Our Gut Microbiota Almost Fully Recovers After Antibiotics, Study Finds

Image by Guille Faingold

With the seasons changing, you may be faced with a decision—to take or not take the antibiotic your doctor is recommending. Antibiotics can be necessary to treat some bacterial infections, but taking them causes many to think, "Oh no! My gut!" because of previous research that links antibiotic use with throwing our bacterial composition out of whack. New research is allowing us to breathe a little easier, indicating that antibiotics might not be as destructive to gut health as previously thought.

In a new study, scientists examined the effects of short-term intensive antibiotic use on the gut microbiota, and while antibiotics can deplete our gut of beneficial bacteria, it appears as though the body has the ability to replenish itself to a certain extent.

In the study, three different types of antibiotics were given to young men over the course of four days, and this depleted the gut of almost all beneficial gut bacteria. The participants were monitored over a six-month period, and the gut did recover most of the gut bacteria after six months, but the men were missing nine beneficial gut bacteria species. On top of that, new detrimental bacteria strains were detected in the mix.

While this is generally good news, the concern remains that multiple antibiotic treatments over the course of a lifetime could permanently eliminate beneficial bacteria in the gut, altering the diversity in the gut microbiota permanently. This is important to consider as the health of our gut microbiota plays a major role in things like our metabolic and cardiovascular health.

If you do have to take antibiotics, there are ways you can help your body recover. Functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, M.D., recommends eating a low-carb diet and taking prebiotics and probiotics.

Prebiotics are considered a soluble fiber and can be found naturally in onions and sweet potatoes. For more probiotics, try incorporating more pineapple, tempeh, or miso into your day-to-day. Multi-strain probiotics can also be taken in capsule form.

As mbg expert and gut specialist Vincent M. Pedre, M.D., points out, incorporating a mix of the two is essential for gut health. As prebiotics feed the good bacteria, probiotics defend against bad bacteria and parasites. When the two are taken together, you can be sure you are on the road to better gut health.

So, when the time comes and you need to take antibiotics—and fingers crossed you stay well—rest assured knowing your body is doing what it can to recover, but it can't hurt to help it along.

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