Take Care of Your Microbiome (MY-crow-BYE-ome) with Probiotics
I’m the proud grandfather of a one year old grandson who lives in Virginia. I have a tendency to call all young boys in the family “Little Buddy”, even after they have grown to be taller than me.
Recently, my daughter texted a picture of Little Buddy’s butt, covered with a red nasty-looking rash. You can always expect pharmacists and other health care providers to ask what happened prior to a rash like this. Any change in diapering frequency, food intake, diaper brand? No, but two days earlier he had finished a 10-day prescription for Augmentin™, which he had taken for an ear infection. This was the likely cause of his rash, even though he was no longer taking the drug. How can that be?
What are Microbiomes?
Bacteria and fungi belong to the class of very small organisms called “microbes”. Our immune system keeps most microbes under control inside the body, but microbes in the intestines and on the skin can have a profound influence on health. The types of microbes living in the intestines and on the skin are called our “microbiome”. Your microbiome is relatively unique to you. It is influenced by what you eat and it can be altered by some drugs.
You want your microbiome to include friendly microbes. Under normal healthy conditions, our intestines and lungs and skin are populated by bacteria, but they are friendly bacteria and are medically called “normal flora”. Under some conditions – like getting an intestinal infection – unfriendly bacteria move into the intestinal neighborhood and stir up trouble. Antibiotics can clear away friendly bacteria and leave an opening for unfriendly microbes to move in, potentially resulting in an intestinal or lung or skin infection during or shortly after antibiotic therapy.
So, it is not uncommon for patients to develop intestinal problems, vaginal yeast infections or skin infections with antibiotics. Little Buddy developed a yeast infection in his diaper area. Bad news.
But the news is not all bad. Knowing that there is such a thing as good bacteria allows us to encourage the right bacteria to move in, or to remain even when we are taking antibiotics. Probiotics are preparations that include friendly microbes – with impressive names like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium or Bifantis – that promote healthy bacteria in the body. There are some probiotics that are fermented foods and some that look more like medicines.
Live active culture yogurts have been recommended for years as a safe and effective way of keeping the body seeded with the right kinds of bacteria. Here are 3 reasons: 1) they taste good; 2) they promote good digestion through their effects on the intestinal microbiome; 3) they can help keep patients healthy and prevent bacterial and yeast infections that sometimes follow exposure to antibiotics and antifungal drugs.
There are also probiotic supplements that come as capsules or tablets marketed to improve digestion. If you hate yogurt, the probiotic supplements offer a convenient way to get some good bacteria into your system. There is little compelling evidence to support the choice of one probiotic product over another at this time. After prepping for a colonoscopy last Fall, I took some probiotic supplements as well as my favorite live active culture yogurt to make sure that my microbiome included plenty of healthy bacteria. Little Buddy has a topical antifungal for his rash, but he’s also adding some yogurt to his diet; not bad for a one year old!
So, you may want to think of your microbiome when you are taking antibiotics or after prepping for a colonoscopy. Some live active culture yogurt or a probiotic supplement may help renew your microbiome and reestablish your digestion. They can also help minimize the likelihood of getting a vaginal or skin infection following antibiotic therapy.
Good bacteria can help keep you healthy.