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Antibiotic weight gain - is it wrecking your diet? Discover 15 top tips to make sure it doesn't.

Updated on July 17, 2012
Antibiotic weight gain - get the facts
Antibiotic weight gain - get the facts | Source

Is Antibiotic weight gain undermining your diet efforts?

Have you ever wondered why many people have real problems with their weight whilst others seem to remain slim without giving their diet a second thought? If you have, you've probably put it down to genetics or just bad luck - but there may be another factor at work - which may have been undermining your efforts to maintain an ideal weight, for some time.

Scientists have been uncovering details of the complex relationship between the bacteria which live in our gut, our diet and our weight, for some time now. It turns out the mixture and numbers of the different bacteria can have a profound effect on our eating habits our metabolism and therefore our weight and that when things get out of balance it can cause weight management problems.

Antibiotics indiscriminately kill bacteria in our bodies and whilst they are important for fighting infection they can also reek unwitting havoc with the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut and lead to antibiotic weight gain. This can happen at a very early age and for some it can lead to life-long problems with their weight. The good news is that you can do something about the damage antibiotics do - read on to find out how.


Gut flora diversity: why it matters

Our guts have evolved over millions of years to work in harmony with the 100 trillion microbes which live in them. We have adapted to take advantage of their activities: the chemicals they breakdown, the chemicals they produce as "waste", the chemicals they produce to "communicate" within colonies.

The presence, absence and volume of these chemicals produced has a significant knock-on effect on the complex processes which regulate our health and well being by controlling hormone production. The activities of H.Pylori for example, a microbe found in our gut, affects the levels of ghrelin, a hormone whose effects include suppression of the use of our fat stores and stimulation of the parts of the brain which control feelings of hunger. This hormone also plays a part in gastric emptying which can be a problem because we may not feel full and end up eating more than we need to.

You can think of the chemicals these microbes produce as they go about their business as a "code" or "signals" our bodies are "reading" and using to decide how best to regulate the complex processes which govern amongst other things our metabolism, eating habits and ultimately our weight. The closer the make-up of your particular gut flora to that your body is "expecting" through millions of years of evolution the healthier you are likely to and easier it is also likely to be for you to maintain your ideal weight.

And how do you do this? Read on...

The consequences of damaged gut flora - here's the science

Antibiotics- unintended consequences

As we've seen, bacteria can be very helpful and our bodies have a complex a sophisticated range of ways to keep them out or keep them under control. If lose control of it can lead to illness or death. This is where antibiotics come in as they kill bacteria in our bodies. The problem is, they don't distinguish between helpful and unhelpful bacteria - they will kill them all (if they can). Now if you are desperately ill or at risk of dying, this unwanted collateral damage to your "good" bacteria is a price worth paying. If however you are not at risk of serious illness or death the "cost" of taking antibiotics may be worse than the benefits.

We looked at the complex chemical "signals" these bacteria produce, as they go about their business, in your gut, and how these "signals" control how your body manages a whole host of complex processes which regulate your eating habits, digestion and health. Enter antibiotics - inadvertently disrupting and in some cases silencing these signals as it kills off bacteria in your gut. Some of the effects are obvious: diarrhoea and constipation, which are common side effects of antibiotic use, show that the disruption to these bacterial "signals" causes loss of control over bodily processes. What's not so obvious is the more subtle knock-on effects on our behaviour, metabolism etc, through the disruption caused to hormone levels. This article is focussing on antibiotic weight gain and the implications of the disruption antibiotics may cause for those struggling with their weight, however, the profound effect on health and well being in general make it worthwhile looking after your gut flora regardless of you are overweight or not.

Read on for some top tips on countering the adverse effects of antibiotics...

It's not just Antibiotics: What else can damage your gut flora?

Top 15 Tips for to prevent antibiotics wrecking your diet...

O.K. So here we go... the top 15 tips for making sure antibiotics don't ruin your diet...

Tip #1: Avoid the need for them (antibiotics)

The best way to tackle the negative effects of antibiotics on your waistline, is to avoid the need for them in the first place.

Eating a healthy diet and getting moderate exercise can go a long way to warding off illness in the first place - so can making sure that you are not working too hard. It's all too easy, with the pressures of modern living, to forget to look after yourself and build time into your routine to stay fit and healthy. If you allow yourself to get run down then you can find yourself in a vicious circle of minor health issues which over time can lead to more serious things. If you find you are regularly taking antibiotics - take a look at your life style and make sure that you're putting as much effort into staying fit and healthy as you are your work and home commitments - after all, you're no good to yourself or anyone else if you're sick.

Tip #2: Get on with it!

Most of us have used antibiotics as a quick fix at some point in our lives. More recently, health professionals have become worried about the resistance which bacteria have been building up over the decades and have become more reluctant to prescribe them. Antibiotics - used in the right circumstances, are a very valuable toll and have saved countless lives over the years. This is how we need it to stay, so unless you're really ill, it's better to "soldier on" and spare your gut bacteria the punishment, than to have antibiotics when you're not really ill. Miserable as it can be to feel poorly, you can also build up your resistance for the future, rather than building up the bacteria's to antibiotics. Antibiotics don't distinguish between "good" and "bad" bacteria - they just kill them and evidence is emerging to suggest that if your gut flora gets out of balance you can not only be unwell but may even gain weight as a result.

Tip #3: Don't ask for them (antibiotics)

Now some people will actually pester the doctor for antibiotics to get rid of the infection quickly - so they can get on with their busy lives. This is actually counter productive at a number of levels:

  • Many illnesses are caused by viruses - not bacteria - for which antibiotics are useless.
  • Antibiotics will indiscriminately kill 'good' bacteria in your gut which play a vital role in digestion and general health.
  • The "space" left by the dead "good" bacteria may be colonised by "bad" bacteria which are present naturally in your gut and which are normally kept in check by the presence of the "good" bacteria.
  • The imbalance in your gut flora may last a long time - bringing digestive issues with it. The damage caused to the make-up and diversity of gut flora has also been linked to obesity in some studies - which is particularly unhelpful if you are on a diet.
  • If the doctor thought you needed them he or she would prescribe them - without you having to ask.
  • The unnecessary use of antibiotics builds bacterial resistance - which is bad news for all of us.

Tip #4: Finish the course (of antibiotics)

If you are prescribed a course of antibiotics - please make sure you finish it. Don't stop taking the antibiotics simply because you feel better. If you do you will not only let the bacteria you are trying to kill off the hook - and may become ill again - you will also help them build up resistance by allowing the most hardy to breed - making them that much harder to kill, the next time.

If you don't finish the course there's a good chance you will have to have another course, which will inflict a second round of damage to your gut flora - some of which may not be as hardy as the bacteria you are actually trying to kill.

Tip #5: Make sure you take antibiotics when directed to

This sounds obvious - but antibiotics are not "bad" and if your doctor has prescribed them - you need to make sure you take them (the whole course - not just a few until you feel better)

Tip #6: Cultivate gut flora variety

Hopefully you've been convinced that it's in your interests to cultivate a healthy variety of bacteria in your gut. You can think of it as tending your "inner garden". We'll look at what you can actively do to help you "garden" flourish, in later tips. This tip is about understanding how important it is to your health in general and your diet in particular - to nurture an protect your gut bacteria. The good news is that it's not complex - and in many cases it's about avoiding certain things rather than doing something. We've already covered avoiding the use of antibiotics unless they're absolutely necessary, for example, and hopefully you've realised that if you've used antibiotics repeatedly your "garden" may need a little help to regain its former diversity.

Tip #7: Use prebiotics to rebalance your gut flora

You can think of prebiotics as things which improve the environment for beneficial bacteria to thrive in your gut. To use the garden analogy again: prebiotics are like soil fertiliser helping the flowers we want to grow, to flourish. There are a whole collection of these available and they fall broadly into natural probiotic food stuffs and those products developed specifically to help beneficial bacteria thrive.

When dealing with your gut flora it's important to take a balanced and gentle approach and most importantly - be patient. It's also advisable to discuss any dietary changes with you physician if you have health issues or are on medication as they are best placed to advise you.

Prebiotic products

Tip #8: use probiotics to rebalance your gut flora

Probiotics are designed to reintroduce bacteria which are either missing or are in low numbers, to try to restore both variety and balance to your gut flora. Once again, there are many probiotics available. Check out the videos below to learn more about how probiotics work.

Probitics in words and pictures

Probiotic products

Tip #9: avoid diet shocks

This should be obvious by now - but avoid "diet shocks". Any extreme change to your diet is to be avoided - starving bacterial colonies to death because you've decided to eat a single lettuce leaf a day, can be just as disruptive to your digestion and health as antibiotics. I'm not going name particular diets here - I'll leave you to do that - but any plan which doesn't work around a balanced diet is neither sustainable or advisable for either weight control or general health. Sure - you may lose weight short term but at the expense of medium to long term changes brought about by changes in your gut bacteria which lead to you gaining more weight later on.

Tip #10: Drink enough water

So obvious this - but so few of us actually drink enough water. The colour of your urine will show you whether you're dehydrated on a regular basis - if it's dark on a regular basis you should drink more.

Professor Ron Maughan on the right amount of water

Tip #11: Walk the walk!

Gentle exercise aids digestion and this is particularly important with modern sedentary lifestyles. - so why not build more walkng into your daily routine? Even if it's only walking to a colleague's office to talk rather than phoning them, or parking at the furthest end of the car park.

Tip #12: Eat the right amount of fibre

The fibre is a natural probiotic and is one of the reasons we should make sure we have enough in our diet. Avoid heavily processed foods like white bread and choose brown instead. Similarly there are high fibre alternatives to many of the highly processed breakfast cereals on the market - so slowly introduce healthier alternatives - your gut will thank you for it in better general health and improved weight control.

Tip #13: Get enough Fruit and vegetables

The fibre we find in fruit and vegetables is a natural probiotic and is one of the reasons to make sure you get your five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Lack of fibre and over consumption of highly processed foods like white bread, biscuits and potato chips can reduce gut transit times and lead to constipation - so make sure you're being kind to your gut and take the 5 a day advice.

Tip #15: Avoid laxatives

If you find you need laxatives, this is a clear sign that all is not well with your gut. If you speak to your physician, as you should, they will help you incorporate some of the advice we have covered in these top tips to soften your stools and improve gut transit times. Eating habits take a while to change so be patient with yourself and stick at it. The state of your gut flora will improve over time as you start to introduce more natural probiotics into your diet.

Tip #14: Choose gentle sustainable diet plans like passive slimming

By now it should be clear that you should adopt a diet plan which is gentle, sustainable and which accords with mainstream medical advice. Diet extremes may catch the headlines but they are likely to leave you back where you started or worse and as we have seem, if the balance of your gut flora is disturbed it can very powerful negative effects on you ability to maintain a healthy weight through both how you think and how your body uses and stores fat.

Passive slimming offers a gentle and sustainable way to escape the diet boom and bust forever by showing you how to change your dietary habits with the minimum effort.

The reading room

Want to learn more about how you can improve both your health in general and your weight control success? read on for some suggestions...


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    • profile image

      Lisa Smith 

      8 months ago

      nice tips thanks


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