Rebuilding Your Gut Post-Antibiotics
During undergrad, I ended up taking three rounds of antibiotics.
During undergrad, I ended up taking three rounds of antibiotics. Each time, it was for strep throat. I don’t remember the specifics of every time, but I do remember one being during the summer of 1997, when I lived in Wilmington after freshman year. I think I lasted two days of not drinking alcohol until we had a party and I drank myself silly that night. Oh, the naivete of being 18.
Never did a doctor mention anything to me about good bacteria, probiotics, or my microbiome as they wrote the scripts for these powerful drugs. Why would they? None of them had been taught a thing about this area in med school.
Fast forward to 2019, and all we are talking about is the microbiome. (Most) Doctors finally understand how important this terrian is to our health, though we still haven’t figured out the exact keys.
When I graduated from college in 2000, my stomach “fell out”, as I like to say. At the time, I had no idea why. Over the years, I learned it as a combination of stress from not knowing what I wanted to do with my life or where I wanted to go, a pretty crappy SAD (Standard American Diet), and those three round of antibiotics.
So my journey began.
Rebuilding My Gut
I spent the next 18 years learning how to make my stomach work well again.
I tried just about every diet – vegetarian and vegan for a combined 8 years, raw foods, Adkins, Autoimmune Paleo, Nourishing Traditions, and regular Paleo – along with juice and Master Cleanse after juice and Master Cleanse. There were coffee enemas and colonics, which sometimes included probiotics to “re-innoculate” my system. There were infrared saunas, a plethora of bodywork, acupuncture and NAET. There was a lot. But there were NO ANTIBIOTICS.
I had finally found the groove of what worked best for my body (I know I harp on this a lot, but it really IS individual) when the dreaded fibroid appeared. Of course, at first this meant a gentle fight over a small amount of prophylactic antibiotics to be used right before surgery and ended up all the way on the other end of the spectrum when I had IV antibiotics for two weeks due to sepsis from that fibroid surgery.
After I got out of the hospital, I was on another 10 days of oral antibiotics. Then, six and a half months later, another 10 days of antibiotics.
Needless to say, I was NOT psyched about the fact that my gut was now absolutely wiped clean of good bacteria. And if you read or follow any natural health or functional medicine expert, they’ll go on and on about the horrors of antibiotics for your gut and to stay as far away as possible.
Well, that’s not always possible as I learned firsthand. And the thing is, I believe and know in my heart that our bodies have a deep and innate ability to heal.
I recommend only taking antibiotics if you absolutely have to. Give your gut and hormones the best possible shot at thriving health. But if you have/had to take them, were a c-section baby, and/or have been on birth control pills, here are some ways to take your gut health to the next level:
1. Figure out what foods bother your tummy, and remove them. This is a tough one, because it’s often the foods we love the most, but it’s necessary while you are healing your gut. The most common culprits? Sugar, wheat or gluten, dairy, soy, corn. For some people, nightshades and histamine-producing foods. Rather than doing an elimination diet, some people prefer doing a blood test (there are several choices, including IgE, IgG, and MRT are a few options). Or you can keep a food journal and pay close attention to your reactions after meals.
2. Up your mineral intake. Minerals are at the BASE of every system in your body. Thyroid? Zinc, selenium, iodine, copper, chromium, molybdenum, boron, magnesium, manganese. Adrenals? Magnesium, zinc, iron. Gut and skin? Zinc, selenium, silica, manganese, iron, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, and copper. See a pattern? While there are many vitamins that people need to get more of, the deficiency of minerals in the modern day body is staggering. In order to re-build, protect, and heal your gut from antibiotics, minerals are key. Foods high in a variety of minerals include sea vegetables, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, shellfish, mushrooms, and salmon. Most people need to supplement with minerals on some level though (a hair analysis test can tell you which ones your body is low on), and a good place to start is with trace minerals added to water, especially if you are drinking reverse osmosis water.
3. Supplements to strengthen your gut lining. Besides upping your mineral intake, there are certain nutrients that are particularly good for fixing the lining of our gut, which can unfortunately be ravaged by antibiotics, leading to leaky gut. Glutamine is at the tops of the list for gut repair, fish oil, which can help to increase certain beneficial fatty acids in the gut, and vitamins A, C, and E help to reduce gut inflammation. Herbs are also a good idea, including turmeric, fennel, chamomile, ginger and peppermint (and yes, their essential oil versions, too).
4. Probiotics. **SIGH**
After many years of recommending lactobacillus and bifidus-based probiotics, this is no longer an easy thing to do. For the most part, at this point, I only recommend spore-based probiotics. That’s for several reasons, including the amount of people that deal with SIBO, and spore-based have been shown to help, and not hurt, in this situation (though nothing is 100% true for every single person); regular probiotics have been shown to not reinoculate the system, while spore-based can; your average probiotic is dairy-based and developed in a lab vs. spore-based are from the soil. There are certainly detractors of spore-based probiotics, so I recommend doing your research before deciding on one. There is also a recent study that showed using probiotics after a round of antibiotics delayed gut microbiome “reconstitution”, so some experts are now saying you should wait for some time to take probiotics after finishing a round of antibiotics.
Clear as mud, right? Honestly, I recommend working with a practitioner who is highly skilled at muscle testing OR takes stool samples to see what your microbiome currently looks like in order to determine if and what probiotics should be taken.
5. Prebiotics. Prebiotics can also be a little tricky, but maybe a bit easier to figure out than probiotics. Prebiotics are the food that feeds your beneficial bacteria, and are found in such foods as chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, asparagus, and banana, among others. Basically, you could take all the probiotics in the world, and if they don’t have anything to feed off of, they will go the way of the Dodo bird. Besides the fact that these foods feed a microbiome that we don’t even fully understand yet, they are also nutrient-dense in their own right. Some people – such as those with SIBO, IBS, or FODMAPs intolerance – may have trouble with prebiotics, nonetheless, so once again, pay attention to how your body reacts.
6. Body and/or Energy Therapy. Rebuilding your gut goes waaaaaaaay beyond just the foods you eat. You have to heal the whole person, as we say in the holistic world. Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Massage, NAET, EFT, and EMDR are just a few possibilities (and ones that I’m currently doing). I’m planning to add some pelvic floor therapy, too.
7. Stress-management. The often overlooked but probably most important part of gut healing is stress management. Besides the way that stress probably broke your body down and made you need antibiotics in the first place (it did for me via my fibroid, then surgery than went amiss), your body needs support as it heals. You need to be hanging out in your parasympathetic nervous system for repair, and guess what? You can’t be there when you are stressed out, even if it’s “positive” stress. I’ve had to change my life DRASTICALLY in order to make this happen, and set some really clear boundaries with myself and others. But getting to bed between 10-11pm, meditating and taking a nap in the day if necessary, doing stress-releasing exercises, and crafting my schedule so that I have time to do all of these things is making the biggest difference of all in repairing my health.
It’s a process to rebuild your gut after antibiotics, particularly if they stemmed from a chronic pain or illness that you are dealing with. But it’s well worth the trip, because not only are you warding off more serious illnesses having a chance to take over (autoimmune ones are the biggest culprit), but you will inevitably feel better than you did before the whole thing started.
Remember, so much of healing is about MINDSET, so stay empowered as you work through the process!