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Americans are the most over-prescribed people on earth. That news is nothing new. But did you know that a large majority of those prescriptions come in the form of unnecessary antibiotics? In 2015 alone, approximately 269 million antibiotic prescriptions were written in the United States. What’s more, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, close to one in three of those doctor-prescribed antibiotics were completely unnecessary!
What is an Antibiotic?
Antibiotics are medicines (and other substances) taken either internally or topically which have the ability to either slow down or stop bacterial growth completely. Our body typically has the ability to fight off an infection on its own; this defense occurs within the immune system, namely through white blood cells. Antibiotics are useful when our immune system becomes overloaded with a bacterial infection that is growing too fast or is too strong for the body to fend off on its own.
Pharmaceutical antibiotics cannot affect viral infections, however. This includes colds and the flu as well as other, more serious viral-based conditions. As we shall see, however, natural foods and herbs are often able to have an effect on bacterial/fungal infections as well as boost the immunity as well. This added immune-boosting bonus can help you ward off any imbalance in the body, including viruses.
Inventor of Penicillin Warned About the Consequences of Antibiotic Overuse
To be sure, pharmaceutical antibiotics can save lives when used in the right way. Before the discovery of penicillin in the late 1920s, sometimes actual limbs had to be amputated to save a life. Before the age of antibiotics, whether or not a person was going to “pull through” from an infection was often a matter of “wait and see.”
Of course, no one wants to go back to those days. We have a different problem today, however, and it can be just as serious. Antibiotic overuse and abuse can and often does lead to drug therapies, which are ineffective on increasingly stronger bacterial types. Some so-called “superbug” bacterium that have proven resistant to even the harshest antibiotics at times are vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Dr. Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, warned against antibiotic overuse and the inevitable drug resistance which could ensue. In his 1945 Nobel Peace Prize speech, Dr. Fleming said, “…there is [a] danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug, make them resistant.”
Dr. Fleming was spot on because that is exactly what is happening now. Antibiotic use has skyrocketed in recent years, especially for last-ditch-effort antibiotics such as carbapenems. These types of drugs are the strongest out there and often go by the brand names Invanz, Primaxin IM, Merrem, and Doribax.
What Antibiotic Overuse Can Do
Overuse of pharmaceutical antibiotics can have devastating consequences for the entire body. Some specific side effects include:
A weakened immune system. Science has discovered a definite correlation between antibiotic use and a weakened immune system. According to a study sponsored in part by MIT, even some antibiotic use can affect immune cells called macrophages, weakening them and making them less likely to be able to fight off infection. The researchers also discovered that antibiotics can also create an internal situation where E. coli could become drug resistant.
Chronic inflammation. The link between antibiotic use and inflammation starts with gut bacteria. A 2014 report published in the British Medical Journal found that antibiotics kick-start a process called bacterial translocation which “may provide a link between increasing antibiotic use and the increased incidence of inflammatory disorders.”
Allergies. According to findings presented at the 2004 American Society for Microbiology annual meeting, too many antibiotics may be the cause for the exponential rise in allergies and asthma in the United States. In fact, the link has been specifically tied to antibiotic-induced Candida albicans overgrowth.
Gut problems. Of course, antibiotics destroy not just harmful bacteria in the gut but also beneficial ones as well. If you use antibiotics occasionally, always supplement with probiotics as well. Chronic antibiotic use, however, leads to a situation where it becomes almost impossible to maintain a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.
Cancer. The scariest correlation comes in the form of the link between antibiotic use and cancer. A 2004 study at the University of Washington came to the cut and dry conclusion that “(u)se of antibiotics is associated with increased risk of incident and fatal breast cancer.” This was the largest study to date to make this correlation.
4 Tried and True Natural Antibiotics
Antibiotic overuse is a problem that is exacerbated on both sides of the doctor’s desk. Physicians prescribe them loosely as a rule, to be sure. At the same time, too many patients don’t stop to question why their doctors are giving them antibiotics in the first place.
It really is up to us as consumers to ask questions and stand up for our health. And a big part of this is to learn all we can about natural alternatives that may be able to help.
The four substances below represent what I consider the “heavy hitters” of natural antibiotics:
1 | Garlic (Allium sativum)
I mention garlic first because it is inexpensive, you can get it anywhere, and you probably use some of this pungent plant in everyday cooking at least once a week anyways (and if you don’t, then you should). But that is not all. I also mention it first because it happens to be one of the most potent natural antibiotic substances out there.
So, what makes garlic so potent as a natural antibiotic? It may not smell all that pretty, but it has some pretty solid science behind how certain properties in this whole food seek out and attack bacterial and fungal pathogens. Allicin is an organosulfur found in garlic that is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidizing, antibacterial and antifungal. It has proven to be powerfully effective against E. coli (Escherichia coli) and Salmonella. In addition, studies such as a 2011 Italian investigation have found that garlic was effective on multi-drug resistant strains of tuberculosis when nothing else would work.
The good news for those who don’t like the taste or smell of garlic (or simply want to be kind to those around you) is that non-pungent elephant garlic may be just as potent as regular garlic, according to a 2013 Chinese study.
How to Prepare and Use Garlic as an Antibiotic:
Fresh garlic is probably the best source of allicin, but it must be chopped or crushed in order to “activate” its healing properties. Fresh garlic also contains alliin, a non-essential amino acid, as well as alliinase, an enzyme which helps to activate the healing properties of the plant.
To use as a preventative or to ward off a bacterial infection, consume just one or two cloves at a time, three to four times during the day. Eating too much at once or overall may cause digestive upset.
Dietary extracts are also available, as are garlic pills. In addition, some individuals use garlic water (steep 2-3 crushed cloves in filtered water for 20 minutes then strain) as an enema for cleaning the colon of “unwanted guests,” including parasites.
2 | Oregano
Master researcher and natural health expert Mike Adams uses oregano oil as “emergency medicine” for digestive distress after eating contaminated food and also swears by it as a preventative when he travels.
Adams is not alone in his allegiance to this humble yet potent herb. Many other experts are too, and for good reason. Oregano contains some powerful phytonutrients that work together to form its broad-spectrum antibiotic effects (“broad spectrum” means that it can be effective on a wide range of pathogens). Ursolic acid and oleanolic acid, as well as phenolic monoterpenoids carvacrol and thymol, are some of the potent antibacterial substances in oregano. Fresh oregano also contains many essential minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron as well as vitamin E.
A quick search on Pubmed on the benefits of oregano comes up with over 1,000 citations. Perhaps one of the most impressive was a meta-analysis published in February of this year (2019) in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology.
Researchers at the Universidade Federal de Sergipe in Brazil analyzed the results of over a dozen studies which focused on the effect of carvacrol and thymol during wound healing. The researchers found positive results, including modulating inflammatory cytokines, lowering microbial power, promoting angiogenesis, and increasing collagen production and effectiveness for proper scarring in the area.
Oregano can help with internal microbial protection, as well. A 2012 Polish study is just one of many to find that oregano, in general, can be protective against many strains of E. coli. Other studies have found it to be effective against Listeria bacterial strains.
How to Use Oregano as an Antibiotic:
Oregano can be used as a dried herb and as an essential oil. If you use it as an essential oil, be sure that you only use supplement grade for internal use. Oregano oil can also be very harsh on the throat and esophagus so many people prefer to put it in gel caps for internal use versus mixing it in water. Often times, just one or two drops in a cap will do the trick for prevention. Oregano should not be taken long term as it may affect the liver. Consult your natural health practitioner for advice and for more information.
Finally, the fresh herb contains all the healing power of the oil, just in smaller quantities. Oregano herb is easy to grow on your own in your garden or in a pot. The herb is aromatic and can be added fresh or dried to soups, sauces, and more.
3 | Echinacea
Echinacea, or “coneflower,” is known for its violet-colored, daisy-shaped flowers and has been used for centuries, especially in North America, as a treatment for wounds and infection.
In modern times, studies have shown that echinacea is a natural antibiotic in every sense of the word. It has the ability to inhibit a long list of bacteria. A 2012 study at the University of British Columbia in Canada found that Echinacea purpurea had the ability to destroy Streptococcus pyogenes. S. pyogenes is the pathogenic bacteria that is responsible for toxic shock syndrome and strep throat. Echinacea has also been found to be effective on serious chronic conditions that are caused or exacerbated by bacterial pathogens. A 2017 study conducted by the University of Florence in Italy found that Echinacea purpurea worked against Burkholderia cepacia bacteria strains, which are often associated with Cystic Fibrosis.
Finally, healing phytonutrients in echinacea, which in large part are still being discovered, also have the ability to reduce inflammation. A 2010 report published in the journal Phytomedicine found that echinacea had the ability to not only kill respiratory bacteria, but also can counter the inflammatory effect that is part of the mechanisms of many bacterial pathogens.
How to Use Echinacea as an Antibiotic:
Echinacea grows wild in many areas of the United States and Europe. If you can identify it accurately (or you want to grow your own), the whole plant, including the root, can be dried and used for tea. You can also take echinacea tincture or in capsule form for specific infections or to ward off a cold or flu. Echinacea purpurea can also be found in many natural health cold and flu formulas as well as in natural cough drops. Echinacea has been proven to inhibit dozens of conditions besides a bacterial infection, such as migraine headaches. Some experts suggest not to use echinacea consistently for more than 8 weeks.
4 | Ginger
Finally, there is ginger. This amazing superfood makes the list for my top four natural antibiotic substances because, like garlic, it is easy to obtain, relatively cheap to purchase and is probably something you already have in some form in your kitchen. It can also be consumed in a variety of ways, which I will talk about in the next section.
Even the conventional medical community clearly recognizes ginger as a natural antibiotic. Indeed, an analysis of Zingiber of?cinale published in Flavour and Fragrance Journal found 69 individual components in ginger which have healing effects. Many of these substances are antibacterial/antifungal, including a wide array of oleoresins as well as the antibacterial terpene camphene. The study, conducted in 2004, found that essential oil of ginger was 100% antifungal against Fusarium oxysporum and Aspergillus niger.
Another study conducted in Korea tested essential oil of both ginger and mustard on the shelf life of raw fish. They found that both of them together inhibited bacterial growth of V. parahaemolyticus, V. vulnificus 01, and V. vulnificus. As a caveat, even though their results were impressive, the researchers did state that “the antibacterial effects of the essential oils on Vibrio species observed in this study were not sufficient to merit their use in sliced raw flatfish at temperatures exceeding 20? C.” Precaution should always be taken when storing and consuming raw fish.
How to Use Ginger as an Antibiotic:
Most natural foods will yield the best and most abundant healing results when used fresh or in essential oil form. That being said, ginger in any form is antibacterial/antifungal, as long as it is organic and has not gone stale. Dried ginger root in bulk or in bag form as a tea is great for soothing the stomach. Fresh ginger can be grated or chopped to put in a stir-fry. A couple of drops every 2-3 hours of fresh, supplement grade ginger essential oil in capsule form is a sound choice if you want to really fight infection. The possibilities really are endless when it comes to the many forms ginger can take for antibiotic/antifungal care and as an overall tonic.
Boost Your Immunity and Fight Infection Naturally
The four amazing substances listed above are some of my natural go-to’s when I am feeling under the weather, but they barely scratch the surface when it comes to substances out there that have antibiotic properties. Here are a few more that Charlene and I have talked about in the past:
- Iodine (for both topical and internal use but be sure to get the right kind for what you need!)
- Raw, regional honey
- Basil (fresh and supplement grade tincture and/or essential oil)
- Colloidal silver
- Cinnamon (Ceylon is best)
- Tea tree oil (topically)
The above substances are great to use at the first sign of infection, or just whenever you are feeling “under the weather.” It is best not to take some of them, such as oregano or echinacea, long term. Many others, such as garlic or ginger, can be consumed on a regular basis not only to build immunity but also to help the gut and prevent diseases like cancer. A substance called 6-shogaol in ginger, for example, has been found in multiple studies to directly target and destroy cancer stem cells.
There are so many other things you can do to boost your immune system as well so that it can do what it is designed to do. To destroy harmful bacteria and other pathogens while boosting up beneficial bacteria and healing mechanisms in your digestive tract and in your body as a whole.
There are, in fact, dozens of natural healing substances that can assist you in immune boosting, such as vitamin C, curcumin from turmeric, chelating green superfoods such as spirulina, and more. In addition, making simple lifestyle changes, such as upping filtered water content, removing toxins, and lowering stress, can often turn your health completely around!
And for those times when you do need to fight infection, give natural alternatives a try first, especially at the onset. Then use your discernment in addition to your physician’s advice in deciding if pharmaceutical antibiotics are right for you.
Disclaimer: This is for informational purpose and not intended as a medical advise and may not of the same opinion as this site.