The use of antibiotics is commonplace in healthcare and has saved countless lives, but the overuse of those same life-saving drugs sometimes comes with worse health problems than they cure, especially when they kill off the good bacteria with the bad.
Clostridium difficile, or “C. diff” for short, is one of the many bacteria that may gain a foothold in the gastrointestinal tract after a round of antibiotics. C. diff is an anaerobic strain of bacteria that is most often contracted in hospitals, nursing homes, and other places where antibiotics are used regularly. The bacterial spores are resistant to most cleaning agents (except bleach), and can survive outside the body for extended periods of time, making reinfection possible. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not kill clostridium. There are now strains of C. diff that are resistant to even the most heavy duty antibiotics like Levaquin and Cipro (which is used to fight anthrax).
Symptoms of C. diff infection can include chronic constipation or diarrhea, nausea, fever, blood or pus in the stool, and abdominal swelling and cramping. The longe-term complications of a clostridium difficile infection may be as severe as toxic megacolon (where the colon enlarges to massive proportions), perforated colon, gangrenous colon, sepsis, and death. Often a C. diff infection mimics IBS or colitis because of the diarrhea or constipation.
Usually, a C. diff infection is prevented by a healthy probiotic balance of friendly intestinal flora, but once antibiotics are used and all forms of bacteria are killed, the first ones back that gain a foothold are usually bad. High doses of probiotics are mandatory for anyone using NSAID drugs, chemotherapy, or aspirin. Chlorinated water and changes in intestinal PH can also set the stage for a C. diff infection.
Diets consisting of large amounts of live-fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, and other probiotic foods are one way to combat any intestinal infection, but especially helpful against C. diff. A fecal implant may be another option for those with severe infection. However, a healthy diet low in meats and fats (which take longer to process in the gut), good bowel motility (at least once a day), high dietary fiber intake, and fermented foods are still the best way to prevent this nightmare bacteria from setting up residency in your colon.
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