When a lingering cough kept getting worse and started to interfere with her ability to work Myra, an expat based in Bangkok, finally decided to go see a doctor. She happily accepted his recommendation to take antibiotics, one at first followed by a second dose. When that failed to help and the same doctor prescribed a 3rd dose she took it too, albeit reluctantly.
What followed was something neither she nor the doctor had anticipated: a whole body crash. Myra reacted so severely to the 3rd round of antibiotics that she ended up in the emergency room. The saga didn’t end there: Myra had to fly back to her home country two weeks later, in a wheelchair, to start a long recovery. What became clear was that the medication she had been prescribed had affected her on multiple levels: her energy was almost non-existent, she was unable to tolerate most kinds of food and anything out of her diet routine, which was limited to a few basics staples triggered a severe reaction.
When I spoke to Myra for the first time, about 5 months after the start of her issues, she was back in Bangkok, mostly homebound and still dealing with low energy levels. In addition to the extreme fatigue she was experiencing digestive issues and she was pretty desperate and ready to try anything to get back to feeling like her normal self. While Myra’s reaction to the triple dose of antibiotic treatment had been extreme and possibly related to a number of different factors, there was a strong possibility that the antibiotics had done more than just wipe out the bacterial infection in her lungs.
It had most likely eradicated a significant part of her gut bacteria as well. Antibiotics are known to affect the health of our gut microbiome, which consists of trillions of microorganisms that play an essential role in many of our body functions, including energy production and digestion. While antibiotic treatment can literally be a lifesaver with respect to curing or preventing life threatening infections they are unfortunately still handed out like candy at the first sign of a cold or flu, more so even in certain parts of the world. Most expats in Asia can relate to this. It is very rarely that I work with a client who doesn’t have antibiotic use as part of their health history.
Restoring the microbiome therefore ends up being an important part of a holistic health-building programme and it was something I actively focused on with Myra. You can compare the microbiome to an inner ecosystem such as a tropical rainforest, which is housed in the gut. There are trillions of microorganisms and thousands of different species and some of those are, like in many of the world’s ecosystems, facing extinction.
If you consider that all the different types of microorganisms play a unique role and help to maintain a delicate balance, you’ll begin to understand it is essential to support microbial diversity. There are several ways to help restore microbiome health. Taking a high quality probiotic supplement is a great starting point for most people and adding probiotic rich foods to the diet is another great way to help to introduce certain strains of beneficial bacteria into the gut. But what is turning out to be even more important than that is to encourage natural growth of the beneficial bacteria that are already in the digestive tract with the help of plant based whole foods.
I came across an interview some time ago where it was said that our Palaeolithic ancestors ate, on average 600 different foods in one year. The estimated number of different foods in a typical modern Western diet is on average 20 per year. This lack of diversity in our diet is (in addition to antibiotic use, toxins, infections, etc.) what is contributing to a lack of microbial diversity in our gut and an inability to restore balance. So what do you do to help resolve that? Branch out! Step out of your comfort zone and try different foods. The aim is to include 40 different plant based, whole foods into your weekly diet routine.
While this may initially seem like a challenge, consider that a red onion is different from a yellow onion. Brown rice is different from red rice. If you are used to eating salads with your meals, try stepping away from the usual romaine lettuce and try a different type of lettuce, arugula or kale. Explore weekly farmer’s markets in your area and experiment with new seasonal produce.
Myra got the hang of this pretty quickly and it was one of the things that helped her to achieve a remarkably quick improvement in her digestion and energy levels. When we spoke earlier this week she was happy to report that she is up and about and back to living a normal life. We are all creatures of comfort and it is easy to fall into a routine with regards to food. If you are feeling less than optimal or you have taken antibiotics try the food diversity challenge so that you can restore the health of your microbiome and create a positive ripple effect in your entire wellbeing.
If you need help with any of it, I invite you to a free Nutrition Breakthrough Session so we can discuss ways to have you feeling on top of the world.