Antibiotic Uses and Gut Restoration Through Nutrition

In 2019, WHO listed antimicrobial resistance as one of the top ten threats to global health. Unfortunately, a major driver of antimicrobial resistance is antibiotic overuse and misuse.

Prescribed as treatment to fight an existent infection or as prevention before and after surgery, antibiotics are useful drugs able to kill and slow the growth of bacteria. They help us fight it and can save lives when used correctly. In general, the body is able to fight infection thanks to the immune system, with white blood cells being key players. They move through blood and tissue, looking for foreign invaders (microbes) such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. When detected, they attack harmful bacteria and can usually fight off the infection. Sometimes, however, the number of harmful bacteria is excessive, and the immune system cannot fight them all. Antibiotics are useful in this scenario. 

However, antibiotics cannot treat viral infections, such as colds, the flu, and most coughs. 

If people overuse antibiotics, or use them incorrectly, the bacteria might become resistant. For example, by not completing the course of antibiotic treatment prescribed even after symptoms improve, the bacteria that survive will have had some exposure to the antibiotic and may consequently develop resistance to it. This means that the antibiotic becomes less effective against that type of bacterium, as it has been able to improve its defenses.

CDC. Antibiotic Use in the United States, 2018 Update: Progress and Opportunities. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2019.

In the United States, 30% of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary, and this is considering only the prescriptions coming from doctors, not the antibiotics we are taking without prescriptions. Antibiotic consumption is affecting 2 ecosystems: The bacterium living around us, and that living inside us, in our gut flora (microbiome intestinal). 

Although we now know how important our gut is in regard to  its role in our immune system, the use of antibiotics can upset the balance of the microbiota, killing “friendly bacteria” as well, subsequently affecting the immune system. Antibiotics are associated with an increased risk of antibiotic-associated diseases by driving intestinal environment changes that favor the proliferation and virulence of pathogens. It can take 3 to 6 months to restore the intestinal flora. Antibiotic use can have common side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, rash, or upset stomach. It is important to take into consideration mitigating changes in the intestinal environment and restoring your intestinal flora to its original state. 

Food plays a significant role in the intestinal flora and its restoration:

Gut health refers to the balance of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. Looking after the health of the gut and maintaining the right balance of these microorganisms is vital for physical and mental health, immunity, and more.

Here are a few things you can do to increase the “good” bacteria in your gut:

  • Temporarily avoid foods that you may be sensitive to (for example, foods that contain gluten, etc.).
  • Consume prebiotic rich fiber food, like asparagus, bananas, chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, whole grains (whole oats, whole rye, wild rice, bulgur, quinoa…)
  • Legumes which are sources of fiber (split peas, red beans, flageolet beans, lentils, white beans, etc.).
  • Eating yogurt that contains live cultures, lactic ferments and natural probiotics or yogurts with active bifidus.
  • Drinking fermented milks such as kefir or Kombucha, a carbonated drink obtained by fermenting yeasts and bacteria grown in green tea or black tea.
  • Eating fermented cabbages, sauerkraut Kimchi, tempeh, miso which boost bacteria that are beneficial for the intestines and that are rich in calcium, vitamin C, phosphorus and potassium.
  • Using honey which is an antibacterial and a natural antioxidant and stimulates the proliferation of good bacteria.
  • Adding plenty of plants whose bulbs are eaten such as garlic, onion, shallot or leek are pre-biotics that serve as food for bacteria and promote their development.
  • Taking probiotics (lactobacilli (genus Lactobacillus) and bifidobacteria (genus Bifidobacterium longum), or yeasts (Saccharomyces) in food supplements makes it possible to restore the intestinal flora and to repopulate it with “good” bacteria.
  • Eating less sugar and processed food
  • Managing stress and sleep well
  • Exercising regularly

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Historical Fun Fact: 

Tocosh (also known as togosh) is a traditional Quechua food prepared from fermented potato pulp. It is often prepared for celebrations and has a strong odor and flavor. Tocosh can be used as a natural antibiotic because penicillin is produced during the fermentation process. Medicinally, it is used for the common cold, gastric ulcers, pneumonia, and altitude sickness. The Incas believed it was a gift from Inti for preservation of the body.

The fermentation process of creating tocosh was discovered by the Incas (or possibly one of the many tribes in their empire). Fermentation is achieved by placing either potato pulp or maize in a mesh bag of grass, covered with stones, and left undisturbed for six to twelve months within a pool of water where there is a current. The current flows through the stones to wash away bacteria during fermentation. Once fermentation has occurred, the tocosh is dried in the sun and stored for future use.

By Ing. M.Sc Alma Roblin, Lead Scientists in Nutrition at 1health



Be Antibiotics Aware: Smart Use, Best Care | Patient Safety | CDC. 17 novembre 2020, 

Antibiotic Use in the United States, 2018: Progress and Opportunities 

Sengupta, Saswati, et al. « The multifaceted roles of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance in nature ». Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 4, mars 2013. PubMed Central, doi:10.3389/fmicb.2013.00047.

Roberts, Scott C., et Teresa R. Zembower. « Global Increases in Antibiotic Consumption: A Concerning Trend for WHO Targets ». The Lancet Infectious Diseases, vol. 21, no 1, janvier 2021, p. 10‑11. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30456-4.

Society, Microbiology. What are antibiotics and how do they work? 

« The Composition of Gut Bacteria Almost Recovers after Antibiotics ». ScienceDaily.

Yoon, Mi Young, et Sang Sun Yoon. « Disruption of the Gut Ecosystem by Antibiotics ». Yonsei Medical Journal, vol. 59, no 1, janvier 2018, p. 4‑12. PubMed Central, doi:10.3349/ymj.2018.59.1.4.

Publishing, Harvard Health. « Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea ». Harvard Health. 

The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet. Hopkins medicine.

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Zheng, Danping, et al. « Interaction between Microbiota and Immunity in Health and Disease ». Cell Research, vol. 30, no 6, juin 2020, p. 492‑506., doi:10.1038/s41422-020-0332-7.

Yoon, Mi Young, et Sang Sun Yoon. « Disruption of the Gut Ecosystem by Antibiotics ». Yonsei Medical Journal, vol. 59, no 1, janvier 2018, p. 4‑12. PubMed Central, doi:10.3349/ymj.2018.59.1.4.

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