When it comes to a healthy gut, the use of antibiotics is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. That's because eradicating pathogenic bacteria with courses of antibiotic drugs also kills off normal intestinal flora. Antibiotic-associated disruption of gastrointestinal tract flora can lead to diarrhea, dehydration and mineral-salt imbalance, particularly among small children.

But if you must take antibiotics, don't forget your probiotics too. Supplementing with these beneficial "friendly" bacteria is essential for a healthy gut. Because the 25- to 35-foot-long digestive tract contains some 400 species of bacteria, totaling some 100 billion organisms, repopulation is a considerable task. Favorable bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidus counter the sanitizing effects of antibiotic therapy, including side effects such as diarrhea and yeast overgrowth. Recent scientific studies support this application.

Some 20-­40 percent of all children prescribed broad-spectrum antibiotics develop diarrhea. A University of Nebraska study of 188 children between six months and 10 years of age found supplementation with 10 billion colony-forming units of Lactobacillus casei per day reduced the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 75 percent after 10 days (Journal of Pediatrics, 1999, vol. 135).

Frequent antibiotic users are also familiar with subsequent overgrowth of yeast (Candida albicans), which thrives in a gut lacking friendly bacteria. Probiotics are recommended for preventing and treating yeast infections.

Triple-antibiotic therapy is used to aggressively eradicate Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes gastric ulcers. Using probiotics between antibiotic courses repopulates the digestive tract with friendly bacteria and effectively inhibits colonization of H. pylori (Gut, 1997, vol. 41).

Researchers are now beginning to advocate antibiotic/probiotic combinations for such conditions as diarrhea, female urinary and genital tract infections and infective endocarditis (Journal of Food Protection, 1998, vol. 61).

Probiotics are a promising alternative for those who suffer from adverse reactions to antibiotics because they help the beneficial flora resist an imbalance brought on by antibiotics (Chirurgia Italiana, 1999, vol. 51). So when filling a prescription for antibiotics, reach for a bottle of probiotics as well.

—Bill Sardi