First, don't take antibiotics unless you need them. "People want them for colds and flus, but antibiotics only treat bacterial infections like strep throat and sinusitis," says Michael Fleming, M.D., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Though their job is to knock out infection-causing bugs, antibiotics often end up destroying good bacteria, triggering stomach troubles and yeast infections. Here, three specialists tell you how to deal with the side effects of antibiotics--and how to avoid having to take them in the first place.
A herbalist The most important thing you can do while taking antibiotics is to reintroduce good bacteria into your body. In between doses, take probiotic supplements like acidophilus and bifidus. Antibiotics can cause digestive problems. Avoid sugary and starchy foods, which are harder to digest. For nausea, drink ginger tea. To relieve diarrhea, try raspberry leaf tea, lotus seeds or kudzu. For constipation, eat high-fiber foods such as flaxseed and psyllium. Supplements of vitamins A and C and fish oil seem to increase the resistance of mucus membranes to bacterial infection.—Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O.M.D., San Francisco-based acupuncturist and herbalist
A family physician One of the problems with taking antibiotics is yeast overgrowth, which can cause vaginal yeast infections and stomach upset. Castor oil and green-tea extract can help prevent yeast overgrowth; eating lots of garlic and onions helps keep yeast in check as well. To protect your liver, supplement with sulfur-rich amino acids that give the detoxification pathways a little boost--try taking 250 to 750 milligrams of dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) or 200 to 800 mg of s-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) daily. When you're done with the drugs, go to a natural-health practitioner to help get your immune system back in balance and figure out what was out of sync and allowed this infection to happen. Support your immune system by exercising, getting enough rest, eating healthfully, doing mindfulness meditation or yoga, and taking supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and E and Oregon grape root that help repair your cells and membranes.—Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., University of Arizona professor and author of Coyote Medicine
A naturopath To prevent having to use antibiotics, try to ward off infections by keeping your immune system healthy. Avoid simple carbohydrates that break down quickly to glucose, which can depress natural killer cells. Follow a well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, and good sources of protein such as beans, chicken, soy, salmon, halibut and nuts. Some mushrooms, including shiitake and maitake, are powerful immune boosters. Taking vitamin C, zinc, and thymus extract also strengthens your immune system. If you do need to take antibiotics, make sure to support your liver and keep it as strong as possible. Every drug we take has to be broken down; it's the liver that does that for you. Eat dark-green leafy vegetables like kale and collard greens, as well as broccoli, beets and artichokes to keep the bile flowing. To regenerate your liver cells, take milk thistle supplements. To keep your gut healthy while you're on antibiotics, get good bacteria into your system by eating goat's milk yogurt, drinking kefir or taking probiotic supplements.—Arlene Donar, N.D., New York-based naturopathic doctor
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