Most Africans see purchase of drugs over-the-counter antibiotics when treating common infections such as tonsillitis and urinary tract infections without seeing a doctor for proper prescription and caution as a normal thing.
It is true antibiotics cure bacterial infections, meaning they are useless against viral infections such as colds or flu, most coughs, bronchitis, runny noses and sore throats not caused by strep.
However, very few people are lucky to get or seek the correct way of using common antibiotics.
Bacterial infections are illnesses that occur when harmful forms of bacterial multiply inside the body, ranging from mild to severe.
Therefore, other than the most common side effects, both short and long term, effects of hearing loss, nausea, diarrhea and kidney damage respectively, antibiotics may fail to work effectively due to reactions with the foods in the body.
Jamir Mpiima, a Uganda nutritionist at Victoria Wellness Clinic, says foods such as carbonated beverages and fruits such as lemon, pineapple, and citrus juice which are acidic should be avoided several hours before and after taking antibiotics.
“Instead, take antibiotics with probiotics (some strains of bacteria have been indicated to help treat or prevent antibiotics from causing diarrhea), also called healthy bacteria found in certain yogurts and fermented foods,” Mpiima says.
Similarly, other foods which contain calcium and iron such as milk, Mpiima says, can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb some antibiotics.
Dr Vincent Karuhanga, a general physician at Polyclinic in Kampala, says antibiotics like any other drugs can affect what we eat and what we eat can also affect the drugs, the reason we ought to be sure of what we eat.
“If you are taking a certain antibiotic, its absorption can be affected by what you eat before or after.
“Therefore, use plain water instead of juice or tea while taking antibiotics so that one of these does not disturb its absorption,” Dr Karuhanga says.
Milk should also be avoided when taking antibiotics such as tetracycline because it has calcium which binds tetracycline and prevents it from proper absorption. This reduces its effectiveness in treating infections, he adds.
“For better absorption of Penicillin [another antibiotic], one should eat an hour after taking it when you are sure that the drug has already been absorbed,” he says, adding that penicillin should not be taken on a full stomach as its absorption and effectiveness are still compromised.
Dr Karuhanga also warns women against taking antibiotics with contraceptives as the latter would affect the effectiveness of antibiotics.
He, however, encourages the consumption of leafy greens instead.