Antibiotics are a life-saving tool in the treatment of bacterial infections, from infected wounds to diseases like tuberculosis. Although commonly prescribed antibiotics are well tolerated, they are not always immediately effective, and some side effects can occur. Supplements may help support your body during a course of antibiotics. However, you should always consult your doctor before taking supplements to rule out any harmful interactions.
Why Supplement While Taking Antibiotics?
There are many different types of antibiotics, each targeted to treat a specific type of infection. A few can cause serious side effects that impact your liver, kidneys or bones. Most exhibit only mild to moderate side effects, such as gastrointestinal upset, fatigue and yeast infections. However, some of these undesirable effects may lead you to seek help from additional supplements. Further, some vitamins may help to support the antibiotics’ effects, shortening your recovery time.
Probiotics and Antibiotics
The most common supplements taken with antibiotics are called probiotics. Antibiotics are meant to destroy harmful bacteria, but they can also affect the bacteria your body needs to digest food, leading to diarrhea and stomach upset. Probiotics may help to put the “good” bacteria back in. A 2006 review published in the "Journal of Clinical Gastroentology" shows probiotics to be helpful at treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea in adults and children. The probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii appears to be most effective on adults, while children responded better to Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. These bacteria can be found in foods like miso and yogurt, or in supplement form. Quality is important -- look for the label “live and active cultures” on any food or supplement.
Vitamin C and Antibiotics
The relationship between vitamin C and antibiotics is not fully understood. In the "Journal of Applied Nutrition," an article argues that vitamin C’s reputation as a disease-fighter is due to powerful and underused antibiotic properties of its own. Vitamin C may also improve the health of your body’s “good” bacteria. A 2002 study of cows with infected udders showed that cows treated with both antibiotics and vitamin C healed more quickly than those treated with antibiotics alone. However, sufficient studies have not been conducted on humans, and the University of Maryland Medical Center cautions that vitamin C may interact negatively with antibiotics in the tetracycline family. Consult your doctor before starting vitamin C supplementation with antibiotics.
Vitamin D and Antibiotics
Vitamin D deficiency has long been implicated in a variety of infections and diseases, and may, according to a study in “Future Microbiology,” lead to poor healing time and poor response to conventional antibiotic treatment that can be resolved with vitamin D supplements. A 2011 study conducted by scientists at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry shows that the addition of vitamin D to regular antibiotics helped speed recovery time for tuberculosis patients with a certain type of genetic vitamin D receptor. These studies imply that vitamin D supplementation may help antibiotics to work effectively, but many more studies must be conducted before positive recommendations can be made. Ask your doctor whether vitamin D supplements are right for you.
- The Merck Manual of Medical Information, 2nd Home Edition; Antibiotics
- Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology: Probiotics for the Prevention of Antibiotic-associated Diarrhea
- Journal of Applied Nutrition: The Use of Vitamin C as an Antibiotic
- Orthomolecular.org: Antibiotics and Vitamins Work Together
- VaccineNewsDaily.com: Vitamin D May Speed TB Recovery Times
- Future Microbiology: Vitamin D-Antimicrobial Peptide Pathway
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Possible Interactions With Vitamin C