In recent years, doctors have started to prescribe probiotics together with all antibiotics. Why is this, and what do probiotics do?
Meaning of ‘probiotic’
The word ‘antibiotic’ comes from ancient Greek and literally means something that inhibits growth. The word ‘probiotic’ means the exact opposite – something that encourages growth. So why would any doctor prescribe two such medicines together?
Vital role of probiotics
Many different fungi and bacteria live in your intestines and your colon – in fact, there are an estimated 100 trillion micro-organisms inhabiting a normal bowel. These good bacteria (and yes, many of them are really good for you), also known as your microbiome, help with overall body function, and they also help with nutrient absorption, mood control, and the efficient working of the immune system. They also keep harmful micro-organisms in check.
How antibiotics can affect your normal health
Given these vital functions, it isn’t difficult to see why a course of antibiotics (which follows a bit of a scorched earth policy by attacking all bacteria – both good and bad) can leave you feeling tired, lacking in energy, and possibly also with diarrhoea. This diarrhoea is so common it has a name: antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, or AAD.
But antibiotics are taken for a reason, namely to kill harmful bacteria, which have caused an infection in your body. Most medications have side effects, though, and antibiotics are no exception. But much of the damage done to your microbiome can be undone by taking a probiotic while you are on antibiotics. This will help to restore the natural balance of the bacteria in your gut.
Additional benefits of probiotics
The good news is that probiotics are also there to treat and prevent certain conditions.
The conditions that can be treated or prevented by probiotics include the following:
- Vaginal infections
- Bladder infections
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Ulcers (caused by the helicobacter pylori bacterium)
- Certain bacterial infections of the digestive tract (such as clostridium difficile)
- Eczema in children
- Crohn’s disease
Probiotics are considered safe and are mostly sold as dietary supplements. You can also get the same benefits from eating certain foods instead of taking tablets. These include yogurt (with live cultures), sauerkraut, pickles, buttermilk and certain cheeses, such as Gouda, cheddar, mozzarella and cottage cheese. Remember that certain foods, such as sugar and processed and fried foods tend to feed the bad bacteria in your gut.
So make a point of remembering the probiotics next time you are prescribed a course of antibiotics. You will feel the difference. Not all medical schemes in South Africa will cover the cost of over-the-counter probiotics. Most comprehensive medical aid plans may cover this from your savings benefit. Some other affordable medical aid options may also cover this from your available savings, but people on a hospital plan generally have to fund this from their own pockets.
By Susan Erasmus
Business Essentials is Africa’s premium networking and business directory.
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