Antibiotics: do we always need them?

By Amy Rutherford

Eating Psychology Coach

Antibiotics: do we always need them?

It’s getting to be the season when everyone (especially kids) seems to come down with something. And what do we usually do when we get a sniffle or a cough? We head to the doctor’s or minute clinic to get a quick fix, maybe a Z-pack or the “bubblegum medicine” aka amoxicillin for the kiddos. This has simply become “what you do”, part of our culture almost. But is it really the best choice? Don’t get me wrong, antibiotics serve a great purpose when it comes to certain more serious diseases, but it seems to me that they’re currently over-prescribed, and here’s why:

When to use antibiotics…don’t they kill all the bad stuff?

Did you know that antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses? This is important because most of our colds, ear infections, etc., are caused by viruses. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell which is which sometimes, especially regarding kids’ ear infections. This is why any time your kids’ pediatrician says they have an infection, they’re almost certainly also going to prescribe an antibiotic. Here is why I am one of those moms who doesn’t automatically fill that prescription: if your kid has a viral ear infection and takes an antibiotic, it doesn’t cure the infection and can actually further compromise their immune system. The word “antibiotic” literally means “against life”. This mean any life, good or bad. It can wipe out bad bacteria, but it also wipes out the good bacteria.

What is “good” bacteria?

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about this and don’t even realize it. Scientists are finding that the good bacteria in our guts is like a second brain, and it’s where the bulk of our immune system lives. If we take an antibiotic, it literally kills this good bacteria, thereby weakening our immune system. So what to do? If you truly feel that an antibiotic will help, that you have a bacterial infection and need an antibiotic, taking a probiotic will help to negate the negative effects. Probiotic means “for life”. These are the good bacteria in our guts. If you want to offset the effects of an antibiotic by taking a probiotic, it’s suggested that you take it at the halfway point in-between antibiotic doses. For example, if you take a dose every 12 hours, take your probiotic 6 hours following that first dose. Additionally, antibiotics stay in your system for about a week following their completion, so continuing to double your probiotic dosage for the same amount of time is suggested.*

One of the symptoms of antibiotic use is an upset stomach, which is a result of the good bacteria being killed. This is why doctors usually suggest eating more yogurt while taking an antibiotic: because yogurt is a natural, food-based probiotic. Try to find yogurt that is organic, whole-milk, and from grass-fed cows as this will be the healthiest and most beneficial. Other food sources of probiotics include kefir (which is like a yogurt drink and quite yummy) and certain other dairy products (look for probiotic on the label). In addition to probiotics, you can also eat more prebiotics, high-fiber foods which feed the good bacteria and help them thrive. Sources of prebiotics include¹:

  • Cultured foods such as sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Dandelion greens (you can forage for these, just make sure they aren’t sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, etc.)
  • Acacia gum
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Jicama
  • Kombucha

I hope this information has been helpful, and that hopefully you’ll think twice about automatically taking antibiotics this cold and flu season. If you do find yourself in need of them, supplement your diet with the above-mentioned foods, and it will go a long way towards getting your digestive system, and therefore your immune system, back up and running.




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Amy Rutherford

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