Wellness Wednesday – Antibiotics, Probiotics, and Health

Once upon a time, I was a healthy person at a healthy weight who had fairly average eating habits and above-average exercise habits. Unfortunately, I then had dental surgery that went wrong and couldn’t be set right immediately. The setting-right then kept getting put off because I was too sick to undergo the procedure. I’ve been over this story often so I’ll keep it short: the dental surgery caused an ongoing infection trapped inside my teeth, which caused a lot of problems (for the next decade) from constant illness to bipolar symptoms to sudden jumps/drops in weight. I’m not here to discuss all that today. I already have all that laid out on my Wellness: Before page. Today I’d like to discuss antibiotics.

Because you see, when I was getting sick every three weeks, the doctors treated the symptoms, not the cause. It sure looked like I was getting sinus infection after strep throat after bronchitis after sinus infection etc. So every few weeks, I’d undergo another round of antibiotics, and about every six months, I’d get a round of steroid pills. The upshot was that 1) I developed sensitivity to penicillin products, and 2) my internal bacterial system was utterly destroyed. And this was of course back in the time when probiotics weren’t really a thing.

I’ve begun to realize over the last few years just how important my internal ecosystem probably was to my health as a kid and young adult, before it was obliterated. I’ve read the studies of how important gut bacteria is for your health, and how the bacteria inside you can affect everything from your susceptibility to certain diseases to your weight. They’ve literally done fecal bacteria transplants from healthy individuals to sick folk who have been unable to get better any other way, and those folks recovered within days from longterm digestive illness. (See this fascinating TED Talk.) The same kinds of transplants have been used to cause weight loss/gain in rats, and might one day be used the same way in humans. Y’all, this is crazy science. Imagine the implications. I’ve imagined them. I’ve watched my entire inner ecosystem get flushed down the toilet to be replaced by something entirely new. Example:

A pharmacist friend once explained to me that everyone has a unique bacterial cocktail that lives in their throat. He had the bacteria that causes strep throat live naturally inside him, in low levels (not enough to cause an infection), and when he and his wife first dated, she got strep throat for the first time just by being exposed to his bacterial ecosystem through kissing. I, too, had strep in my throat-cocktail. So does my mother, my siblings, and my oldest son. Strep infections were common in our household (I used to get it every year) but they were very mild for us because of what our bodies were used to. Morrigan had strep throat twice by the time he was 18 months old. This is just how it goes. However, after a few years of heavy antibiotics, I no longer have strep in my throat-cocktail. I haven’t gotten the disease in almost two decades, and I’d guess that if I got it now, it would involve high fevers and terrible symptoms rather than just feeling like a mild annoying cold as it used to. My throat-ecosystem is entirely changed. Wanna guess what the rest of my body has gone through? Yeah.

Enter probiotics. Only, don’t enter them yet, because they didn’t really become a thing until well after I was on regular antibiotics, and even longer after that, they were regarded as pop-science-BS. I never thought about taking them until my doctor started my recent four-week-long penicillin-based treatment. Then I started taking them, and my body started responding. I started losing weight quicker than I have in years. My distorted sense of smell improved (more on the link above). The probiotics caused their own problems (hives!)** and I have no idea which strains were helpful and which harmful, but I’ve seen over the last month just how powerful probiotics affect health. And it just got me thinking – what if I’d taken them way back twenty years ago when I was taking all those ecosystem-killing meds? How might it have changed my life over that time? Maybe not at all, maybe a whole lot.

Either way, as I said on Sunday, I’m back to fixing up my own health alone again, and this is the first place I’m starting. I’m reading books and articles in science/medical journals. I’m researching. I’m learning about natural sources of probiotics, and prebiotics (I didn’t even know that was a thing), and how to promote growth of proper bacteria in your gut through food instead of supplements. I’ve already learned a TON and I hope to find a lot more material. (Suggestions?) With any luck, I can get my internal ecosystem back in order to help a whole lot of different parts of my health. Hey, maybe I’ll even figure out how to sleep properly again!

**This may not be true, as it turns out. Since determining that it was the probiotics causing hives, other complicating factors have come up, like getting hives for the last week when I wasn’t on any medications at all. Except my new sleeping pill, which in clinical trials shows infrequent allergic reactions like hives after several weeks of use. Lucky me! Or maybe it’s not that. Maybe it’s not the probiotics. Maybe it’s not anything. Maybe it was just some combination of medications, or maybe my body is just so inflamed from a month of antibiotics that it has no idea what’s happening and I’m getting lots of stupid-response. Either way, I’m cutting out ALL medications and supplements for a few weeks and then we’ll try, slowly, to introduce probiotics things and see what happens.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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4 Responses to Wellness Wednesday – Antibiotics, Probiotics, and Health

  1. I am continually impressed with how in tune to your body you are! I hope you find some information that will help you… sounds like all those rounds of antibiotics really did a number on your system.


    • Amanda says:

      I doubt I’d be nearly so in tune if I hadn’t spent 11 years getting all kinds of weird illnesses and symptoms with doctors unable to explain it. I also don’t react to medications and stuff like normal people (neither do my siblings – I’m sure this is genetic) so I have to be very careful about body cues!


  2. Word Lily says:

    Have you tried getting your probiotics from food, too? Via fermented foods? I can’t remember if we’ve talked about this before … I can give you starting points if you want them. (I needed and wanted probiotics but had trouble with all the ones labeled like medicine or supplements.)


    • Amanda says:

      I have – that’s what I’ve been doing since the hive issue – but I’ve been reading a lot and as it turns out, because of the evolution of our digestive tract, most of the probiotics we get through food are killed before they reach the large intestine. Supplements are designed to make it through to the end, though they have far fewer species than we need. The best way to promote the right growth is through prebiotics or medical procedures like probiotic enemas (which sound awful!).


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