To explain a little, probiotics are simply the combat for antibiotics. Both, essentially, are needed, and good things. Antibiotics are given to patients who need to fight off a harmful bacteria that is present in their body somewhere. The antibiotics wipe out all bacteria found in the system. However, the body always has a balance of good and bad bacteria. We get both kinds from food breakdown, water, contact, etc. When we are feeling healthy, we have a better balance of good bacteria, they are essentially "Winning". When we start feeling symptoms of an infection, it means the bad bacteria are essentially "winning", so to speak. So when an antibiotic wipes out all your bacteria, its also depleting your good bacteria. Because of this, when you are on antibiotic therapy, you might start to experience unpleasant symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, etc.). To help combat this its really important to replace your good bacteria. How can you do this, might you ask? The answer is probiotics.
Probiotics can be found in many ways. The easiest way for the common population is yogurt. This is easy to tell patients and anyone that doesn't feel comfortable buying a "box/bottle of bacteria". Yogurt just sounds more....easier to stomach? A lot of people don't understand. They think that by purposefully putting bacteria into their system, even if its good, that is harmful. What they don't GET is that you're doing yourself an extreme favor. You think its gross putting good bacteria into your system? What about putting bad bacteria into your system when you drink bad water, or food poisoning, or accidentally put your fingers in your mouth after touching everything? By taking probiotics, you help the "good guys" win inside your body. You help your body restore its natural balance, so the good guys can win the war and keep you healthy.
Now, yogurt is the simplest form. However its also a very small dosage. Also, for people that also firmly believe in the anti-lactose theory, I cannot get probiotics from yogurt. However there are lots of other ways to attain them. Some of the big brands you may have heard of are, "Align", or "Phillips Colon Health", or, what I take and love, "Culturelle". There are also many many other combinations. Each one has their own unique effect and if you do choose to try one, its important to find one that works well with your body. For example, Align and I didn't get along at all. For some reason that strain of bacteria, even though it was good, didn't sit well with me. However Culturelle, what I take, is what I believe to be the cause of my usual good health nowadays.
So, going back to my title, I get really, really really frustrated when my patients are on antibiotics (strong ones at that) and yet they never, ever get replacement probiotic therapy. And then the patients end up with a new strain of bad-bacteria that happens when your good bacteria is depleted, its called c-difficile. This causes extremely unpleasant diarrhea. When you get this, your doctor will give you yet another antibiotic to treat the new bad bacteria, and yet they NEVER mention probiotics! It drives me nuts. Then I try and educate my patients on everything they need to know about probiotics in a nutshell, and they ask me how come their doctor has never told them to do this, and my face usually says it all without saying anything.
However, recently I had a patient on your typical IV(intravenous) antibiotic. After a couple days in the hospital she started developing the typical diarrhea. Now, her family started freaking out- What is this? What is wrong with her now? Why is she having diarrhea?? Can she have imodium?? Well, the MD (doctor) was called to tell him about this new diarrhea, and the nurse prior to me asked if she could have some imodium. His response, much to my surprise, was: "She can have one dose of Imodium but I'm prescribing some yogurt three times a day. I really want to push some probiotics here."
I was. ASTOUNDED. That was the first time, in my life, I've ever heard a doctor push the probiotics. Not just in my small RN career, but as a patient for 22 years with many, many many stomach issues. I almost literally jumped for joy for that doctor. I wanted to call him back myself and say, GOOD JOB! Finally!
I can't even tell you why doctors don't do this automatically, prophylactic. Is it because they aren't educated about it in school? Maybe. I don't know. Is it because they don't "believe" in anything thats not an actual drug? Probiotic therapy can be considered holistic therapy, is that out of their range of practice entirely? Drives me nuts.
On a sidenote, I had a patient recently that was admitted for severe migraines. The doctors were running every test and scan under the sun and they couldn't find any reason for these severe headaches. When I found out they were chronic migraines, I started thinking. I received her as a patient on her third day already in the hospital. When I went in to go see her, I asked her if she had ever seen any specialist for these migraines. A neurologist? A nutritionist? An Allergist? An Opthamologist? Anything? Her answer was no.
So I sat down with her and did a little tiny nutrition consult with her. I went over the top 5 foods that cause migraines. Turns out, she eats all of them. A lot. I taught her ways to take these foods out of her system and how to replace them. I taught her about the benefits to seeing an allergist, and that they can help you figure out if you're actually allergic or intolerant to a type of food that can actually be causing your migraines. I asked about vision, and she said she used to wear glasses until "she didn't need them anymore". I told her she should see an eye-doctor just in case, because your eyes may be straining to see and you don't even know it. However, nutrition alone, the first thing I went over, is enough to fix 85% of her migraines, I can guarantee it. Her and her family asked why, despite her being in the hospital (which everyone believes to be the big savior to all your problems), no doctor has ever told her anything I just did. Again, my response was...........I wish I knew. I can't bash the doctors in for not educating their patients, that is strictly against my range of job description. And yet how do I tell my patient honestly that the doctors didn't tell you this because they don't know? The doctors are so focused on drugs and tests, before something as simple as talking about nutrition. She eats the top 5 foods that cause migraines! Think about it!
Anyway, vent over.
There are some things I just want to go over about probiotics, while I'm still talking about them (well, I was). This is just in case I may have caught your attention and you want to try taking them. Here are some pointers.
- Remember that it is important to find the one that works for you. If you experience unpleasant symptoms from one for a long period of time (more than a week), its time to try another one. Don't give up on them entirely.
- If you've never taken a probiotic before, you most likely WILL get symptoms from them, no matter what brand you choose. This is simply because your body is greeting the new good bacteria, the war has officially begun inside your body, and basically, war isn't pleasant. The good guys will start to win and resulting, expel all the bad bacteria from your body. This will result in some diarrhea, and maybe nausea, but the side effects should disappear after a couple of days. It is important to continue taking them regularly despite symptom occurrence. If you stop taking them, the bad bacteria will start to win again and you'll just be back to square one. By taking them regularly, its like sending in troops to fight the war. By continuously sending in good, healthy new fresh troops to fight, your chances of winning are a lot better.
- Probiotics can help cure much more than just combating antibiotic therapy. Basically, if you are at an overall health status (by this I mean, no infection present), probiotic therapy CAN be your antibiotic therapy. GOing back to my military analogy, if you have a team of 10,000 good-guy troops maintaining an area, (in this case, your body), then if one or two or three bad guys come in to cause trouble, they are going to die instantly. Your gut (stomach, intestines) is actually one of your biggest immune response fighters. By maintaining a healthy gut, your strengthening your immune response exponentially. This means that probiotics will help fend off colds. They will increase your chances of not getting sick when you drink bad water or bad food. They will increase your chances of not getting sick when travelling abroad. Probiotics in general are known for also regulating the bowels, meaning if you had diarrhea- now you won't, and if you were constipated, now you won't be. Basically, bad bacteria cause irregularity of the bowels. Depending on the strain, it causes diarrhea or constipation. The probiotics help reverse either one. By reversing either symptom, it also will exponentially delete any symptoms of nausea as well. Double win!
- It is important to remember that although probiotic therapy is amazing for the immune response, it cannot fight against a virus. It WILL help keep your OWN immune system STRONG so that if a virus DOES enter your body, YOUR own body might be able to fend it off before you even get symptoms. But if you already have a virus, starting a probiotic regime is not going to solve anything. This is why when a friend of mine has a cold, I don't start them on probiotics immediately. I tell them to ride it out, and then start probiotics to maintain health when you are feeling better.
- It is VERY important to realize that although I'm not a terrific huge fan of antibiotics, they are still life-saving in some cases. They are not to be shunned, and if your doctor does prescribe one to you, it is important to take it. I am in no way saying that you shouldn't. HOWEVER, this is when its especially important to take probiotics. If you don't want to go big on them, all you have to do is try some yogurt. Thats all. However the Biggest most Important thing here, is that you do not take both at the same time. DO NOT take your antibiotic pill and your probiotic at the same time, it will cancel each other out and accomplish nothing. It is important that if you are prescribed an antibiotic twice a day, to maybe take your probiotic in between your antibiotic. Regardless of the timing, be sure to space them both out so they both have a chance for your body to react and do their job.
- Once you start probiotic therapy, it is important to achieve a "maintenance dose". This dose should be fairly small (usually one pill a day). This dose is important to take when nothing is abnormal. No weird symptoms going on, you feel healthy, you're not travelling, you didn't eat anything weird, you haven't been exposed to anything funky recently....BUT, if you HAVE done anything I just said, its important to "boost" your dose a bit. Its important to try and figure out what works for your body and how long you need to do it. If I am exposed to someone else being really sick, I'll take maybe two pills a day for however long I'm going to be exposed. If I'm travelling and eating different foods than what I'm used to, I might take two a day, or even up to 4. If I'm starting to feel sick, I'll boost it up until I feel better. Get it?
I think thats all I have to say. Whew! Long post. I hope some of you have found this helpful. I know when I started probiotics, I went from being nauseous every single day to hardly-ever. And when I accidentally skip a day or two, I can tell, because my symptoms start coming back.
It is really important to remember here that I am not a doctor. All the information provided above is from my own personal knowledge and own personal experience. It has not been taken from any website or book, but instead is a collection of knowledge from many sources in my past. It is important to know that if you do choose to start probiotic therapy, that it is your own choice and I am not your doctor. I am a firm believer in them, but that doesn't necessarily mean they work for everyone. If you have any questions about probiotics, feel free to leave a comment. I hope it works for some of you and this wasn't a really boring post.
Thank you all for reading! With love,