What you need to know about antibiotics

Antibiotics is the name given to a group of drugs that are used to fight bacterial infections in the body. Antibiotics have saved millions of lives since the discovery of penicillin in 1928. However, due to its overuse, drug resistant bacteria have become a problem and it is important to limit Antibiotic use to those cases where it is absolutely necessary.

Antibiotics come in a number of different brands, colours, sizes, and forms including liquids, tablets, capsules and creams. Antibiotics can only be prescribed by a medical doctor, usually when an infection is of a serious nature. Many patients expect Antibiotics to be the cure for every ailment known to man. Patients often pressurise doctors to prescribe Antibiotics for viral infections (influenza for example) on which it has no effect.

Antibiotics also have a range of undesirable side effects including:

  • Repeated use of Antibiotics may decrease the effectiveness of the immune system and can contribute to nutrient loss. Antibiotics can adversely affect the availability of vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, folic acid, zinc, calcium and magnesium. Antibiotics can also cause diarrhoea leading to further loss of minerals.
  • ‘Good’ bacteria are required in the gut for the digestion and absorption of nutrients. ‘Good’ bacteria also play a role in preventing further bacterial infections. Unfortunately most Antibiotics wipe out many of the helpful bacteria as well as those which make us sick. This may increase the likelihood of future bacterial and fungal infections. Many women get thrush after a course of Antibiotics for this reason.
  • Incorrect or over use of Antibiotics help create varieties of bacteria which no longer respond to these medicines. This is becoming a major health problem, particularly for patients in hospitals where most of these bugs are found.

Treatment options

Always consult your Doctor for diagnosis and advice. Your Doctor will prescribe Antibiotics only if he/she thinks this type of treatment is warranted. Your Doctor may isolate the exact bacteria causing your illness to be sure it is not an Antibiotic resistant strain. Always inform your Doctor of any drug allergies or past reactions to Antibiotics you may have experienced. Always complete the full course of Antibiotics as prescribed by your Doctor. Do not take Antibiotics or medications prescribed for others.

Diet hints

  • Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods.
  • Eat plenty of wholegrain cereals, fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep your diet high in fibre to give good bacteria the best chance to recolonise the intestines.
  • Try to cut down on foods with yeast and a high sugar content e.g. yeast spreads, breads and sweets. This should decrease the risk of thrush and other yeast infections. Natural yoghurt with live acidophilus and bifidus cultures may help recolonise the intestine with helpful bacteria.
  • Drink plenty of water (6 to 8 glasses per day).

Vitamins/minerals/herbs

Acidophilus will help recolonise the bowel with good bacteria. Garlic and Echinacea may aid resistance to infection.

A general antioxidant may be also be used.

Slippery elm capsules may be taken to feed the good bacteria and help eliminate overgrowth of candida (thrush).

Pharmacist’s advice

  • Ask your Pharmacist for the best advice.
  • Follow the Diet Hints. If the diet is inadequate consider some supplements. Probiotics are suggested to restore the friendly bacteria in the bowel.
  • As Antibiotics increase the demand for B group vitamins, additional B Group might be of benefit if dietary intake is inadequate.
  • If you are taking the contraceptive pill, your Antibiotic may lower its effectiveness. Check with your Pharmacist if you should use another form of contraception while taking the Antibiotic.