Do Antibiotics Have Adverse Effects on Your Immune System? Plus Ways To Support It

Updated on September 29th, 2020
Antibiotics and Immune System

Living in the middle of a crisis has a way of making people reassess their lifestyle habits and overall health. While getting enough sleep and eating a nutrient-rich diet may seem obvious, other seemingly healthy practices—like taking antibiotics—might not be as advantageous.

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are potent medicines used to treat certain conditions/illnesses. However, antibiotics do not treat everything, and unrequired antibiotics can even be detrimental.

There are 2 two major types of germs that cause most infections. These are bacteria and viruses.

Bacteria cause:

  • Most ear infections
  • Some sinus infections
  • Strep throat
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Antibiotics do kill specific bacteria.

Viruses cause:

  • Runny noses
  • Most sore throats
  • Most coughs and bronchitis
  • Colds and flu

Antibiotics help you feel better when you have a virus or cannot kill viruses. 

Some bacteria cause symptoms that resemble viral infections and some viruses can cause symptoms that resemble bacterial infections. Your physician can diagnose what kind of illness you have and prescribe the proper type of treatment.

What are resistant bacteria?

Every time you take an antibiotic, bacteria are destroyed. Few times, bacteria causing infections are already resistant to recommended antibiotics. Bacteria may also become resistant while treating an infection. Resistant bacteria may not respond to the antibiotics and continue to cause infection.

A general misconception is that a person’s body becomes resistant to particular medicines. However, it is the bacteria, not individuals, that become resistant to medications.

Every time you give your child or take an antibiotic improperly or unnecessarily, you increase the chances of contracting medicine-resistant bacteria. Therefore, it is critically essential to take antibiotics only when required. Some illnesses that used to be simple to treat are becoming nearly challenging because of these resistant bacteria.

[Read: Home Remedies for Bacterial Infections]

Bacteria can develop resistance to specific medicines:

Medicine resistance happens when bacteria adapt to survive the use of medicines meant to weaken or kill them.

If a germ becomes resistant to multiple medicines, treating the infections can become challenging or even impossible.

Someone with illness resistant to a particular medication can pass that resistant infection to another individual. In this way, a tough to treat condition can be spread from individual to individual.

In some instances, the antibiotic-resistant infection may lead to severe disability or even death. 

Resistance can happen if bacterial infection is only partially treated. To avoid this, it is essential to complete taking the entire prescription of antibiotics as prescribed, even if your child feels great.

When are antibiotics needed?

This tricky question, which should be answered by your physician, depends on the specific diagnosis. For instance, there are various types of ear infections—most require antibiotics, but some do not. Viruses cause most cases of sore throat. One kind, strep throat, diagnosed by a lab test, needs antibiotics.

Like a cold or a cough, common viral infections can sometimes become complicated, and a bacterial infection can develop. Moreover, treating viral infections with antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections is not suggested because of the risk of bacterial resistance.

[Read: How to Get Rid of a Bacterial Infection without Antibiotics]

Can antibiotics weaken the immune system?

Unrequired use of antibiotics, as well as OTC (over-the-counter) drugs, can damage gut health. Though in the proper context, these medicines can be useful for our health, over time, and when not used properly, they appear to disrupt the gut barrier and the microbiome’s health.

Overprescribed antibiotics are the primary reason for an imbalance of gut bacteria or gut dysbiosis. This is because while antibacterials (also called antibiotics) do their job of slowing or killing harmful bacteria’s growth, they may even tamper with the right type. 

Antibiotic-triggered microbiota alterations can remain after prolonged periods, spanning years, and even decades, one researcher says. This alteration in the gut microbiome may result in weakened immunity. 

[Read: Natural Ways to Support Immune System]

How does gut health affect immunity?

Seventy-five to eighty-five percent of our immune system is present in the gut. This means that the immune system and the gut are in constant communication [1]. 

Anything that changes the gut’s normal state and its flora can influence its function, and antibiotics kill off a broad strip’s microbiome. 

[Read: Gut Health ad Immune System]

How to support your immunity and gut after antibiotics:

1. Add probiotics and prebiotics

Taking a probiotic supplement can improve gut health and nourish the good bacteria in your microbiome [2].

It is recommended to take a broad-strain probiotic with 200 billion colony-forming units (CFU) for at least six months after antibiotic treatment. 

After finishing a course of antibiotics, it is also recommended to eat a healthy probiotic and prebiotic-rich diet.

Prebiotics help nourish probiotics, and they are present in foods like jicama, asparagus, leeks, and garlic. Probiotics are commonly present in fermented foods, like kefir, yogurt, pickles, and kimchi. Take it gradually in the beginning, as it can be tough to digest some of these things.

[Read: How to Choose Probiotics for Immunity]

2. Restrict processed foods. 

Processed sugars and carbohydrates can harm gut health. Research shows animals fed a high-sugar, high-fat diet—very similar to what you’ll find in most processed foods—have a less healthy and less diverse range of gut flora. Swapping processed chips or desserts with healthy fruits, snacks, and vegetables can improve gut health. 

3. Stay active. 

Research has shown that workouts can alter the gut microbiome and support overall health. Moderate activities can also help minimize stress, which can impact the gut microbiome via the brain-gut axis. Adding Pilates, yoga, or a brisk walk to a daily regimen can restore a balanced gut microbiome. 

Bottom Line

If a physician prescribes antibiotics, it’s probably for the right reason. Antibiotics are vital for bacterial infections, like bacterial pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTI), mastitis, strep throat, etc.

These infections will generally respond to antibiotics in around a week, and alterations to the gut will happen after just a few doses. At that point, it’s better to finish the course and make sure the infection is gone—then you can work on healing the gut.

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