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Are the Side Effects of Antibiotics Making You Even Sicker?

Antibiotics have changed the world and saved many lives. But they do have side effects if you rely on them often. Here’s how to make antibiotics work for you.

A man reading the instructions to know the side effects of antibiotics.

Antibiotics are some of the most prescribed medicines. They help treat bacterial infections that won’t clear up on their own, like whooping cough, strep throat, or urinary tract infections. While they can undoubtedly cure illnesses, antibiotics aren’t without problems. Antibiotic overuse may lead to dangerous drug-resistant bacteria and cause side effects ranging from mild to severe. 

Find some facts about antibiotics, how they can affect you, their side effects, and the right way to take them.

How to Take Antibiotics the Right Way 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Western medicine recognise the integral role of antibiotics. Here’s how to take them to maximise their effectiveness.

Finish the entire prescribed dosage 

There are two types of antibiotics – bacteriostatic and bactericidal. Bacteriostatic antibiotics work by slowing the growth of bacteria, while bactericidal antibiotics work by killing bacteria directly.

It’s possible that you can feel better even if you haven’t fully recovered from an illness. When you stop taking your dose of antibiotics, bacteria can grow again, and worse, learn to be resistant to antibiotics and come back even stronger. This is called antibiotic resistance and it’s a problem because bacteria become difficult to treat.

Don’t take it if you don’t need it 

Nearly 50% of medical cases don’t need antibiotics in the first place. Overuse of antibiotics is the main contributor to drug-resistant bacteria.

The Side Effects of Antibiotics 

In Western medicine, the “trade-off” in using antibiotics is that it upsets the balance between good and bad bacteria, leading to unwanted side effects. Infections are considered either Heat or Dampness diseases in TCM. 

Antibiotics can reduce Heat symptoms like fever, inflammation, swelling, soreness, and redness. But because they’re cold in nature, they’re less effective when it comes to Dampness symptoms such as phlegm, fatigue, loose stools, and abnormal vaginal discharge

Woman resting head on table from fatigue.
In TCM, antibiotics are not as effective at preventing or removing Dampness symptoms such as fatigue and yeast infections.

Antibiotics use can impair the Spleen, which is a critical organ that transforms food eaten into nutrients. It’s transported to the Heart and Lungs and later distributed to the rest of your body.

If you have Spleen Qi Deficiency, you have uncleared Dampness. As a result, you may feel ill from the side effects usually associated with antibiotic use, such as: 

  • Upset stomach symptoms such as nausea and diarrhoea 
  • Secondary infections such as a vaginal yeast infection  

How to Deal with the Side Effects of Antibiotics 

We tend to get used to the idea that we’ll feel sicker before getting better when taking a course of antibiotics. You may even contract secondary infections if the initial antibiotics upset your body’s microbiome balance.

Doctors generally recommend taking painkillers to help with headaches, rehydrating, especially if you have diarrhoea, and getting plenty of rest and nutrition. 

If you’re looking for natural solutions, TCM has advice on easing symptoms of Dampness and protecting your Spleen. Try these tips. 

Eat foods that strengthen Spleen qi  

Avoid hard-to-digest and cold foods. Eat foods that warm and strengthen the Spleen instead, such as:  

  • Meats like chicken, beef, or lamb 
  • Fish like mackerel, tuna 
  • Grains like rice or other cooked grains like oats
  • Vegetables and fruits like sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, yams, stewed fruit, onions, leeks, garlic, turnip, mushrooms 
  • Spices like black pepper, fresh ginger, and cinnamon 

Herbal therapy to improve Spleen and stomach qi  

To jumpstart a healthy microbiome in your body again, work with a TCM practitioner to see if these herbal formulas work for you: 

  • Shen Qi Da Bu Wan (参芪大补丸) 
  • Si Jun Zi Tang (四君子汤) 
  • Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang (补中益气汤) 
A bowl of Chinese herbal chicken soup on top of a wooden placemat.
Foods and TCM herbs that warm and strengthen the Spleen help your body handle the side effects of antibiotics better.

Acupoint therapy 

Acupuncture helps mobilise and strengthen qi, so your body can better remove the effects of Dampness. A licensed expert acupuncturist will work with you to decide the specific points to use.

While at home, you can try some acupressure massage on the following points:  

  • Zu san li (ST36, 足三里): Helps strengthen Spleen qi to get rid of Dampness and phlegm  
  • San yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交): Revitalises the functions of the Spleen, Liver, and Kidneys 
  • Tian shu (ST25, 天枢): Helps resolve aches by eliminating painkilling chemicals from the nervous system 

Antibiotics have changed the world since being discovered, which has led to significantly fewer deaths from bacterial infections. However, taking them is not without side effects if it’s for the wrong reasons. 

Make antibiotics work in your favour by taking them only when necessary. Consult a licensed TCM professional and try TCM to help your body together with antibiotics to fight infections and heal.

Share this article with someone who can benefit from the correct use of antibiotics.

This is an adaptation of the article 什么抗生素一定要吃完?” which first appeared on the Health123 website.

References

  1. World Health Organization. WHO multi-country survey reveals widespread public misunderstanding about antibiotic resistance. [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023]  
  2. Cleveland Clinic. 2016. Antibiotics. [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023] 
  3. AcupunctureInCambridge.com. Sick of Antibiotics? Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs Can Help. [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023]  
  4. Katoka Massage Therapy. Antibiotics and Chinese Medicine [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023] 
  5. Medical Acupuncture. 2017. Dysbiosis, Spleen Qi, Phlegm, and Complex Difficulties. [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023] 

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