Antibiotics are life saving drugs. I tell my kids that Antibiotics are like JCBs or Earth movers. Just like you would end up destroying your house if you were to use a JCB for filling a pot with mud in your living room, so also indiscriminate use of antibiotics for minor issues is a serious cause for concern.
This article is only about the internal imbalance caused due to antibiotics, though I must add that overuse and abuse of antibiotics is leading to a much larger problem- Antibiotic resistance. I will write about antibiotic resistance in another post.
Note: Not everyone is familiar with scientific terms and terminologies. For those who are not familiar with the Lifesciences, I prefer to explain the concept using examples from day to day life. The examples, might not be perfect, but they do help convey the general idea.
If any of you have better examples to share or suggestions as to how I can improve the content on this page, please do feel free to send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Lets get started:
PART A: UNDERSTANDING ECOSYSTEMS
1. An ecosystem is defined as a self-sustained unit, a collection of different life forms that exist together in a sustainable and energy efficient manner.
2. A forest is an excellent example of an ecosystem where varieties of plants, animals, birds, insects and other microscopic life forms live together by depending on each other for their existence.
3. Our gut too is filled with millions and millions of different life forms. It is a forest in its own right and an amazing ecosystem too.
4. The balance in either of these ecosystems , ‘the forest or our gut’ is maintained by rules of natural trade and commerce.
5. Do remember that in nature nothing happens for free. If a fruit is given, the seed needs to be dispersed. If a probiotic is given protection by the human body, then it needs to contribute to the wellbeing of the body- as simple as that.
PART B: DESTRUCTION OF ECOSYSTEM AND ITS IMPACT
6. When a forest is razed to ground. The entire ecosystem is destroyed. When antibiotics are taken, the gut ecosystem is destroyed.
7. After the destruction of a stable ecosystem like a forest, the first thing you will notice is the gradual emergence of weeds. The landscape will be barren with grasses, weeds and thorny plants.
8. In the human body too, after the course in antibiotics has destroyed the ecosystem, a new environment of unfriendly, parasitic and opportunist micro-organisms starts to build up and colonise our gut.
9. If you have seen Nomadic settlers or people who are forced to migrate to other lands desperately seeking opportunities. They are not very choosy. They populate barren areas and waste lands and just about any locality where there is place to settle down (Usually in and around cities). Mind you, these settlers are not connected with the land. They live for themselves, try to survive by all means and do not think much of the society since they are not a part of any. To the society, these people appear to be parasites who are ruining their city.
10. So also after a course in antibiotics is over, the first signs of microbial colonies in our digestive tract would be the parasitic microflora. They would grow freely since the natural probiotics or citizens of the gut have all been killed after a course in antibiotics.
11. The parasitic microflora is so called because they are like the free nomadic and opportunistic settlers. Like the opportunists, they come settle, grow, proliferate, cause gas, intestinal bloating, inflammation, frequent infections, weight gain, Irritable bowel syndrome.... sometimes leading to autoimmune diseases, cancer and eventually death. In fact they live their lives whilst doing nothing much for the body.
So this is what you would expect after a course in antibiotics after majority of the probiotics have been destroyed and the gut microflora has been severely impacted.
PART C: IS THERE A SOLUTION
For those, who had no choice but to take antibiotics in an emergency- Is there a way we can undo the damage to the gut microbiota ?
Yes of course:
Lets get back to the Opportunist settlers, who were irresponsible, acting selfishly, vandalizing and looting a beautiful city. Can something be done ?
12. The government needs to step in. To make them responsible the government has to take initiatives, to communicate with them and to put across its own expectations. There has to be constant monitoring and surveillance so as to reward the ones who are contributing to the society and to punish the offenders. The society too has to accept this community of good settlers. Once that is done, this so called settlement of opportunists will now become a part of the society and there will be peace and prosperity.
13. On similar lines, after a course in antibiotics, YOU the 'Body incharge' have to be more aware and have to carefully monitor your diet and lifestyle. Hygeine is of utmost importance so that you do not let parasitic microbes become a part of your microbiome and hence eating healthy food at home is the first step you should be taking.
You also need to start providing your body with healthy probiotics. Good sunshine, exercise, lifestyle habits will also help in the rebalancing act. With monitoring and surveillance you will be able to identify issues that you can start to remedy by using natural methods. For e.g, if you experience acidity, gas and bloating, it would be better to use Fever nut, rather than popping a pill: A Proton pump inhibitor, that will give immediate relief but add to your woes in the long run.
With this approach, it will take a few weeks, sometimes even months to get back your microbiome in good shape, but, the effort will be well worth it.
Parents can present the same content in a story form to their children. When presented in a story form my 5 and 7 year olds could understand most of it.