The Important Difference Between Probiotics and Antibiotics

The Important Difference Between Probiotics and Antibiotics

About three trillion bacteria are working in your body right now, most likely in your favour. If you could put them all together they would weight more than two kilograms!


Image Credit: Jared Zimmerman on Flickr.
Image Credit: Jared Zimmerman on Flickr.

Although some bacteria can cause illness and pain, you need bacteria to be alive and healthy. Good or friendly bacteria are generally known as probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that have many health benefits over your body. Among these benefits are restoration and balance maintenance of good bacteria in your digestive system. This can be especially beneficial if you’ve just been affected by an illness or have been taking a treatment like antibiotics.

To keep your probiotics alive and active you require prebiotics, which is kind of like the food that probiotics require to survive. You can naturally find prebiotics in your gastrointestinal tract or you can also easily obtain them from your diet. Foods that contain prebiotics are usually rich in non-digestible fibre than can be found in many vegetables or grains.

Benefits of Bacteria

The bacteria in your body, commonly found on your skin, mouth and gut, are constantly synthesising hundreds of molecules that protect you against other harmful bacteria. Beneficial bacteria have the ability produce natural antibiotics that kill harmful bacteria. Friendly bacteria can build special barriers such as the mucus in your digestive system that serves as a trap for pathogen bacteria.

Probiotics can help with digestion

Antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) happens when antibiotics affects the natural balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the intestinal tract causing harmful bacteria to multiply. According to the NHS there’s fairly good evidence which indicates that taking high doses of some probiotics alongside antibiotics can aid in the prevention of AAD. Without probiotics, antibiotics can sometimes wipe out the protective gut bacteria, which is no good for your digestive system. Probiotics are thought to directly kill or inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, stopping them from producing toxic substances that can make you ill.

Similarly, probiotics may help to reduce bloating and gas in some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. Probiotics won’t work for everyone with IBS, however if you would like to give them a try, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests taking them for at least four weeks.

Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem in which the body is unable to digest lactose (a sugar found in milk and dairy products). According to the NHS, some studies have found that some bacteria, like lactobacillus acidophilus, may help to reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance, which include stomach cramps, flatulence and diarrhoea. Research into this is ongoing. In the meantime, if you are lactose intolerant, you may wish to try probiotic preparations (not yogurts) of lactobacillus acidophilus to see if they help.

5 Things to Know When Dealing With Bacteria

1. Did you know that antibiotics actually weaken your immune system?

Evaluate if you really need antibiotics. If you have the flu, this is an illness cause by a virus. Antibiotics only kill bacteria and not viruses. In such cases it would be more advisable to fortify your immune system instead of weakening it by drinking plenty of fluids, resting and eating nutrient-rich foods. If you do start to take antibiotics make sure you finish the treatment to avoid resistance development and it is recommendable that you consume probiotics after the treatment to re-establish the natural flora.

2. The importance of a toothbrush

How often do you change your toothbrush and do you leave it close to the toilet? It’s recommendable that toothbrushes are replaced every three months. After then, they start to lose their effectiveness and tend to accumulate bacteria. Research indicates that some bacteria found in your mouth can travel into your circulatory system and increase the chances of cardiovascular diseases. Another thing about this essential item is that if you leave your toothbrush close to the toilet it’s more likely that bacteria sprinkle your brush every time you flush the toilet.

3. Did you know that the appendix does have a function?

The appendix is actually a microbiological reservoir in the body which has the ability to reboot the gut. Researchers found that the appendix acted as a deposit for bacteria that are important for optimal digestion. It can even have the effect of restarting the digestive system after a disease such as amoebic dysentery or cholera, which kill off good bacteria and purge the gut.

According to research, this function has been made unnecessary by modern, industrialised society; dense populations now allow easier bacteria transmission among people, allowing gut organisms to regrow without help from the appendix. However in earlier times, when there were fewer people, whole areas could be wiped out by epidemics such as cholera and it was then that the appendix provided survivors with a vital individual source of essential bacteria.

4. How you do your laundry matters

Do you mix kitchen towels with your underwear? Harmful bacteria as well as mould and mildew can resist at different ranges of temperature and be transferred to your underwear or vice versa. It is recommended that towels and sheets are washed separately from regular clothes on a hot and long wash cycle. It is inadvisable to mix your day-to-day wear with laundry from the kitchen or the washroom. Not only are the fabrics different and can affect the efficiency in which they are cleaned but also, microorganisms can ‘jump’ or contaminate other garments.

5. Do you sneeze correctly?

Image Credit: Allan Foster on Flickr.
Image Credit: Allan Foster on Flickr.

Yes, there is actually a right way of sneezing and that is to do it on the inside of your elbow. It was recommended by the WHO  to prevent the spread of germs and diseases. When you sneeze on your hand or worse directly in the air others around you are affected and spread of diseases can increase. There is a whole campaign towards it and even children and Elmo know it. Do you still sneeze on your hand?

In sum, your body needs bacteria for protection and to digest and process the nutrients that you obtain through food. Without it you would be more exposed to harmful bacteria and diseases. Include a diverse range of fruit and veggies in your diet and consume fermented foods or probiotic supplements. Avoid unnecessary medications and antibiotics. If you do take them don’t forget to replenish your natural flora with the help of probiotics. Also, try to incorporate easy changes in your lifestyle such as sneezing in the inside of your elbow, separating clothes according to use and not leaving your toothbrush behind.

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