There are more than 100 trillion bacteria living in your body. You have more bacteria than cells, according to dairy industry website USProbiotics.org. Many of these bacteria are helpful, aiding in digestion, strengthening your immune system and keeping less-friendly bacteria in check. When harmful bacteria cause illness or infection, you might use an antibiotic to kill those bacteria. Unfortunately, some of the beneficial probiotic bacteria are also destroyed. Taking supplemental probiotics during your course of antibiotics can replenish the good bacteria and help reduce some of the side effects of taking antibiotics -- especially diarrhea.
From the Latin "pro" and "biota" -- meaning "for life" -- probiotics are defined as "live micro-organisms administered in adequate amounts which confer a beneficial health effect on the host" by the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization. These living bacteria colonize in your lower GI tract and must be able to survive digestion to be effective. There are more than 1,000 types of probiotics, and each strain has a distinct benefit.
Antibiotic Side Effects
Antibiotics can cause physical side effects such as gas, cramping, bloating and diarrhea. According to a Science Daily article, one on five people may stop using their antibiotics before treatment is finished because of diarrhea. To treat antibiotic-related diarrhea, you need Saccharomyces boulardii -- a type of beneficial yeast -- and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG -- a type of bacteria. CNN reports that taking antibiotics opens a window for pathogens that can cause diarrhea because antibiotics kill both harmful and beneficial bacteria. Taking probiotics helps fight these pathogens, particularly Clostridium difficile, which is the most common cause of diarrhea associated with antibiotic use.
Although you can take probiotics while using antibiotics, do not take them at the same time. The National Institutes of Health recommends waiting at least two hours before or after taking your antibiotic to consume your probiotic supplement. Look for probiotic supplements that contain the specific strains you need and have at least 1 billion live cells. To treat Clostridium difficile, take 1.25 billion live Lactobacillus GG in two divided doses for two weeks, says NIH. Probiotics are generally considered safe, but check with your doctor before adding any type of supplement to your diet.
Many women report an increase in yeast infections when taking antibiotics. This may be due to an overgrowth of Candida albicans -- an opportunistic yeast that can grow out of control if antibiotics kill the beneficial bacteria that normally prevent a candida overgrowth. Vaginal suppositories that contain 10 million live Lactobacillus acidophilus cells used twice daily for one week can help treat vaginal yeast infections. Probiotics are most effective when used in conjunction with conventional anti-fungal vaginal yeast infection treatments.
- USProbiotics.org: Probiotics Basics
- CNN Health; Best Cures for Stomach Troubles -- Which Probiotics Work and Why; Jessica Snyder Sachs; March 2009
- Science Daily; Probiotics May Help People Taking Antibiotics; December 2008
- Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: Health Benefits of Taking Probiotics; September 2005
- Medline Plus; Lactobacillus; June 2011