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Difference Between Probiotic & Antibiotic

By Rebecca Chancellor ; Updated August 14, 2017

Probiotics and antibiotics can both be utilized to improve your health but cannot be used interchangeably. While antibiotics are used to fight bacterial infections, probiotics are most commonly utilized to repopulate helpful bacteria in the human body. In some situations, probiotics are given alongside of antibiotics so that the probiotic can restore the helpful bacteria while the antibiotic kills bacteria.


Antibiotics are medications that help to kill or stall the growth of bacteria. Antibiotics are often used to treat infections such as sinus infections, ear infections and pneumonia. Many infections, however, are caused by viruses, in which case antibiotics will be ineffective. Probiotics are live microorganisms that help counteract bacteria that are causing problems such as diarrhea. Probiotics may also help to decrease inflammation and are used primarily to treat diarrheal conditions and atopic dermatitis.


For bacterial infections, your physician will prescribe the antibiotic that is most effective at treating your particular infection. There are many different types of antibiotics that effectively kill specific bacteria. Fluoroquinolones, for example, are excellent at killing gram-negative bacteria, a frequent cause of urinary tract infections. There are many types of probiotics, but the different types are not used to treat separate medical conditions. Examples of useful probiotics include lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and saccharomyces boulardii.


You must see a physician and obtain a prescription in order to use an antibiotic. Choosing an antibiotic that is adept at fighting your particular infection can be complicated, so training is required to pick the appropriate antibiotic. Probiotics, however, can be obtained over the counter. Certain types of yogurt contain probiotics, as do capsules and powders that can be purchased at a health food store. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, capsules called Florastor, Primal Defense and Align all contain a therapeutic amount of probiotics.


While antibiotics are excellent at fighting bacterial infections, you may develop bacteria resistant to common antibiotics over time. According to the Center for Disease Control, antibiotics are used unnecessarily almost 50 percent of the time. Antibiotics also kill some of the "good bacteria," or bacteria that helps digest your food, in your gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to antibiotic-associated diarrhea, one of the medical conditions for which probiotics can be used. Probiotics themselves have minimal side effects.

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