It’s that time of year when we’re typically plagued by all kinds of infections, but with Doctors clamping down on antibiotic use, more and more of us are looking towards natural antibiotics.
The Problems With Antibiotics
When he first officially discovered Penicillin, Louis Pasteur warned that bacteria would become resistant to antibiotics in order to survive. Since then, antibiotics have been used to treat serious illnesses such as pneumonia or meningitis, and to help cancer patients with infections to survive. Any of us could find ourselves in that kind of situation, and by 2030 antibiotic resistance is predicted to have killed 100 million people globally (1). Even when they do work, we know that antibiotics create new problems by affecting our digestive and immune systems in the long term, so it’s better for all of us to use natural antibiotics whenever we can.
Natural Antibiotics vs Prescribed
Although we know that antibiotics are only useful in treating bacterial infections, Doctors still feel under pressure from patients to prescribe them for viruses such as ‘flu, colds and most cases of tonsillitis. They’re also often given for acne. It’s quite common for antibiotics to disrupt our balance of gut bacteria, which is needed to make vitamins, keep unhealthy bacteria under control, and train the immune system to behave properly. Our immune system needs to kill off cancer cells, as well as invading viruses and bacteria, and it can only do all that if it’s working well.
Research has also shown that certain antibiotics can increase the risk of sudden death from heart problems quite significantly (2)
Plant based medicines have a lot to offer in the way of natural antibiotics, and unlike the prescribed ones, they’ll help to solve the problem without creating another.
Different Types of Natural Antibiotics
In Herbal Medicine we see health as being about balance. Our bodies are full of viruses, bacteria and fungi which we wouldn’t survive without, but if it they go out of balance we can find ourselves with various health problems. A Medical Herbalist would always aim to strengthen the body’s own defences as a main priority, and support it through the infection in various ways. Nature has given us a bounty of plants that will help not only strengthen our immune system, but actually kill individual viruses and bacteria. Here are a few you could use:
- Echinacea can help boost the numbers of certain blood cells needed to kill infections, and contains Echinacoside which acts as a natural antibiotic against a wide range of bacteria. It’s also recently been found active against the Hepatitis B virus (3).
- Garlic is the ultimate natural antibiotic, active against a wide range of bacterial infections (4) including MRSA (5) and multi-drug resistant TB (6)
- Thyme essential oil can kill Clostridium perfringens which can cause food poisoning. Studies into Wild Thyme essential oil alongside the antibiotic Tetracycline found that when the two were used together, less of the antibiotic was needed (7) NB Please be aware that it can be very dangerous to take essential oils internally unless prescribed by a Medical Herbalist or Clinical Aromatherapist who’s also trained in Aromatic Medicine.
- Cranberry Powder is useful in treating cystitis as it helps stop bacteria sticking to the wall of the bladder.
- Elderberry contains high amounts of vitamin C and a substance called Sambucol which is active against cold and ‘flu viruses (8)
- Sage is often used by Herbalists to treat throat infections and studies have found it effective in relieving pharyngitis (9)
- Essential oils are part of a plants natural defences against infection and many have antibacterial and viral properties for us too.
Choosing And Using Natural Antibiotics
Each medicinal herb has its own unique characteristics, rather like people do, and many have an affinity
with a particular part of the body. For example, Calendula has antibacterial properties for the skin and is useful in treating acne, Myrrh on teeth and gums and so on. As well as choosing herbs to improve your general immunity and prevent infection when you’re well, add in some specifically for the part of the body that’s affected. Of course, sometimes you may still need to take antibiotics and if you do, herbs can help with managing side effects and restoring balance afterwards.
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N Engl J Med. 2012 Aug 23;367(8):774-5;
(6) Hannan A1, Ikram Ullah M, Usman M, Hussain S, Absar M, Javed K. Anti-mycobacterial activity of garlic (Allium sativum) against multi-drug resistant and non-multi-drug resistant mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Pak J Pharm Sci. 2011 Jan;24(1):81-5.
J Med Food. 2015 Aug;18(8):935-7. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2014.0132. Epub 2015 Jan 19.
Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama.
J Altern Complement Med. 1995 Winter;1(4):361-9.
(9) Hubbert M1, Sievers H, Lehnfeld R, Kehrl W. Efficacy and tolerability of a spray with Salvia officinalis in the treatment of acute pharyngitis – a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with adaptive design and interim analysis.
Eur J Med Res. 2006 Jan 31;11(1):20-6.