It was 1983. Halfway down Mt. Katahdin, I noticed my buddy was in terrible shape. We still had boulders to descend and it was beginning to rain. Dave kept his humor, but I knew his stomach was cramping. It wasn’t pretty. Upon our arrival home, Dave was misdiagnosed as having ulcerative colitis. His punishment: long term antibiotic therapy with sulfa drugs.

Before our trip, Dave had taken ampicillin for a “cold”, which wreaked havoc on his digestive system.  At that time, doctors knew little about beneficial intestinal bacteria or that antibiotics could damage this “microbiome.” These bacteria support proper digestion and provide essential nutrients, including Vitamin K, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B7, strengthening the immune system.

If antibiotics selectively kill a segment of the microbiome, the intestine can then become overpopulated with potentially harmful bacteria. One particular strain, C. diff, can cause a severe form of colitis, accompanied by stomach pain and diarrhea. After more antibiotics, a healthy microbiome then needs to be restored.

Antibiotic residues are prevalent in the food supply. Frequently eating antibiotic laced food is not a good idea. Beef cattle are fed antibiotics to help them gain weight. Dairy cattle are treated to prevent mastitis, an infection caused by hormonal overstimulation to produce milk. Chickens and farm raised fish too are fed antibiotics to keep them healthy in their overcrowded homes.

Vegetarians aren’t spared. Glyphosate, a common herbicide used by farmers, has antibacterial properties. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) designed to grow in treated soil absorb the chemical, Eating GMO crops, such as corn or soybeans ,will provide a low dose, frequent exposure to antibiotics. Wheat may also contain traces of glyphosate as it is now common to spray wheat fields a few days before harvest to kill the plants, making for an easier harvest.

So what can you do? 

Reduce your intake of food laced with antibiotics. Eat organic meat, grass-fed beef and organic chicken.  Choose packaged meats with labels that read “animals raised without the use of antibiotics”. Eat wild caught fish.

Choose organic vegetables, fruits, and processed foods. Feed your children organic milk products or those labeled “no antibiotics added”. Purify your drinking water with a high quality filter as even bottled water may contain traces of antibiotics.

Yogurt, Kefir, sauerkraut and supplementation will help create and maintain a healthy microbiome. If bacteria are happy in your gut, they will grow and reproduce. But, if you ingest antibiotics while taking probiotic supplements, what’s the point?

An unhealthy microbiome can impair digestion. Some believe gluten sensitivity is caused by a damaged intestinal microbiome. Let’s face it, people have been eating bread products for thousands of years. Why are so many now unable to digest gluten? If you have been diagnosed with a malabsorption syndrome such as gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, try to build your microbiome. After a few months, see if your symptoms improve. Take care of your microbiome, improve your health and immunity. It’s worth it!