The immune system is strong, but it is not invincible. Although many of us prefer to let the body fight off infections on its own or with help from natural remedies, alternative options may be unavoidable after a point. If you end up with a bacterial infection that will not go away, then an antibiotic may be the only option for completely kicking the infection.
As helpful as antibiotics can be, they can also come with a few uncomfortable side effects. However, obtaining the proper nutrients can help tackle these effects and promote healthy immune function.
What Are Antibiotics?
If you have been sick with a bacterial infection in the past, you have likely taken an antibiotic. Antibiotics are medicines used to fight bacterial infections by killing the bacteria causing the infection or preventing them from multiplying and spreading throughout the body.
Antibiotics can only treat infections caused by harmful bacteria, like strep throat or a urinary tract infection. They do not work to treat viruses that cause illnesses like the flu or the common cold. Although antibiotics are not necessary for curing every infection, they have the potential to be lifesaving.
However, as with anything, antibiotics are not without flaws.
How Does the Immune System Work?
When you first think of the immune system, you may think of microscopic cells that attack and fight off invading bacteria. This image would be accurate, but the immune system is a complex system of white blood cells, antibodies, and other cells that mobilize to defeat sickness-causing invaders.
If someone asked you where the immune system is located, you would say inside the body, of course, but you may be surprised to learn that 70% of the immune system is actually located in the gut.
The gut contains a whole world of microorganisms and bacteria, or microbiota, that play a crucial role in immune function.
For example, a microbial molecule in the gut signals to activate T cells, also fittingly known as natural killer cells, that target and eliminate harmful bacteria. The gut also plays a role in developing antibodies and other immune cells.
What Are the Effects of Antibiotics on the Immune System and Gut?
When you take antibiotics, their path into your body is directly through your gut. Unfortunately, the “anti” in antibiotics does not discriminate, meaning they also attack and eliminate healthy, beneficial bacteria. As antibiotics reach your gut, they take a toll on the microbiota and reduce the presence of many helpful species of bacteria.
A diverse microbiome is vital to a healthy gut, so the decreased presence of healthy bacteria can affect digestion and metabolic activity and potentially weaken your immune system. After taking antibiotics, you may experience additional side effects like diarrhea, nausea, and constipation.
There are also several unwelcome long-term effects of a weakened gut microbiome. An imbalanced microbiota can make you more susceptible to future infection. Therefore, it is best to be mindful about replenishing your gut health after taking antibiotics.
What Are Some Tips for Rebuilding Your Immune System and Gut?
Since such a large portion of the immune system resides in the gut, your nutrition plays a key role in the health and capability of your immune function.
By eating the right foods and obtaining the right nutrients, you can reverse the effects of antibiotics, build back the diversity of the bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, and put your immune system back on track. The following are some key tips for rebuilding your immune system.
1. Eat Plant Foods
Plants have a world of benefits for the gut, as they are full of nutrients that are good for the bacteria in your gut and your body as a whole.
Plants are a great source of prebiotics, which are substances that feed the bacteria in the gut, stimulating the growth of diverse species and balancing the microbiome. The microbiota in your gut craves fiber and complex carbohydrates to reproduce, and plants have both.
To help feed your good gut bacteria, you should eat plants like:
Plants are also full of vitamins and antioxidants that protect healthy cells, promote the growth of immune cells, and help produce antibodies that fight infection.
2. Incorporate High-Fiber Foods
Fiber is an important nutrient for the immune system, as it can support the growth of microbes in the gut. Many beneficial microbes use fiber to generate fatty acids that stimulate the growth and activity of immune cells. High-fiber foods are another example of prebiotics because of their role in feeding the microbes.
Great high-fiber foods to include in your diet are:
- Whole Grains
3. Find Probiotic Foods
The direct opposite of an antibiotic is a probiotic, which reverses the impact of antibiotics on your gut. As the term suggests, probiotics provide beneficial species of bacteria to your gut, containing live healthy bacteria that can help replenish your microbiota. Probiotics are a safe and direct way to restore the health of your gut and support a healthy immune system.
Fortunately, there are many easy-to-find probiotic foods. You may already include some probiotics in your diet without knowing — fermented foods, like kimchi and sauerkraut, make for wonderful probiotics. Other examples of probiotic foods include:
- Pickles (made without vinegar)
Probiotic supplements can also help regenerate your gut microbiota with billions of beneficial bacteria.
4. Intake Plenty of Protein
Protein and amino acids are critical for the growth of immune cells and the overall function of the immune system. Protein even makes up the foundation of the antibodies that remember and attack harmful bacteria and viruses. Therefore, you should include a variety of protein sources in your diet.
5. Incorporate Healthy Fats into Your Meals
Healthy fats are great for your gut health.
A great example of healthy fats is omega-3 fatty acids, which help support many cells in the body. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, DHA, and EPA. ALA is easy to get through your diet, but DHA and EPA are typically only attainable through fish. Some circumstances, like following a plant-based diet, can make it difficult to receive all of the omega-3s you need.
If you have difficulty obtaining your recommended daily intake of these healthy fats through diet, consider taking an omega-3 supplement. Algae supplements provide two of the most necessary omega-3 nutrients, DHA and EPA, and one particular type of algae, Nannochloropsis, provides 1.7X better absorption than any other source of fatty acids.
How Long Does It Take To Replenish Gut Microbiota?
There is no set time limit for how long it will take to replenish the microbiota in your gut, but remaining mindful and taking consistent steps to support your gut health can put you on the right track. One bit of wisdom from health food store owners is to supplement with probiotics and beneficial fats for at least twice as long as your course of antibiotics. This gives your body plenty of nutrition to bring back balance.
When it comes to restoring the health of your gut microbiota, consistency is key. It is important to provide the necessary prebiotics for your gut health daily to support the growth of these vital bacteria. Taking a supplement can be a huge benefit, allowing you to receive a steady dose of the nutrients you and your gut need.
Your immune system is vital to helping you fight back against infection, so it is important that you give it the tools to do so. By combining a healthy diet with other positive lifestyle choices like regular exercise and healthy amounts of sleep, you can rebuild your gut and immune health in no time.
Rebuild Your Immune System With Key Nutrients
Your gut microbiota is a vital part of your immune system, but taking antibiotics can have a negative impact by reducing the diversity of beneficial bacteria species. Fortunately, by maintaining a diet that is rich in prebiotics, probiotics, and other nutrients, you can work to reverse the harmful effects of antibiotics.
At iwi life, we are committed to supporting your overall health and wellness, which is why we create all-natural supplements to provide your body with the nutrients you may be missing out on.
iwi life’s completely plant-based EPA supplement is the perfect way to support your gut health. This supplement is complete with crucial nutrients, like EPA omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6,-7, and -9 fatty acids, and antioxidant-rich chlorophyll. All of these ingredients combine to help maintain healthy immune function. Explore our complete family of iwi life products to see all the powers of algae for yourself.
If you want to boost immunity, look to the gut | UCLA Health Connect
Diet, Gut Microbes, and Immunity | Harvard Medical School
Nutrition and Immunity | The Nutrition Source | Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health
Antibiotics as Major Disruptors of Gut Microbiota | PubMed Central
Probiotics for antibiotic-associated diarrhea: Do we have a verdict? | PubMed Central