Published July 9th, 2020
Antibiotics vs. Probiotics, this sounds awfully like some villain versus hero scenario. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Antibiotics and probiotics both have critical roles when it comes to our health. These two have something to do about the bacteria population within our bodies.
Within our body resides tens of trillions of bacteria, both good and bad. These bacteria or microbiota mostly populate our guts and make up what is called our body’s microbiome.
What makes the microbiome important?
According to an article from Harvard, “Microbiota stimulate the immune system, break down potentially toxic food compounds, and synthesize certain vitamins and amino acids.” The microbiome helps prevent chronic diseases like certain cancers and bowel disorders.
How do antibiotics and probiotics affect the microbiome?
Probiotics are live bacteria or yeast that are good for you. They mainly aid digestion and prevent bowel irritations. When you take probiotics, they repopulate the “good” bacteria found in your microbiome.
On the other hand, antibiotics do the opposite. They kill off bacteria in your body, which could otherwise cause infection. In doing so, they sometimes kill off that “good” bacteria in your body too.
Which one should I take?
Antibiotics and probiotics serve different functions. That isn’t to say that one is more important than the other. If you want to know the answer to this question, you’ll need to assess what you need.
Antibiotics, according to WebMD, “are medicines that help stop infections caused by bacteria. They do this by killing the bacteria or by keeping them from copying themselves or reproducing.”
The first true antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered by Alexander Fleming back in 1928. Life expectancy has considerably increased since the discovery of antibiotics. Many common diseases that used to kill people were made easily curable because of this.
We’re aware now that bacteria live in our bodies. Most of these are harmless, but some of them are the opposite. The immune system can fight off most of the harmful bacteria. But it can get problematic when there are too many of them. This exact situation is when antibiotics come in handy.
Antibiotics attack the bacteria and stifle their reproduction. This prevents bacterial infection, which could result in the following diseases:
- Ear and sinus infections
- Skin infections
- Gum infections
- Strep throat
- Bladder and kidney infections
The benefits of antibiotics are undoubted, but there are side effects. In killing off harmful bacteria, some good bacteria are also killed. This throws off the balance of our microbiome, which could result in the following:
And, most commonly, antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD).
This is where probiotics come in. Probiotics help fight imbalances to our microbiome. They do this by introducing new good bacteria and promoting their reproduction too. The diseases they mainly treat are bowel-related ones. These include irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea.
You can buy over-the-counter probiotic supplements, but you can also find them in food. The most popular probiotic-rich food are:
So, if antibiotics kill some good bacteria and probiotics repopulate them, should I take the two together?
I can’t give a definitive answer to that. After doing some research, I found that there are studies that contradict each other. One article from the journal Cell found that probiotics delay the microbiome’s return to normalcy.
In their study, they conducted tests on both humans and mice. Both groups took antibiotics at the start. One group was then given probiotics while the other was given placebos. The group that took the placebos returned to normalcy after three weeks. The other group did show growth in helpful bacteria but returned to normalcy much later.
In contrast, an article from the JAMA network concluded that probiotics aided AAD. The researchers conducted a literature review of probiotics and their effects on AAD. Their study found a positive correlation between probiotics being able to aid AAD. They also found no significant difference in the impact between different age groups.
Overall, probiotics and antibiotics can aid our bodies in their own ways. However, it would be best to consult a physician before taking anything new.
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About The Author
Terrence Tan Ting is an industrial engineer by profession but a full time writer by passion. He loves to write about a wide range of topics from many different industries thanks to his undying curiosity.