Microbiota and antibiotics:<br>a delicate combination

Microbiota and antibiotics:
a delicate combination

Taking an antibiotic treatment can cause intestinal discomfort... This is due to an intestinal microbial imbalance caused by the prescribed medicine. How can we restore the balance?

The effects of antibiotics on the microbiota

Antibiotics that are prescribed for benign conditions are designed to eliminate harmful bacteria. The prescribed medicine tries, as much as possible, to target the germs responsible for the illness. There are also antibiotics with a more or less broad mechanism of action, known as broad-spectrum antibiotics, which target both the bad bacteria and some of the protective bacteria. None of these can spare the commensal flora which causes the diversity and number of bacteria that make them up diminish. The impact of this imbalance can last for several months and the consequences of these changes are not yet fully known(1). 

Antibiotics: are precious, lets use them better

Don’t ask your doctor for them for the slightest cold, especially as they are only effective against bacterial, not viral, infections. Furthermore, taking antibiotics can result in the development of resistant bacteria, which will make the task of the immune system much more difficult. 

How to preserve intestinal flora after antibiotics?

A number of strategies can be adopted: strict adherence to the prescription and the period of administration, timing antibiotics to coincide with meals, adapting the diet by introducing foods rich in micro-organisms, and taking pre- and probiotics.

What should I eat when taking antibiotics?

To limit the possibility of discomfort during and after taking antibiotics, pay attention to your diet: 

  • Give priority to cooked vegetables and fruits that are rich in pre-biotic, soft fibres. They help maintain the quality and diversity of the microbiota. The most beneficial plants to choose:  Artichoke, asparagus, banana, onion, fig, Jerusalem artichoke, the white part of leek, garlic, whole grain cereals etc.
  • Opt for foods rich in lactic ferments that are naturally found in raw sauerkraut, unpasteurised yoghurts, fermented milk (ribot, kefir), fermented cheese, brewer’s yeast etc.
  • Ensure that you chew well to activate the digestive enzymes, synonymous with good digestion.
  • Probiotic dietary supplements can be taken with antibiotics. 

Probiotics at the same time as antibiotics or afterwards?

It is better to take the probiotic supplements from the start of the antibiotic treatment and continue for several days after the end of the course.

However, it is advisable not to ingest them at the same time. The bacteria-killing effect of the antibiotic is likely to destroy the probiotic bacteria. The probiotic should ideally be taken some time after the antibiotic has been absorbed (at least 2 hours), either before or during a meal.

Which probiotics can be taken alongside antibiotics?

Probiotics are “living micro-organisms which, when administered in sufficient quantity, exercise a beneficial effect on the health of the host” (2). These days, they are more often used in conjunction with the prescription of antibiotics. The most pertinent strains of probiotics are Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum. In sufficient quantities, they contribute to the diversity of the intestinal microbiota. 

Probiotic dietary supplements must meet certain criteria, including tolerance to gastric acidity and bile salts, to ensure that the bacteria survive until they reach the intestine. Once at their destination, some bacteria are said to be “revivable”, meaning that they come back to life when they come into contact with the intestinal environment. Probiotics can be enriched with micro-nutrients such as vitamin B3 to help maintain healthy mucous membranes, for example. A product containing at least 7 billion bacteria per capsule is highly recommended. 

Bibliographical references

1.Van Zyl, K. N., Matukane, S. R., Hamman, B. L., Whitelaw, A. C., & Newton-Foot, M. (2021). The effect of antibiotics on the human microbiome: a systematic review. International journal of antimicrobial agents, 106502.

2.Hill, C., Guarner, F., Reid, G. et al. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 11, 506–514 (2014).