Most pet owners know that antibiotics kill off both the harmful and the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. Those beneficial bacteria are a crucial part of the immune system, protecting our pets against viruses, bacterial and fungal infections, as well as parasites.
Intestinal bacteria also manufacture essential vitamins (including vitamin K as well as several B vitamins) and a great many other compounds scientists are only just beginning to recognize.
Because we want to restore those good bugs after antibiotic use it’s common to follow a course of antibiotics with a round of probiotics to restore the colony of beneficial bacteria and bring the body back to balance.
What if this didn’t happen?
Recent research shows this is just the case.
Martin Blaser of New York University’s Langone Medical Center argues that antibiotics’ impact on gut bacteria is permanent and so serious in their long term consequences that medicine should consider whether to restrict antibiotic prescribing to pregnant women and young children.
Early evidence from my lab and others hints that, sometimes, our friendly flora never fully recover. These long-term changes to the beneficial bacteria within people’s bodies may even increase our susceptibility to infections and disease. Overuse of antibiotics could be fuelling the dramatic increase in conditions such as obesity, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies and asthma, which have more than doubled in many populations.
Like their human counterparts, dogs are often subjected to more than a few rounds of antibiotics in their lives.
Now that researchers are actively investigating antibiotics and understanding their long term impact not just on the intestinal flora, but in creating antibiotic resistant superbugs, it’s a good time to look back to more natural antibacterial solutions that are kinder to the beneficial bacteria.
The big problem with the Western diet,’ Stephen O’Keefe, a gastroenterologist at the University of Pittsburgh, told me, ‘is that it doesn’t feed the gut, only the upper GI [gastrointestinal tract]. All the food has been processed to be readily absorbed, leaving nothing for the lower GI.
The beneficial bacteria found in foods (especially fermented foods like kefir), have been shown to calm the immune system and reduce inflammation, shorten the duration and severity of colds, relieve diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome, reduce allergic responses, stimulate the immune response, possibly reduce the risk of certain cancers; and improve the health and function of the gut. Sometimes antibiotics can’t be avoided and they can absolutely save lives. Given recent research, it might be best to save them as a last resort, rather than a first line of attack. Better yet, their use can often be avoided altogether with a fresh, whole food diet and natural herbs and foods.