If you’ve been following health news lately, then you’ve most likely been inundated with information about gut health. Specifically, that the health of your gut microbiome is intimately connected with overall health and even influence mood.

This is all well and good except for the fact that one of the most useful tools in medicine may also be damaging the health of your gut.

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I’m talking about antibiotics.

How can a medical invention that is so useful also be hurting your body?

Let’s take a look at the relationship between antibiotics, gut health, and what you can do to protect yourself!

What’s up with Gut Health?

First and foremost, what are we referring to when we refer to the gut? Turns out this is a lot more complicated than just your stomach.

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The “gut” refers to your entire digestive system, which is made up of an intricate network of organs beginning with your mouth and saliva and working its way through your esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (also called your colon), pancreas, liver, gallbladder, rectum, and anus.

Most of us are familiar with our digestive system when it acts up. For most, the digestive system is rather delicate and can be easily disrupted causing gas, bloating, discomfort, and even pain.

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What causes the digestive system to disrupt?

Well, honestly, lots of things.

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Yet recently, health researchers and scientists are finding a strong connection between gut health and digestive system conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.

Your Gut Microbiome

Within this complicated network of organs that make up your digestive system is a mixture of “good and bad bacteria — called microbiota — that make up the microbiome, yet another incredibly complicated ecosystem within your body. Yet, this microbiome has been found to play an integral role in not only your digestive health but also your mental health, the efficacy of nutrient absorption, energy level … pretty much your overall bodily health.

What Are Antibiotics?

When we think about antibiotics, it’s a mostly positive association, right? Medicine that helps you fight off bacteria? Yes and thank you.

But, what exactly are antibiotics and how do they work?

Is it all gold and sunshine?

The term antibiotic refers to “any substance that inhibits the growth and replication of a bacterium or kills it outright can be called an antibiotic.” Specifically, antibiotics are an antimicrobial that targets “bacterial infections within (or on) the body.”

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Health Risks of Antibiotics

When it comes to antibiotics, it’s not necessarily that using them is bad, but overuse.

Turns out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees as they have warned the public about bacteria that may evolve past the defense of antibiotics. Simply put, if we overuse antibiotics, bacteria may begin to become “immune.”

While there is a list of unhealthy outcomes due to antibiotic overuse, the one we’ll look at today is how antibiotics affect — or negatively affect — your gut health.

For instance, one of the side effects of antibiotic overuse is damage to your gut microbiome.

As we’ve hit upon, your gut is made up of bacteria and your intestines specifically “contain around 100 trillion bacteria of various strains.” Antibiotics, unfortunately, throw the “natural balance in the gut” out of whack, which can conversely wreak havoc with “immunity and proper digestion.”

Why?

Antibiotics go after bacteria — both the good and the bad. On top of that, they can “wipe out many good gut bacteria while leaving those immune to antibiotics to flourish.”

Taking the bacteria gambit a bit further you run into the bacteria evolution issue. Specifically, the fact that antibiotics help bacteria evolve defenses against themselves. For instance, a study discovered that “bacteria passing through the colon can transfer their resistance genes to other forms of bacteria.”

This means that bacteria can learn from other bacteria.

Foods to Protect Your Gut

This is all well and good except for the fact that at one time or another we’re going to have to take antibiotics. So, how can you help protect your gut while taking antibiotics? You may not be able to avoid damage altogether, but there are definitely certain foods and supplements to take that will help your gut bacteria fight back and heal damage.

Probiotic Supplements

Given what we know about the gut microbiome and the fact that it relies on an intricate balance of bacteria, shouldn’t there be something out there that helps us do that?

Yes!

Probiotic supplements offer one of the easiest ways to keep your gut microbiome healthy on a daily and continual basis. Probiotics are simply good bacteria “that are either the same as or very similar to the bacteria that are already in your body.” The supplemental form of probiotics is encapsulated strains of bacteria. There are a number of different types of probiotic supplements out there that are meant to match up with your specific gut needs.

This means it’s important to do some research before selecting your go-to probiotic.

Decide why you want to take them — beyond protecting your gut from antibiotic damage — and then choose a supplement company that meets your standards. Try out this Guide to Probiotics to help you decide on the one that works best for your body. When it comes to supplement companies, it’s recommended to find a probiotic company that focuses on zero fillers, binders, or artificial ingredients, as well as uses non-GMO, organic, and natural ingredients.

Take a look at the Guide to Probiotics for some vegan and vegetarian probiotic recommendations!

Probiotics and Fermented Foods

Raw Purple Sauerkraut

Source: Raw Purple Sauerkraut

Maybe supplements just aren’t your jam and you’d rather go all-natural with your probiotic intake? This is definitely an option!

With that said, just as you have to do your research with probiotic supplements, it’s important to do research on probiotic foods.

You’ll hear that kombucha is a probiotic food due to the fact that it’s made from fermented tea and it is definitely a great source of probiotics. On the other hand, many store-bought or restaurant made kombuchas overuse sugar meaning the sugar content is ridiculously high. Therefore, if you are sensitive to sugar or want to reduce sugar intake then don’t make kombucha your main source of probiotics.

Rather opt for a nutritious alternative such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, coconut kefir, miso, tofu, and tempeh!

Try a few of these probiotic food-rich recipes: Raw Purple Sauerkraut, Potato Kimchi PancakesWakame SoupGarlic Miso and Onion SoupMiso Coriander Stir-Fry with Sweet Potato Noodles, Crispy Spicy Tofu, Tempeh Picatta, or this Sunflower ‘Cheddar’ Spread.

You can also simply purchase pre-made probiotic foods such as this Oregon Brineworks Organic Raw, Fermented Classic Sauerkraut or this no sugar added Madge’s Food Company Premium Vegan Kimchi.

Prebiotic Foods

Anti-inflammatory Cocoa

Source: Anti-Inflammatory Cocoa

Yet, it’s not just as simple as taking a probiotic every day. Turns out that your probiotic needs a bit of food in order to really make it work.

This is where prebiotic foods come into play!

Prebiotics are “fibers fermented by our intestinal microflora” that are found in “non-digestible food compounds found in carbohydrate-rich foods.” These prebiotic foods help to “stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria that is associated with our health and well-being.” Prebiotics include “inulin and oligofructose (OF), lactulose, and resistant starch (RS).”

Luckily, prebiotics are resplendent in a plant-based diet! Most likely, you’re already eating a few of these prebiotic-rich foods such as Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, apples, and barley. Yet, there is a handful of prebiotic foods that you may not be aware of such as dandelion greens and a variety of roots including chicory, konjac, burdock, and yacon. On top of that, cocoa is also a great source of prebiotic fiber!

Try a few of these prebiotic-filled foods: Creamy Polenta with Caramelized Chicory, Asparagus Risotto, Healthy Artichoke Dip, Anti-Inflammatory Cocoa, or this Raw Garlic Butter.

High Fiber Foods

Pear Salad with Crispy Chickpea Croutons

Source: Pear Salad with Crispy Chickpea Croutons

Fiber-rich foods are one of the best ways to ensure that your gut is getting the nutrient and bacteria boost it needs! To be clear, fiber doesn’t actually add bacteria, but research has found that fiber acts as a great nutrient source for bacteria. This means the more fiber you consume, the more food you’re providing for your gut bacteria, and the stronger and more diverse they can become.

On top of that, fiber is a great natural way to keep your digestive system in check and make sure that you’re regular every day!

Plant-based foods are filled with fiber! Yet some of the best sources include pears, strawberries and raspberries, avocado, apples, beets, broccoli, artichoke, Brussels sprouts, lentils, beans, oats, and chia seeds.

Try a few of these fiber-filled recipes: Pear Salad with Crispy Chickpea Croutons, Fresh Sambal, and Mashed Avocado, Apple Sweet Potato and Mushroom Hash, Raspberry Glazed Tempeh, Purple Cabbage Chickpea Boats, Kidney Bean and Lentil Curry, Artichoke and Pesto Walnut Pie, or this Coconut Greens and Chickpea Loaded Sweet Potato.

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Looking to take a deeper dive into antibiotics and probiotics? Here are some resources to get you started!

Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!

Wholegrain Flaxseed and Sesame Crackers/One Green Planet

Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammationheart healthmental wellbeingfitness goalsnutritional needsallergiesgut health and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked many health problems, including acnehormonal imbalancecancerprostate cancer and has many side effects.

For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.

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