Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I thought we lived in an information economy

I've been on a course of antibiotics in connection with an accident I recently had (a bus hit me as I was riding my bike on 16th St; I was mostly fine but had a few cuts that got badly infected.) My sensitive, yoga-licious, earthy self does not enjoy taking pills, especially pills with a name that literally translate as "anti-life," but I must admit that although the natural path is overwhelmingly preferable, for a few ailments (such as a gigantic, throbbing staph infection in your foot) the best course is to go into the garden with a bazooka, obliterate the monsters, and then worry about replanting all the delicate little flowers.

So I did some obsessive internet research on the side effects of these "anti-life" pills - most of which connect to the balance of your natural intestinal flora. Although some bacteria are harmful, some are very beneficial to the body, and live in our stomachs and intestines and help us digest food. When we take antibiotics, these benefical bacteria die and our digestion gets shot. However, a good remedy for this is to eat a lot of yoghurt, kefir, cottage cheese, or anything else with live active bacterial cultures (especially L. acidopholus and L. bifidous.) There are also "pro-biotic" pills you can buy at health stores with extra-concentrated doses of these good bacteria.

Women have an additional problem, which is that we also have the same benefical bacteria in our vaginas that help us stay healthy and clean ourselves. Taking antibiotics changes the pH of our vaginas, making them slightly more alkaline, and kills off those beneficial bacteria - leaving an open playing field for the nasty bacteria in a yeast infection or thrush. Fifty percent of women get a vaginal infection after taking a course of antibiotics. Fifty percent! I never knew this - I'd never taken them before.

Well, I was very proud of my new knowledge and my resolution to diligently protect my health while taking these harsh, alien Western medicines. And as any of my friends who've suffered through my ministrations can testify, I love playing doctor. So when one of my colleagues mentioned that she was taking antibiotics to deal with a lung infection, I practically glowed with the chance to help.

"Oh, I've just been doing all this research about dealing with antibiotic side effects!" I said happily. "You know to eat yoghurt, right?"

"Yeah...I never quite understood why, though."

I rocketed my schpiel about the beneficial bacteria in our gut.

"Ah, that seems to make sense."

"And, unfortunately for women, the same is true for our vaginas - the good bacteria die there, making room for unhealthy bacteria."

My colleague's cheeks flushed. "Yes...I often get yeast infections after taking antibiotics," she said.

I was almost jumping up and down with excitement. "Well you know, you can fix that! All you've got to do is stick a little yoghurt up there once a day. And maybe a weak solution with some vinegar, to make it a bit more acid. I like to break open one of the pro-biotic pills I get at Whole Foods, and mix it with the yoghurt."

The cheeks were getting redder. And the body language was becoming closed (you know that way you can tell that people at a cocktail party don't want to talk to you any more?)

I added, "If it makes you uncomfortable to touch yourself you could just dip a tampon in some yoghurt and..."

The body language situation was getting too obvious to ignore, even with my health proselytization enthusiasm. "Well, sorry if that was too much information," I said.

An awkward smile from the colleague. "I think I'll just eat some yoghurt. But thanks!"

Gosh, you know, I really don't understand our culture. We've all been intimately familiar with the vagina at least once - yes, even you, flinching male reader! - when our heads slid out between its walls in an avalanche of mucus, blood (and sometimes shit). And our existence and the continued existence of other human beings depends on the intricacies and vagaries of its physiology and chemistry. Yet although it seems to be okay to let other human beings, some of whom are relative strangers, stick things into it, and it's okay to touch it to shave it or get it waxed, things that relate to its health, to its function or dysfunction, seem highly taboo.

I'm sure that feminist theory - which I'm not very familiar with - will have a world to tell me on this subject.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks! I'm taking antibiotics now and that's good to know. -Sarah

1:44 PM  
Blogger mjalex said...

Wow. You learn something new every day :-) Without a doubt, that's the strangest thing I've heard in a while. For work, I was on doxycycline for several months to protect against anthrax, and they recommended eating yogurt to replenish the active cultures in the digestive track that the drug would eradicate.

However, I thought that simply ingesting yogurt would protect your vagina. If you can ingest antibiotics to eradicate bacteria, why not ingest active active cultures to replenish bacteria? Is sticking yogurt (or maybe go-gurt, that stuff in the tube, would be much easier to "apply," though I doubt they make that in Plain, and the idea of using strawberry banana doesn't seem like a good idea) up there just a more effective way to replenish the bacteria there, or is it the only way to protect yourself?

9:11 PM  
Blogger zzzzzoe said...

I think that eating yoghurt goes some way towards protecting your vagina; it's just that in extreme cases, the direct route is faster & more effective. I don't have any authoritative knowledge about this, it's just my intuition, but I think that if you're on a long course of antibiotics and you eat yoghurt, the cultures might even die before they work their way to the place you need 'em - so it's more effective to just add 'em directly.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Le Bas Bleu said...

This is something of a conjecture, but: I suspect eating yogurt might allow a very few lactobacilli to get near your vagina, but only indirectly when they, ahem, exit the digestive tract. There's no direct route from the belly to the vagina, which is probably a good thing anyway. To avoid nastiness like yeast infections, I think direct application is the best bet.

9:15 AM  
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7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Help me Dude, I'm lost.

I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)

8:37 PM  
Blogger Aretusa said...

It's nice to read about people who despite of red cheeks help others. I am for the probiotic pills,30 billion bacteria is OK. You can find them at greatplainslaboratory.The product is called culturelle. Website is newbeginnings.com. Having yoghurt doesn't help much, because milk has lactose, which is a sugar that feeds the yeast, and the thrush goes worse. If you want to avoid antibiotics think about the pre-antibiotic era (oregano, garlic, lemon juice) and having at least ten times less sugar than you're having now. Avoid also caseine which is found in most cereals except rice, corn and quinua. For big infections try also pulse magnetic therapy and infra-red-rays. That's how I had two teeth out with no antibiotics at all

6:28 AM  

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