Taking probiotics while on antibiotics could protect your gut microbiome

FORT WORTH, Texas — People on antibiotics may benefit from taking probiotics at the same time, according to new research.

The “good bacteria” protects gut health, reducing the risk of diarrhea and other side-effects, according to researchers from the U.S. and Mexico.

“Like in a human community, we need people that have different professions because we don’t all know how to do every single job. And so the same happens with bacteria. We need lots of different gut bacteria that know how to do different things,” says Dr. Elisa Marroquin, an assistant professor at Texas Christian University, in a media release.

Doctors prescribe countless varieties of antibiotics every year to treat infections. They can be incredibly effective, but also have the potential to damage your gut health. The microbiome consists of trillions of organisms that live in the intestines — helping to stave off disease. Usually, antibiotics do not solely target the bacteria that’s causing an infection.

Scientists believe this disruption can last up to two years. Common symptoms also include bloating.

“Even though we haven’t come up with a single definition of what is a healthy gut microbiome, one of the constant things we observe in healthy people is that they have a higher level of diversity and more variety of bacteria in the gut,” Dr. Marroquin adds.

The study authors pooled results from 29 studies published over the past seven years involving thousands of patients across the world.

“When participants take antibiotics, we see several consistent changes in some bacterial species. But when treatment was combined with probiotics, the majority of those changes were less pronounced and some changes were completely prevented,” Marroquin continues.

Probiotics lessen some antibiotic-induced changes to the human gut microbiome. (CREDIT: Fernández-Alonso et al., Journal of Medical Microbiology 2022)

Probiotics could become a gut-healthy cure-all

Previous research has demonstrated that probiotics reduce gastrointestinal side-effects from antibiotics. However, there has been debate over whether taking them also preserves the diversity and composition of microbes in the gut. Some healthcare professionals are reluctant to recommend the combination for fear of further altering the delicate balance in a patient’s gut.

The study in the Journal of Medical Microbiology is the first systematic review to assess the effect, making it the most comprehensive of its kind.

It found probiotics prevent or lessen antibiotic-induced changes to gut bacteria and protect species diversity. They even restore populations of friendly bacteria such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, which reduce inflammation and boost the intestinal barrier. A “leaky gut” fuels pro-inflammatory cytokines, proteins that fuel disease by increasing blood flow around sites of infection.

“Considering the human data available up to this point, there does not seem to be a reason to withhold a prescription of probiotics when antibiotics are prescribed,” Dr. Marroquin concludes.

Probiotics have been touted as a treatment for a huge range of conditions, from obesity to mental health problems. One of their popular uses is to replenish the gut microbiome after a course of antibiotics. Dr. Marroquin’s research is the first solid evidence suggesting they actually work in this way.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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