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Antibiotics and Probiotics: A brief history & how they work together

Antibiotic translates to “against life” (anti-against bios-life) and defined as a chemical substance that is destructive or inhibitory to micro-orginisms that is produced or derived through a low concentration of living organisms. Pasteur and Joubert were credited in 1877 for observing air contaminants were capable of destroying anthrax bacillus cultures. In 1929, Sir Alexander Fleming discovered antibacterial activity stems (by accident) from the lytic action on a plate of staphylococci and air-borne mold.

Some antibiotics interfere with growth and reproduction whereas some are protoplasmic poisons, but the result is the death of the organism or the organism surrenders to the body’s natural defense. It wasn’t until 1940 that Chain, Dlorey and their Oxford University associates validated the possibilities of penicillin in medicine.

The first antibiotic to be produced commercially by chemical synthesis was Chloroamphenicol.

Originally, all antibiotics were obtained biosynthetically, primarily from molds, some bacteria and actinomycetes. Penicillin is limited to organisms that are gram-positive microorganisms like Bacillus and Clostridium. They produce extremely resistant spores that can be found in the air and soil. Whereas Dihydrostreptomycin and Streptomycin penicillin are only effective on gram-negative microorganisms like E. coli and Salmonella (common food borne disease).

Choramphenicol was the first “broad spectrum” of antibiotics, which fought both gram-positive and gram-negative microorganisms. Also, the broad-spectrum antibiotic would attack resistant types of staphylococci bacteria, whereas other types of antibiotics would lose their efficacy.

An antibiotic can lose its effectiveness when a limited number of organisms block an essential metabolic reaction, which results in a narrow-spectrum antibiotic. During the development of a penicillin-resistant staphylococci bacteria, this happened. Staphylococcus is usually spread from skin on skin contact, and it causes pus. During the early 1950's, over 75% of all cases of staphylococcus infections were resistant to the effects of penicillin, therefore researchers strive to produce a new antibiotic for penicillin-resistant staphylococci.

In 1955, new forms of Penicillin were introduced, which were chemical modifications of the original benzyl penicillin; Penicillin O Potassium and Penicillin V. In 1959, Dr. John C. Sheehan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a new method of developing compounds that represented transitions between biologically active “synthetic” and “natural” penicillin that weren’t available previously by fermentation. This group is known as “The Tetracyclines”.

Today, there are many forms of antibiotics. Not all forms are recommended to be orally administer because some can be extremely toxic causing kidney and cranial nerve damage like Neomycin. It is better used on wet dressings, boils, burns and a very useful aid during gastrointestinal surgery by eliminating or suppresses bacterial inhabitants of the bowel and intestine.

According to Dr. Nigel Plummer and his presentation "Antibiotics and Probiotics, Potent Manipulators of the Microbiome", 70% of antibiotics have the side effect of chronic diarrhea. With the assistance of a probiotic during the treatment of an antibiotic, the effect of diarrhea can be reduced to 40%. Most antibiotics kill good bacteria in the small intestine, which is where various strains of Bifidobacterium reside.

Bifidobacterium is gram-postive and is destroyed with gram-postive antibiotics. It's role is to breakdown food, prevent overgrowth of bad bacteria, helps uptake nutrients and helps treat infection from H.pylori, constipation, lung infections, IBS, colitis, certain types of diarrhea, lower LDL cholesterol, infant/child development, cancer of chemotherapy, liver problems and so much more.

The Cambridge Probiotic/Antibiotic Trial was a study on the "effect of probiotics on preventing disruption of the intestinal microflora following antibiotic therapy: a double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study" conducted by Plummer in 2005. This study concluded in a prevention loss of lactobacilli bacteria during the time of 1-7 day antibiotic therapy. There was a significant in antibiotic resistance andterococci and Staphlococcus aureus bacteria had decreased overgrowth. The 162 participants were infected with H. pylori where some received probiotic treatment and compared to those who didn't receive probiotic treatment.

The Swansea Baby Triail for probiotic strains in pregnant women for skin sensitivity for common food allergens. Participants were administered specific strains of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus which improved their IBS symptoms (bloating, abdominal pain, bowel habits etc.) within 6 weeks. The ProChild Study conducted by Garaiova in 2015 was a combination of probiotic strains and vitamin C in school children 3-6 years of age. This study concluded with decreased days with cough symptoms, upper respiratory tract infections and sneezing symptoms.

Why should you supplement with probiotics?

Studies have shown that these beneficial bacteria can be reduced by factors like antibiotics, medication, stress, traveling, infection, illness and even poor diet. Hippocrates stated that "all disease starts in the gut". Of course this quote is always up for debate as many can argue that some diseases are genetic. From what I have studied about genetic disease is diet can turn these genes off or on, meaning poor diet can turn on the diabetic gene that has been passed down from one or both parents. Your diet is sent to the gut. Of course, every scientific theory, trial and study is always up for debate with added factors like a control groups. I did a gene testing for probable future disease, which resulted in a possibility of developing high blood pressure, if I don't keep my sodium intake under 1500 mg.

From personal experience of not taking probiotics, I suffered from IBS, extreme inflammation in all my organs when stressed, undigested food, weight gain, extreme bloating, very little control over my bowels and a compromised immune system that left me susceptible to many colds/flu. It wasn't until I decided to study holistic nutrition that I began my journey to better health.


Claus, Edward P. Pharmacognosy. Fourth edition: 1959. Lea & Febiger. Philadelphia, PA. p. 431-457.

Synthetic Penicillins. J. Amer. Pharm. Assoc. Pract. Pharm. Ed., 20 (12). 1959. p. 704-705.

Burkholder, P.R. Antibiotics, Science: 129 (3361). May 29, 1959. p. 1457-1465.

Plummer, Nigel. Antibiotics and Probiotics, Potent Malipulators of the Microbiome: webinar. November 8, 2018.

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