indicating the effectiveness of certain probiotics in the treatment of specific health conditions.

In particular, evidence shows taking probiotics with antibiotics can reduce the occurrence of diarrhea associated with antibiotic treatment. Some practitioners suggest taking probiotics right along with antibiotics. Others suggest waiting a couple of hours after taking the antibiotics. We haven’t established standard doses yet, and it’s clear not all probiotics are beneficial for all conditions. However, a lot of good research is being conducted now, and we expect knowledge of probiotic functions and uses to increase rapidly.

Recent studies already are demonstrating probiotics’ promise. A federally-funded meta-study by the RAND Corporation of all the best research on probiotics and antibiotics-associated diarrhea showed “in people taking antibiotics, those who used probiotics were 42% less likely to develop diarrhea.”

When to take probiotics and which ones to take
Unfortunately, most research currently available doesn’t provide scientific support for specific uses of probiotics. However, it seems few would disagree that there is indeed a benefit. Most also seem to agree that the real benefit of probiotics will come when we do understand which ones are best for which conditions and they can be prescribed to target specific illnesses and conditions.

We also need to understand which ones are robust enough to provide benefits. For example, some probiotics are broken down enough in stomach acid that they lose most of their effectiveness. When we understand these functions of probiotics, we can work with them. BioVi, for example, contains a probiotic blend specially designed to withstand the damaging effects of stomach acid.

On the other hand, we don’t need to understand all the science behind probiotics to experience their benefits. The Greeks, Romans and Chinese didn’t understand how fermented foods worked to improve health. They just knew they did. Because probiotics have at least proven to be safe, you can try them at your convenience and see if it helps whatever condition you are suffering from. The only warning seems to be that immunocompromised patients and premature babies risk bacteremia with certain probiotics. To be safe, use probiotics in moderation and consult with your doctor.

Titans on the same side
It turns out, although antibiotics and probiotics work on bacteria in clearly opposite ways, sometimes even causing problems as they clash, they really are working on the same side, in the same arena, to improve health. Watch the epic development of this partnership in coming years for more new ways to conquer the challenges of disease and build healthy bodies.

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