Bacteria are microorganisms that can be found just about anywhere, including on (and even in) our body. Some bacteria can cause infections which lead to illnesses such as pneumonia or urinary tract infection. Antibiotics are medications that target to kill bacteria, thus allowing our body to recover quickly. However, there are also good bacteria which bring health benefits.
Problems arise when antibiotics are used inappropriately (for example prescribed to a patient with a viral infection) as antibiotics will not help in any way. Frequent use of broad spectrum antibiotics has been established and shown to lead to other problems which include potentially life-threatening clostridium difficile bacteria infection that causes colitis (inflammation of your colon's inner lining) and antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and resistance.
Bacteria Fighting Back
Just as our immune system learns how to defend our body against infections, many diseases caused by bacteria have begun to evolve to become more resistant against antibiotics. This results in ineffective antibiotic treatments, persistent infections, and worse, the antibiotic-resistant microorganisms spreading to other people.
One of the main contributors on the spread of antibiotic resistance is our over-reliance on and inappropriate use of antibiotics. There are many people who mistakenly think that taking antibiotics is the only way to recover when they are ill, for instance with a cold or flu (which are not caused by bacteria infections).
Commenting on this, Consultant Physician and Gastroenterologist Associate Professor Dr Raja Affendi Raja Ali explains, "You must take extra precautions with antibiotics. When you are sick and see a doctor for consultation, do not simply insist on an antibiotic prescription when your doctor does not prescribe it. If your illness is caused by a virus, taking antibiotics will not help you get better faster as it only works against illnesses that are caused by bacteria. Taking antibiotics when it is not needed can contribute to antibiotic resistance and the next time you take antibiotics, it may not have the desired effect any longer."
"If you think that this is not your problem, think again! Perhaps you have heard reports of the bacteria that can cause potentially lethal infections called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It is often referred to in the news as the 'superbug' that resists many treatments," reveals Assoc Prof Dr Raja Affendi.
"While not all MRSA infections are serious as it depends on the immune status of the patients, it can sometimes become life-threatening. All of us have our role and responsibility to minimise the spread of antibiotic resistance," he stresses.
Antibiotics Causing Diarrhoea?
In the event that taking antibiotics is unavoidable and has to be for a prolonged duration, you may experience something known as antibiotic associated diarrhoea (AAD). This can happen whenever the antibiotics you take disrupt the balance of your gut microbiota. When this transpires, your symptoms can range from mild stomach ache to watery diarrhoea.
Why does this occur? Remember that antibiotics work against bacteria and do not necessarily recognise or differentiate between 'good' and 'bad' bacteria. When the balance of 'good' and 'bad' bacteria in your digestive system is disrupted, it can create a dysbiotic (bacterial imbalance) environment and result in diarrhoea.
When AAD occurs, you can help repopulate or manipulate your digestive system with good bacteria by eating more probiotic rich foods, such as yogurt, tempeh, and fermented vegetables (e.g. kimchi, acar, Chinese hum choy). This will restore the order in your gut microflora to a symbiotic and stable state.
Balancing Gut Bacteria
Assoc Prof Dr Raja Affendi explains, "The key is to maintain a healthy balance between the 'good' and the 'bad' bacteria. These little friends of ours must be kept in equilibrium in order to maintain good digestive health. By optimising the symbiosis of good and bad bacteria, you will be able to avoid dysbiosis, or a disruption in your gut microflora."
Probiotics help restore the balance of good and bad bacteria, thus helping you recover from not only diarrhoea, but also bring other health benefits. Probiotics are easily found in cultured milk drinks and the effectiveness of these good bacteria are taken into further research in an ongoing local study conducted by Pusat Perubatan Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (PPUKM). The research team, led by Assoc Prof Dr Raja Affendi, discovered the Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei probiotic strains are clearly effective in promoting better overall digestive health.
The initial results of the study show improvements in digestive health, with notable improvements in reduced intestinal transit time (ITT), or the time it takes for food to travel from your mouth through your digestive tract and out of your body through your rectum. The results also included significantly improved constipation symptoms among healthy and constipated patients. With improved ITT, the toxin build-up that occurred as a result of constipation is minimised and your digestive system is able to absorb the food nutrients more effectively. Daily consumption of cultured milk drinks also potentially can bring positive influence on immunity in certain subject and this need to be further explored.
However, probiotics also need to flourish with prebiotics, which are food for probiotics. Prebiotics can be found in high fibre foods such as onions, garlic, banana, shallots, leeks, asparagus, and whole grains.
"Antibiotics should be used only as needed, and always taken according to your prescription. Of course, prevention is better than cure, so make it a point to lead a healthy lifestyle in order to minimise your chances of falling ill. Stay healthy by eating a healthy diet that consists of well-balanced, variety and nutritious meals. Drink enough water and get plenty of exercise every day. Lastly, ensure that you get sufficient sleep. These are all the necessary steps you have to take to lead a healthy lifestyle and ensuring good health from the inside too," advises Assoc Prof Dr Raja Affendi.