Antibiotics, Probiotics & More: The battle for a healthy gut
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Our bodies are an extraordinarily complex system. We have systems for digestion, respiration, and many other activities which are crucial to our day-to-day functioning.
What you may not realize is that we aren't just made up of just "human" cells and organs, we have trillions of bacteria and other microogranisms in nearly every part of our bodies.
Some of these organisms benefit us, helping us digest foods, for example. Others are destructive, leading to sickness or death. As science advances, our understanding of the complexities of the human microbiome will have significant implications on health and medicine for years to come.
These organisms are affected by the medicines we take and the foods we eat. You might have heard of probiotics and are considering taking them to improve your health. This article will provide you with a gentle introduction to various substances, like probiotics, which affect the organisms that so dramatically impact our health.
Thanks to modern medicine, antibiotics are now widely prescribed and available to manage unwanted bacteria in our bodies. Antibiotics primarily have bactericidal and bacteriostatic properties. Bactericidal refers to the killing of bacteria and bacteriostatic antibiotics affect the ability of bacteria to reproduce.
The most famous group of antibiotics is penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. The discovery of penicillin was revolutionary and led to Fleming sharing a Nobel Prize in 1945.
Penicillin is most commonly synthetically produced to maximize their therapeutic benefits. Also, through advances in microbiology and genetic modification, penicillin antibiotics have become more sophisticated since the mid-20th century.
When prescribed antibiotics, you'll receive either a broad-spectrum or narrow-spectrum antibiotic. Broad-spectrum antibiotics affect a "broad" range of bacteria, while narrow-spectrum antibiotics are focused on a particular type of bacteria.
While targeted remedies are preferred, it isn't always possible to determine what type of bacteria is causing a particular issue. In these situations a doctor can prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic targeting many more types of bacteria.
Given the complexities of the gut microbiome and behavioral inconsistencies (e.g., patients not taking the full course of antibiotics), it's possible that bacteria can become resistant to certain antibiotics.
These surviving bacteria grow and pass on antibiotic-resistant genes. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria (and other organisms) are sometimes referred to as superbugs. Treatment that was previously effective is less effective or not effective as these organisms attain resistance.
We make daily health decisions when we choose which foods we eat. As you walk the aisles of the grocery store, you may come across foods that contain probiotics.
Probiotics are organisms typically added to (or already present in) foods that are aimed to improve the health of the body. In its simplest form, probiotics add bacteria to the body which provide health benefits in some capacity.
A relatively recent increase in marketing and availability of products containing probiotics gives the consumer a chance to affect his or her gut microbiome.
While the prospect of increasing the amount of presumably good bacteria to your body is attractive, it inherently comes with risks. According to the National Institute of Health, there aren't many detailed studies focused on the safety of probiotic use.
Side effects may vary greatly when probiotics are introduced in the diet. Consulting with a medical professional before attempting to drastically change your diet is wise and can help you to avoid negative outcomes based on your specific circumstances. Even broadly studied and generally accepted medical interventions may not produce perfect results.
If you're considering adding probiotics to your diet, choose high-quality probiotics that are reputable. Be especially cautious if the probiotic is marketed as a dietary supplement, since these don't require Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
A lesser known, but related, group of substances are prebiotics. Prebiotics are most commonly foods that promote the growth and health of favorable organisms in your body.
Prebiotics aren't digestible so they pass directly through our digestive tracts and benefit the organisms that are present. Dietary fiber is a prebiotic which promotes healthy gastrointestinal functioning. It's uncommon to seek out prebiotics directly, though, generally healthy diets include plenty of them. If your diet contains a wide-range of fruits and vegetables, you can be sure you're consuming plenty of prebiotics.
Any discussion of prebiotics and probiotics is incomplete without mentioning synbiotics. Synbiotics are substances which combine probiotics and prebiotics.
The idea is that probiotics are more likely to survive if they have a ready source of food to support their growth. Probiotics that don't survive in the hostile environment of our gastrointestinal tract can't improve our health, so it makes sense to consider synbiotics if you're starting to research probiotics or are interested in including them in your diet.
Similar to probiotics, the amount of scientific studies related to synbiotics are relatively small in number and are likely to be understood better in the future.
Improving Your Health Holistically
Dr. Inman knows that a healthy life requires a holistic perspective. If your health isn't where you want it to be, there may be several contributing factors.
By discovering the root cause of health problems, you can take steps to resolve them and begin moving toward a better, healthier you.
You may be interested in Dr. Inman's nutritional counseling service which begins with scientific testing to understand your unique circumstance. Your health doesn't need to be guess-and-check; you might be missing just a little bit of information that could drastically improve how you feel.
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