Having done research in an academic medical center, I had some of the best and brightest minds around me. So when the guy who ran the lab (me) got sick, I had a ready supply of MDs around me to write me a prescription so I could keep doing those marathon (19 hour) experiments we would perform.
One day when I had a nasty sinus infection, my mentor gave me some augmentin. It was new at the time... He said his wife had a bad reaction to it, and didn't want it when he brought it home. So it would be fine for Bill. Well next thing I know I had no sinus infection, but had the most outrageous gastric symptoms that a modest person could imagine. I wouldn't invite any friends over, because the odor from the liquid bowel movements was that bad. Finally after losing a lot of weight I went to see a primary care physician. He diagnosed me as having a clostridium difficile infection in my GI tract.
Clostridium difficile (Greek kloster (κλωστήρ), spindle, and difficile, difficult), also known as "CDF/cdf", or "C. diff", is a species of Gram-positive bacteria of the genus Clostridium. Clostridia are anaerobic, spore-forming rods (bacillus). C. difficile is the most serious cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) and can lead to pseudomembranous colitis, a severe infection of the colon, often resulting from eradication of the normal gut flora by antibiotics. The C. difficile bacteria, which naturally reside in the body, become overgrown: The overgrowth is harmful because the bacterium releases toxins that can cause bloating, constipation, and diarrhea with abdominal pain, which may become severe. Latent symptoms often mimic some flu-like symptoms.
Basically I had killed most of the "good bugs" in my intestines, which allowed a "bad bug" to flourish without competition. Whether you realize it or not, a healthy gastrointestinal tract is teaming with bacteria that perform important functions. Some help digestion. Some help with immunity. Some help with the development of villi in the intestines which enhance the absorption of important nutrients.
Antibiotic treatment is a relatively new thing for humans. Our bodies really weren't designed to tolerate it. But in some cases the cost/benefit balance weighs heavily in treatment - particularly for pneumonia or wound infections. They are without a doubt life saving in these circumstances. But they are used with a consequence. And they are used far too much.
This time of year, lots of us are treated with antibiotics. Sometimes it's appropriately used to stave off a secondary infection that comes after a bad cold or a bout of influenza. Antibiotics don't cure colds or flu, but they do help a body that's beaten down from these bugs and is vulnerable to potentially lethal bacteria.
But with every treatment, there is a side effect. I've known about the benefit of "good bugs" in our intestines both from academic study and from personal experience. And with my sons sometimes needing treatment for strep or other serious illnesses, I've been aware of the need to replenish the natural organisms that have a symbiotic relationship with us.
What's the old school treatment after antibiotics? Eat yogurt. Why? Yogurt is what you get when you introduce several species of bacteria into relatively sterile milk (L acidophilus, S salivarius, L bulgaricus). The bacteria feed on the milk and cause it to "yog." We add fruit, mix, and enjoy. And fresh yogurt still has millions of live organisms in it.
Health food stores now are selling live cultures in capsule form, to be taken either after antibiotic treatment or even as a way to occasionally replenish the gut cultures. Instinct told me it was a good thing to consume these, and even to make it part of my boys' diets. But if you know me, you know I sometimes am on the "bleeding edge" in these matters.
However just last Friday I went in to a "doc-in-the-box" place to get a nasty sinus/respiratory infection checked. The MD and I had a nice talk about my research. Then he gave me an antibiotic prescription, and a few sheets of paper. One sheet told me about the antibiotic, and how to take it. (VERY important.) And the other sheet? For the first time, I actually had a licensed, practicing physician order me in writing to go to a health food store and purchase a "probiotic" supplement. Wow... I feel vindicated in my forward thinking!
There are many different combinations of bacteria in these probiotic supplements. Your guess is as good as mine in terms of which combinations make the best sense to carry along inside for our ride through life. But whatever the best formula, it's clear that "good bugs" are now a doctor-approved part of our diet.