There seems to be two major approaches to working with gut infections. The first is to bomb the gut with strong antimicrobial herbs and supplements. The other is to gently nurture your gut microbiome in attempts to outcompete the infection. Read on to learn about the two approaches and how a combination may be more effective at helping to resolve your digestive function and gut health.
Nuke The Gut
The first approach to dealing with gut infections and improving one’s gut health is to bomb the gut. Antibiotics come in handy with this approach but even herbal medicine and ‘natural’ approaches can be used in an all out offensive against different gut infections. While there isn’t much research on the subject there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that hints against this approach. I have heard of multiple cases of people taking round after round of herbal antimicrobials without rebuilding or caring for their gut microbiome. Their digestive function continues to decrease and their symptoms, such as bloating, distention and abdominal pain increases. In these examples the movement towards gut health is impaired.
While this isn’t an article covering the damages that antibiotics can wreak on your gut health it is worth noting that they can and do effect and alter the gut microbiome in ways that we are only starting to realise. One review paper followed 3 individuals after a round of triple therapy used to treat the gut infection Helicobacter pylori infection. This particular triple therapy consisted of clarithromycin, metronidazole, aka Flagyl (which we have talked about before) and omeprazole, an acid blocking medication. Tracking the gut microbiota they noted a large drop in the Actinobacteria phylum (our friend Bifidobacteria is a member) in all three immediately post antibiotic treatment. One patient had significantly higher levels of Proteobacteria (specifically Klebsiella spp.) immediately after the antibiotic intervention.
The interesting part of this study is when we look at the long-term effects of antibiotics on the gut microbiome. The authors sum it up nicely by stating
‘Although the diversity of the microbiota subsequently recovered to resemble the pre treatment states, the microbiota remained perturbed in some cases for up to four years post treatment’
Image taken from Short-Term Antibiotic Treatment Has Differing Long Term Impacts on the Human Throat and Gut Microbiome
A, B and C represent the controls who did not take antibiotics while D, E and F represent the triple therapy antibiotic group. Note F from day 8-13 and the massive jump in Proteobacteria (notably Klebsiella spp).
There is more to the ‘watch out for antibiotics’ story. Let’s leave it there for now and circle back in future article. One take away point is the possibility that strong antimicrobial herbs can impact your gut health in many of the same ways that antibiotics do.
Nurturing The Gut
The second approach involves minimal intervention. Many people that subscribe to this approach focus on prebiotics, probiotic treatments (see here and here) and a healthy diet in attempt to treat different gut infections. While I do agree with the nurturing aspect of this approach I have found it to be ineffective for many people in the long run. We all know the person that is stuck in a restrictive diet. If they wander too far from their diet (low FODMAP, low carb, zero grains, etc) their digestive symptoms return with a vengeance. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not knocking these diets in the short term. Often they can be helpful in reducing symptoms while we work on improving the gut terrain.
This is something that I think the Functional Medicine folks have wrong (at least I would modify it a touch). While I do agree that food intolerances are an issue for many different people I do believe that once the gut has been brought back into a healthy balance most people should be able to tolerate many foods. Please don’t read here that everyone can tolerate all foods, that might be going too far.
A Balanced Approach For Gut Infections
In my experience neither strong antimicrobial treatments alone nor simply nurturing the gut is effective enough in the treatment of different gut infections. The gut bombing approach leads you down a path of diminishing returns and often the infections are still present. Even if they have been eradicated the gut microbiome is so imbalanced that many digestive symptoms linger.
A combination of the two led to success in treating Blastocystis hominis and Dientamoeba fragilis after multiple failed attempts. As I had the unpleasant experience of multiple herbal antimicrobial approaches failing. It was only after I cared for my gut microbiome with prebiotics, added in some probiotics and addressed the biofilm piece that I had success with the antimicrobial herbs.
In future articles we will cover some herbal medicines and supplements that can help to nurture your gut while you treat your infections with the stronger antimicrobials.