Although it is fairly common to hear people advise others to take probiotics after a round of antibiotics, few people really understand the reason behind that, or what the benefits of probiotics are. One common question that comes up in probiotics discussions is their effects on the bowels. If you have read our previous discussions on probiotics for men, women, and children, you may be wondering if taking probiotics will have an effect on your bowel health. This article will explore the positive effects that probiotics can have on stool, especially in relation to antibiotic-related diarrhea, and overall bowel health.
The Effects of Antibiotics
According to the Mayo Clinic website, diarrhea cause by taking antibiotics is not an unusual occurrence. Although most cases of diarrhea are considered “mild” but the Mayo clinic report, diarrhea is never a pleasant experience. WebMD reports that antibiotic related diarrhea occurs in 1 in 3 people taking antibiotics, a much broader scope than indicated by the Mayo clinic. Again, many cases are mild and clear up soon after the antibiotic course is finished. Other cases are more severe and can cause colitis, or inflammation of the colon.
So what causes this digestive upset when taking antibiotics? According to a report by the Cleveland Clinic titled Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea and Clostridium Difficile, antibiotics, while treating the targeted illness, cause a disruption in the normal balance of the gut microbes. Although antibiotics are designed to eliminate bacteria that are causing disease, they also destroy the good bacteria in the gut. This can lead to diarrhea. The Cleveland Clinic report makes a definite differentiation between antibiotic associated diarrhea (AAD) and clostridium difficile, stating that and infection of the latter is usually the cause of extended bouts of diarrhea and more serious colitis. Interestingly, the article suggests antimicrobial medications to treat clostridium, but states that it generally recurs.
Probiotics and AAD
Non-profit research organization RAND, conducted a review of existing research to determine the effectiveness of probiotics at preventing and treating diarrhea related to taking antibiotics. According to their meta-analysis, taking probiotics during the course of an antibiotic treatment led to a 42% lower risk of developing AAD. A study by the Indiana University School of Medicine and reported by the Digestive Diseases and Sciences journal reported that just the inclusion of yogurt into the diet while taking antibiotics, showed significant reduction in AAD. Of course, other yogurts vary with the viability of their probiotics, so it patients generally find much greater reliability when the supplement with a quality probiotic with specific strains of good bacteria. So, word to the wise: if you have to take antibiotics, make sure to include a quality probiotic in your daily regimen.
Help for Constipation
On the opposite end of the bowel spectrum is the area of constipation, a common problem of people of all ages, but especially those over 65. A fair amount of research is available on the topic of constipation and probiotics, especially among the elderly. A study in the Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging (2011 Mar; 15(3):215-20) reported that a group of elderly patients given probiotics were able to significantly reduce laxative use while maintaining adequate bowel movements.
Of course, it isn’t just a random study that is making observations on the effects of probiotics on the bowels. People like Dr. Oz recommend probiotics specifically for their effect on the bowels, particularly for dealing with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and constipation. The specific strain he recommends for bowel health is the bifidobacteria. Dr. Weil chimes in with his support for probiotic use to enhance bowel function.
Constipation and Diarrhea? What Gives?
If you are wondering how probiotics can help both with diarrhea and constipation, you are not alone. At first glance, it does not make sense. But that is because our minds have been trained to treat symptoms, rather than actual causes. If you have diarrhea, take Pepto-Bismol, or if you are constipated, go for a laxative. When considering the effects of probiotics on the stool, it is important to realize that these “friendly” bacteria are working to restore balance in the body, regardless of what the symptom of that imbalance is. Because the body is designed to work in balance, an upset of that balance produces symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Dr. John Y. Kao, professor at the University of Michigan asserts that even stress can affect the natural balance in the gut, producing IBS and other bowel symptoms. Facts like that help bring the whole idea of probiotics into perspective. Any disruption of the body’s normal balance, whether through taking antibiotics, chemotherapy, or even undergoing too much stress has a negative impact on the bowels. While over the counter medication may bring temporary relief to symptoms, probiotics work to restore balance.