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Antibiotic Treatment - Protection and Recovery

by Nicki Woodward(more info)

listed in infections, originally published in issue 144 - February 2008

As holistic practitioners in the modern world we often have to accept that antibiotics play an unavoidable but often valuable role in the treatment of disease. Fortunately, we are able to support clients who have undergone such treatment and thus our role can be equally as valuable.

Before the Treatment

If your client asks for help before their antibiotic treatment begins, this is a great advantage to you both. Begin with formulating a diet which will prepare the body for the introduction of drugs by boosting immunity and cleansing the liver, the major organ of detoxification. Alcohol, sugar, salt, caffeine and saturated fats should be removed from the diet as much as possible. Eat plenty of gluten-free grains, vegetables, fresh fish and organic chicken, live organic yoghurt, nuts and seeds and herbal teas. Include immune boosting foods such as avocados, garlic, ginger, onions and broccoli. Meanwhile, lemon juice in hot water, dandelion root tea and milk thistle can be taken to cleanse and protect the liver. Recommend that your client avoids using oral contraceptives, and all animal products eaten should be organic to avoid residual antibiotics and growth hormones.

It is also a good idea to avoid household chemical products and cleaners, and reduce other immune lowering factors such as stress, smoking and lack of sleep. Regular, moderate exercise is effective for lowering stress and encouraging T-cell production. At this stage it is an advantage if your client begins to take one or two immune stimulating supplements, such as pine bark extract, Echinacea, Astragulus and essential fatty acids (fish and linseed oil). Supplementation of beneficial probiotic bacterial flora, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidus and Lactobacillus cassei, should be taken before, during and after antibiotic treatment. This needs to be in the form of a varied and abundant culture to restore the healthy intestinal ecology and stabilize the mucosal lining of the gut. A supplemental dosage of at least one billion organisms per day is an optimal level.

Short-term Antibiotic Use

Operations, infections and even childbirth can involve the use of short-term intensive antibiotic therapy. This can be a shock to the body, but effects can be reversed with the correct treatment. In the gut and the vagina, yeast overgrowth can occur leading to upset digestion (such as nausea and diarrhoea) and vaginal thrush. This yeast overgrowth can be combated with strong Probiotics, as discussed above, which survive the stomach acid and successfully implant in the digestive tract. Herbal tinctures or drops can also be administered to destroy yeast systemically. These include antifungal herbs such as garlic, goldenseal, calendula, wild oregano oil and grape fruit seed extract. Homeopathic remedies can also be considered for the fight against yeast organisms. Treat vaginal thrush with acidophilus pessaries and mild douches made from essential oils, such as tea tree. Nausea can be relieved with ginger or cinnamon tea and slippery elm powder. Diarrhoea often responds well to treatment with psyllium husks and astringent herbs such as agrimony.

Long-term Antibiotic Use

Patients who contract serious bacterial and protozoal infections require long-term treatment with antibiotics. This has an even greater impact on the body as immunity becomes worn down and body organs such as the liver are implicated. Side-effects include fatigue, repeated infections (including yeast infections), colitis, inflammatory conditions, slow healing of wounds and vitamin K depletion. Ongoing care for your client would again include a healthy yeast-free diet, as with short-term treatment, and the continued use of probiotic supplements.

If long-term antibiotic treatment is making your client fatigued, consider energy giving supplements such as Acetyl L-carnitine, Coenzyme Q10, Spirulina, Chlorella, and an antioxidant rich vitamin and mineral supplement. As pathogens become resistant to the constant stream of antibiotics and immunity becomes compromised, your client may become increasingly open to infection. The aforementioned Astragalus, Echinacea and essential fatty acids continue to have a valuable role for supporting immunity at this stage. Garlic, Quercetin and zinc should also be a part of the treatment plan to fight infections. Maitake or Reishi mushroom extract may be used as an additional supplement to build immunity; also consider the continued use of pine bark extract, a potent bioflavonoid antioxidant that enhances the immune response.

If your client is suffering from abdominal discomfort, further investigation may confirm an inflammatory bowel condition such as colitis. This is often associated with long-term antibiotic use due to the destruction of normal bowel flora, allowing the proliferation of toxin-producing pathogens in the gut. A client with colitis should follow a strict diet which involves the reduction of cooked fats and oils, dairy, acidic fruits and irritants such as caffeine. Include healing garlic and drink plenty of fluids. L-glutamine is a metabolic fuel for the intestinal calls and maintains the villi (the absorption surface of the intestines); include this in your client’s supplement regime along with essential fats, to protect the lining of the colon as well as healing Aloe vera juice.

Long-term use of antibiotics can encourage or worsen inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and muscular tenderness. It is a great help if the diet is rich in sulphur containing foods such as eggs, onions and garlic. Minimize omega-6 essential fats and increase omega-3. Counter inflammation with supplements of vitamin C and E, MSM, calcium and anti-inflammatory herbs such as White Willow, Devils Claw and ginger.

Slow wound healing is another disadvantage of prolonged antibiotic use. Garlic, Hawthorn and Inositol are all available to help improve circulation to damaged tissues. Cayenne pepper also increases blood flow, whilst vitamin C is specific for wound healing as it heals mucous membranes. When antibiotics destroy all or most of the beneficial bacterial flora in the gut, they eliminate the organisms that synthesize a high proportion of the body’s vitamin K. Therefore, anyone taking antibiotics for more than a few weeks would most likely benefit from supplemental vitamin K and the restoration of the healthy bacterial flora that normally produce it. Alfalfa capsules would be of great benefit, as this herb provides both vitamin K and chlorophyll for healing. Continue to support the liver with milk thistle throughout all antibiotic treatment, and consider reflexology and acupuncture to support both immunity and energy levels.

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About Nicki Woodward

Nicki Woodward BA Hons DN MED MBANT Dip Phyt MNIMH ITEC is a fully qualified Nutritionist, Medical Herbalist and Massage Therapist who practises in Middlesex and Surrey. She is a member of the NIMH (National Institute of Medical Herbalists) and BANT (British Association of Nutritional Therapists). Her experience to-date includes training, research and supplement development. She may be contacted on Tel: 07989 968 349;  herbnick@hotmail.com

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