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  5. Do Antibiotics Weaken Your Immune System?

Have you ever been prescribed pills for strep throat, urinary tract infection, or severe bouts of diarrhea? If yes, then probably you have already been introduced to antibiotics.

Doctors commonly prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. But can antibiotics weaken your immune system? What can you do to protect your immune system after having antibiotics? This article answers all these concerning questions and more.

What Antibiotics Do?

The immune system is the body’s defense mechanism that protects the body from invasive bacteria, viruses, and pathogens. While the white blood cells fight the infection, the T cells destroy the infected cells, and the B cells produce antigen-specific immunoglobulins. But, at times, the natural defense system of the body cannot fight the infection alone.

Antibiotics are then administered in the body. These support the immune system to fight the infection, in two ways. They either kill the bacteria directly or prevent them from reproducing. [1] There are different types of antibiotics. Broad-spectrum antibiotics work on a wide range of bacteria, while certain other antibiotics are designed to work on specific bacteria only.

Important Note:

Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections like common cold or flu. [2]

Do Antibiotics Really Affect The Immune System? - Myths Vs. Facts

Antibiotics are powerful drugs and work well most of the time in eradicating the infection. Although both antibiotics and your immune system work to keep you healthy, antibiotics can weaken your immune system. Here are some common myths about antibiotics and the functioning of the immune system.

Myth: Antibiotics do not harm the immune system.

Fact: Although antibiotics do not directly interfere with the immune system, unnecessary antibiotic usage can stop the immune system from working to its full potential. In fact, antibiotics can also compromise the immune system of the body.

A research study conducted on mice found that when antibiotics were injected into the mice, the cells' biochemical environment changed. Often the antibiotic exposure reduces the ability of the macrophage cells to engulf the bacteria. [3]

Myth: Antibiotics do not have side effects.

Fact: Antibiotics can have many side effects. For example, prolonged use of antibiotics can damage liver function. Antibiotics can also destroy the helpful bacteria that reside in your gut. This is because antibiotics are not able to distinguish between the helpful gut bacteria and the harmful bacteria.

Myth: You can use old antibiotics whenever you have symptoms, and stop using them when symptoms subside.

Fact: Using excessive antibiotics can make antibiotics less effective. Hence, use antibiotics only when needed and in the dosage prescribed by your doctor. Let your immune system do its job at other times. Using old antibiotics isn’t recommended, as antibiotics lose their potency over time.

Myth: It is okay to use antibiotics prescribed for others.

Fact: Do not use antibiotics prescribed for others. This may lead to allergic reactions or worsening of symptoms. Always consult a doctor before starting antibiotics.

How To Strengthen Your Immune System After Taking Antibiotics?

boost your immune systen written on paper

1. Probiotics

One of the most significant side effects of antibiotics is the imbalance in the gut bacteria. Taking probiotics during and after an antibiotic course can help restore the gut bacteria population, thus avoiding intestinal diarrhea, especially in children. [4] A study conducted in adults found the positive effects of probiotics on following a course of antibiotics. [5] Consult with your doctor to determine the right probiotic dosage for you.

Did You Know?

  • Probiotics containing Lactobacilli and Saccharomyces are particularly useful in maintaining the balance of the gut bacteria. However, antibiotics may also kill the bacteria of the probiotics. So, instead of taking probiotics together with antibiotics, take them a few hours apart.

2. Food to restore gut bacteria

Certain food can help restore the gut bacteria, especially after undergoing a long course of antibiotics. Fermented food like curd, kimchi, cheese, and kombucha are loaded with good bacteria like Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, which helps restore balance in the gut.

Eating fiber-rich food also helps the gut bacteria to restore balance. While on antibiotics, you should eat high fiber food like bananas, lentils, nuts, whole grains, beans, broccoli, peas, berries, etc.

high fiber foods and healthy balanced dieting

3. Prebiotics

Prebiotic food helps good bacteria to grow in your gut. Apart from many high fiber foods, certain food which is not high in fiber also works as a prebiotic. For example, cocoa and red wine work as prebiotics, although they are not high in fibers.

4. Healthy Sleep Routine

Apart from following the right diet, it is important to maintain a healthy sleep routine to strengthen your immunity. Follow a sleep routine that gives you at least 7-9 hours of sleep in your post-recovery days.

satisfied woman sleeping in a comfortable bed

5. Include antioxidants

Foods that are rich in antioxidants help to strengthen your immunity after having antibiotics. Include food like berries, nuts, carrot, spinach, parsley, red wine, tea etc. in your diet.

How Long Does It Take For The Immune System To Recover After Antibiotics?

It takes time for the body to restore the healthy, diverse microbiome population in the gut. Depending upon the nature of the antibiotics and the antibiotics course's duration, it may take up to 6 months or more for the body to restore its natural immune system.

Wrapping Up

Antibiotics are important medications that help to fight some serious bacterial infections. Your doctor will carefully examine your condition before prescribing a course of antibiotics for the shortest period. This will ensure that the chances of side effects are minimal.

However, it is important to stick to the dosage and follow other measures discussed in this article to keep your immunity up.

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