How Gut Flora Gets Damaged (Part 1)

Now that you know your gut is inhabited by lots of bacteria and yeasts, you may think that all you have to do is sit back and let them do their thing.  After all, they’re getting a free ride on food and housing, shouldn’t they be able to fend for themselves?  Au contraire.  Just like your favorite pet, whom you dutifully feed, water, and protect from the elements, you have to nourish your gut flora.  Today we’ll discuss some of the different drugs that can damage your gut flora and leave you in some pretty intense discomfort as a result!

1. Antibiotics

And you thought learning latin roots and suffixes for the SAT would never come in handy!  Of course we know that anti means against, and bio means life.  These drugs have saved thousands of lives from infection and greatly increased our quality of life.  However, their use has skyrocketed out of control.  Not only are antibiotics overprescribed by some physicians, they are also routinely used in animal feed.  (Yet another reason to buy from your local farmer!)  The animals are fed antibiotics routinely in order to prevent the inevitable infections that result from their deplorable living conditions.  These drugs then get passed on to you in the food that you eat.  This chronic, low level exposure kills off the bacteria in our gut and allows it to be colonized with stronger, antibiotic resistant bacteria.  And if you actually have to take a course of antibiotics for an infection, the damage is even more severe, killing off your gut flora at an alarming rate.  Then your GI tract is up for grabs to whichever organism gets there first and can take hold.

2. Pain killers, steroids, etc.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just antibiotics we have to worry about.  Common pain killers like aspirin or ibuprofen promote the growth of pathogenic bacteria.  Steroids damage our normal gut flora and provide the perfect environment for candida yeast to flourish.  Other drugs that can also change your intestinal ecosystem include those prescribed for heartburn, sleeping pills, cytotoxic agents given to transplant and cancer patients, and neuroleptic drugs.

3. Birth control pills alter gut and vaginal flora.

Birth control pills, given out like candy without any warning of the effects on the gut, greatly change the composition of your intestinal ecosystem.  When I learned this one about a year ago, I was shocked.  No one ever mentioned this to me in my gynecologist’s office, and I’d been taking them for years!  This is particularly important for gut health, because a baby’s intestinal tract is sterile in utero.  During birth, the gut is colonized with bacteria from the mother’s birth canal.  After years of being on birth control, mothers unknowingly pass on abnormal gut flora to their children.  The resulting imbalance is implicated in a wide range of increasingly prevalent childhood conditions such as eczema, allergies, and learning disabilities (due to abnormal nutrient absorption and decreased vitamin production in the gut.)

Are you feeling overwhelmed?  Hang in there, we’re not done yet!  The next post in our series will cover some other ways our gut flora gets damaged.  After we’ve covered all the bad news, we’ll move into the good news of how you can restore your gut flora, and the benefits of doing so.  Stay tuned!

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