The Paleo Diet and Antibiotics

By this point in time, many people (and hopefully all of us Paleo folks), know that the bacteria (known as “flora”) in our small intestine (known as the “gut”) is vitally important for health, longevity, immunity and even for maintaining a healthy weight.

Chris Kresser loves to talk about gut health….it’s one of his favorite topics. If you’re not familiar with Chris Kresser’s work, come out from under your rock, head on over to, and read some of his blog posts. Here’s what Chris says about gut health:

Our gut is home to approximately 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) microorganisms. That’s such a big number our human brains can’t really comprehend it. One trillion dollar bills laid end-to-end would stretch from the earth to the sun – and back – with a lot of miles to spare. Do that 100 times and you start to get at least a vague idea of how much 100 trillion is.

The human gut contains 10 times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body, with over 400 known diverse bacterial species. In fact, you could say that we’re more bacterial than we are human. Think about that one for a minute.

We’ve only recently begun to understand the extent of the gut flora’s role in human health and disease. Among other things, the gut flora promotes normal gastrointestinal function, provides protection from infection, regulates metabolism and comprises more than 75% of our immune system. Dysregulated gut flora has been linked to diseases ranging from autism and depression to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes.” -  Chris Kresser

Bacterial thermonuclear warfare

One of the biggest threats to our gut health is from prescribed antibiotics. Antibiotics are great at what they do, which is purely and simply, to kill any and all bacteria in your body…….bad or good. It’s kind of like using a nuclear missile to end a war, or using a stick of dynamite to take out a colony of ants. It does the job, but it’s a little over-the-top, so it also takes out a bunch of the stuff that is actually beneficial to your body, along with the bad stuff. Chemo works in much the same way. Chemo is SO toxic to your body, that it is one of the only things that can kill cancer cells, but it also causes lots of other irreparable damage to the host body. It’s all about weighing up the benefits versus the costs.

Sometimes this kind of treatment is entirely necessary and possibly unavoidable. If a person has some kind of life threatening massive systemic infection, then a course of antibiotics could certainly save their life. Many more people died from common infections, before antibiotics were discovered, than they do now. I’d like to say, “don’t take antibiotics”, but I know it’s not that easy. I personally try to avoid taking antibiotics….hell, I avoid doctors on the whole for the most part, because most of them know less about the human body than I do, but I do acknowledge that I would take a course of antibiotics if ABSOLUTELY necessary. When I say “absolutely necessary”, I don’t mean when those pesky little aches, pains, and runny-nose just won’t go away……I mean when the “knocked on your ass”, bed-ridden, and on death’s door kind of sick, makes it necessary. Sometimes you’ve just got to allow your immune system to do what it’s supposed to do, before you take such drastic measures that are going to wipe out your Gut flora, and therefore leave you vulnerable to more bacterial or viral attacks. It is for this very reason that people who take an antibiotic for an infection, become sick again very soon after completely the antibiotic course….which can lead to a worsening cycle of sickness and inflammation.

Unfortunately, several features of the modern lifestyle directly contribute to unhealthy gut flora:

▪   Antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs

▪   Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods

▪   Diets low in fermentable fibers

▪   Dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut

▪   Chronic stress

▪   Chronic infections

Antibiotics are particularly harmful to the gut flora. Recent studies have shown that antibiotic use causes a profound and rapid loss of diversity and a shift in the composition of the gut flora. This diversity is not recovered after antibiotic use without intervention.” – Chris Kresser

The Paleo Diet and Antibiotics

Just because you live the Paleo Lifestyle, and you eat all of that nutritious real food, doesn’t mean that you’re bulletproof. We still get sick, usually for a shorter duration, with symptoms of a lesser magnitude, but it does happen. If you are already eating Paleo, then your gut is probably already in pretty good shape….depending upon how long you have been grain-free. So, if you make the informed choice to take an antibiotic, you’re in a better starting position than most people….BUT, before you even pop that first antibiotic pill in your mouth, you need to already have an antibiotic recovery plan in mind, or in place.

If you’ve been exposed to some of these factors, there are still steps you can take to restore your gut flora:

▪   Remove all food toxins from your diet

▪   Eat plenty of fermentable fibers (starches like sweet potato, yam, yucca, etc.)

▪   Eat fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, etc., and/or take a high-quality, multi-species probiotic

▪   Treat any intestinal pathogens (such as parasites) that may be present

▪   Take steps to manage your stress” – Chris Kresser

As Chris says, if you do find yourself in a position where taking an antibiotic is necessary, make sure that you make an effort to replenish your gut flora as soon as you’re done with the course of antibiotics.


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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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