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What’s the Difference Between Probiotics and Antibiotics?

On January 29th, 2013

yogart-and-antibioticsMany people don’t understand and misuse the terms antibiotic and probiotic.  These terms often appear in print, online and in commercial advertising without providing accurate definitions of either.  Although the words look very similar, they are very different concepts.  Broken down, the words have three distinct parts but there is much more to their definitions than just the meanings of these three components.

Anti – meaning “against.” Antibiotics are drugs that are used to treat bacterial infections.  Most of these antibiotics are derived from bacteria or molds and either kill the intended bacterial target or stop them from reproducing.  This allows the body’s natural immune defenses to take over and remove them from the body.  However, it is important to realize that one antibiotic does not treat all types of bacterial infections.  For this reason, doctors and veterinarians prescribe a specific antibiotic for the specific type of bacterial infection.  This means that penicillin is not a magical cure all.  More often your doctor or veterinarian will prescribe a different antibiotic.  Most importantly, when a doctor or veterinarian prescribes an antibiotic, make sure to follow their directions, i.e. continue to take the full dosage, even if you see signs of improvement.  If the dosage directions are not followed, the antibiotics will not be in the system for enough time to make a full recovery and most often a relapse infection will occur.

Pro – meaning “for.”  Probiotics by definition are organisms that contribute to the overall health of the digestive track.  Sometimes you will hear people refer to probiotics as friendly, beneficial or good bacteria, which is an easy way to remember the difference between these bacteria and bacteria that cause diseases and infections.  Naturally, all organisms have probiotics in their digestive systems, most of which line the walls of the digestive system.  Newborns get their first probiotics from their mothers’ milk.  To improve the amount of beneficial bacteria in one’s digestive system there is a wide array of products available on the market for both human and animal use.  A good example of a widely used probiotic is Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is most commonly found in yogurt, but now can be found in many supplements.  There are many other strains of bacteria that are probiotics, and specific probiotics have different uses and benefits.  That’s why you may see multiple types of bacteria in a probiotic product.  Using probiotic supplements is a great idea because they can be used to administer a large number of the beneficial bacteria, which then can effectively colonize the digestive system.   The more probiotic organisms that colonize the lining of the digestive system means that there are fewer spaces for bad bacteria to infect.

Biotic – meaning, “having to do with life or living organisms.”

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics.  When prebiotics and probiotics are combined, they form a synbiotic.  Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, are considered synbiotic because they contain live bacteria and the fuel they need to thrive.

Probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt, while prebiotics are found in whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, honey and artichokes.  In addition, probiotics and prebiotics are added to some foods and are available as dietary supplements.

Although more research is needed, there’s encouraging evidence that probiotics may help:

  • Treat diarrhea, especially following treatment with certain antibiotics
  • Prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections
  • Treat irritable bowel syndrome
  • Reduce bladder cancer recurrence
  • Speed treatment of certain intestinal infections
  • Prevent and treat eczema in children
  • Prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu.

Side effects are rare, and most healthy adults can safely add foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics to their diets.

Can you use both probiotics with antibiotics?  When looking at these definitions, it may appear that antibiotics work against probiotics, but most times, this is not exactly the case.  If you remember, most antibiotics treat specific bacteria or bacterial infection, so taking an antibiotic will not kill all the bacteria in a digestive system, but it will kill a portion of the beneficial gut flora.  However, one common problem associated with taking an antibiotic is antibiotic-associated diarrhea.  This may be true for both humans and animals taking antibiotics. This is why using a probiotic in association with taking an antibiotic is especially beneficial, because taking probiotic can help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea and other related antibiotic health issues.  To help keep everyone healthy, human and animals alike, find a probiotic and keep it handy for use in association with antibiotics, or better yet, start daily probiotic regimen for even better results.  ProSynbiotic by Standard Process is a good probiotic.  It supports gut flora and overall intestinal health.

Contact Lynn for more information about Standard Process Products and how you can use dietary supplements to improve the quality of your life.

HealthKeepers Magazine August 2012

Posted In:
Articles | Blog | Supplements

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