How can antibiotic use affect bacteria balance in the stomach (gut flora)?

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Robynne K. Chutkan, MD
Gastroenterology
Although antibiotics are an important medical advance, overuse can lead to an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, and a weakening of the digestive and immune systems. Watch as integrative gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan, MD, discusses this issue.
Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Outside factors, in addition to what we eat, affect bacteria balance ("gut flora"). Antibiotics ("anti" meaning against, and "biotic" meaning bacteria vs. "pro" meaning for, or good, "biotic") get rid of the good with the bad so even one dose of antibiotics can upset the desirable ratio of bacteria. This doesn't happen immediately, but it does occur exponentially week after week due to how quickly bacteria replicate. So if we don't replenish the good bacteria, the bad can get an advantage right off the bat once the antibiotic's action wears off. Many of us were given antibiotics frequently as children (to treat ear and throat infections) or as young adults for skin problems. It's very common for doctors today to treat adult patients complaining of gastrointestinal (GI) problems and learn that their issues stem from a lifetime of periodic or even chronic antibiotic use that caused an imbalance in their gut flora. What's more, today's food and water technology makes it difficult to avoid getting secondhand exposure to antibiotics by eating animals and even drinking water in some places that have been treated with antibiotics.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.