*Originally posted March 31, 2014. Updated on June 21, 2021.
I began this “Real Remedies” series with the intent to break outside the box of labeling perfectly good and normal remedies… “alternative” or “crunchy”… when the truth is, that the conventional medicine we see being used today is Far less studied and time-tested than the remedies of ages past. I hope you will continue along with me in this exploration of “Real Remedies” and how beneficial they can be for our health and wellness! In this post I'd like to explore the world of Antibiotics. There are so many fabulous natural antibiotic treatments and ways to treat infections, and so many reasons why we should defer to them as a first resort as opposed to popping a pharmaceutical pill. And, upfront disclaimer… I kinda went a little “nursing-school instructor” in this post… I hope you won't find the information here too overwhelming! Feel free to comment or let me know if you have any questions 🙂
Reasons to think twice about taking antibiotics…
Since their accidental discovery in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, antibiotics have undoubtedly saved countless lives… However, I do have some concerns when it comes to taking conventional (pharmaceutical, lab-created) antibiotics. Here are a few of my concerns…
- Pharmaceutical antibiotics are like a swat team…
they swarm in, take no prisoners, and kill much within their path. Although they are designed to target one or two main culprits… They tend to have a lot of “civilian casualties” (good bacteria) as a result of their lethality. I like this article by Dr. Mercola on the topic, although it's a little lengthy, it's a good one.
Our bodies actually Need certain kinds of bacteria, so when this approach is used, it can actually be detrimental. For example, have you ever had a doctor recommend that you take yogurt with antibiotics? That's because yogurt contains some of the beneficial bacteria that our bodies need and can help aid to keep our digestive bacteria in tact.
- Bacteria can (and have) become resistant to pharmaceutical antibiotics.
This is the most pressing issue to me. I see it every time I work… patients come in having gone through round after round of pharmaceutical antibiotic treatment and Nothing seems to be working any more. And what do we do? Give them stronger antibiotics… bigger guns = more wreckage.
This is a problem on a larger scale, I have no doubt you've heard mention of “super bugs” like MRSA (or staph infection). Methicillin-RESISTANT staph. In other words, bacteria that is not touched by commonly used pharmaceutical antibiotics. According to a recent CDC report, more Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria than AIDS, and there are no new drugs coming. (source) It's a big problem… and it's likely that you know at least one person who have some form of this (now relatively common) bug in their system that makes it harder for them to fight infection in the long term. The age of antibiotics is coming to an end – another great article by Dr. Mercola.
- Apparently, they may be making us fat.
Say what?! Here's an interesting article that just came out this month in the New York Times on the subject. A good read if you have a minute. A study done in 2006 shows a link between changes in gut bacteria and obesity. (source) This is a topic I haven't explored much, but very interesting and worth exploring.
- They can contribute to all kinds of other health problems.
Because pharmaceutical antibiotics kill even the good bacteria in your body, the alteration of your gut flora (the good bacteria in your GI tract) can lead to all kinds of long-term GI complications, and even worse infections like C.Diff (a terrible, extremely contagious, and hard to treat infection that you absolutely don't want!). An unbalanced microbiota in the gut is also a contributing factor in autoimmunity. Infection with certain microbial pathogens can trigger autoimmune reactions in joints and other organs. (source)
The complications caused by some antibiotics is nothing to scoff at… pharmaceutical antibiotic use (even one round) can lead to complications like kidney damage, autoimmune disorders, inner-ear problems and hearing loss, just to name a few.
Another interesting study found that antibiotics can cause oxidative stress – a condition in which cells produce chemically reactive oxygen molecules that damage the bacteria's DNA and enzymes, as well as the membrane that encloses the cell. (source) Long-term oxidative stress can cause a lot of damage and essentially “age” your body faster. Overall, observations to date suggest that oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, and cancer are closely linked. (source)
How nature does it better…
Our bodies naturally want to be in, let's say, “neutral”. The scientific word is “homeostasis”. That means your body wants to be in alignment with what is good for maintaining health and overall wellness.At the risk of sounding like a boring Science class book, I want to give a brief overview of what a healthy immune response looks like.
Your temperature, your heart rate, your blood pressure, etc are all working to be in a place most suitable for sustaining life, and your body naturally wants to stay there.
When infection enters, our bodies (if nothing else is impeding this) will fight to maintain this “neutral” position by creating antibodies and naturally defending against the invaders causing the mal-alignment. This is what we call the immune response.
I love the way Kate Birch and Cilla Whatcott explain it in their book The Solution: Homeoprophylaxis: The Vaccine Alternative.
“If we think of the process of illness and immune system response in a circular way, we enter the circle upon peripheral exposure to a germ. Entry into the body is based upon susceptibility. A pathogen may have entered through a break in the skin, or contact with respiratory tissue or the gastrointestinal tract.
White blood cells in these peripheral linings alert deeper aspects of the immune system to possible intruders. After exposure, during the incubation of a disease (the prodrome), all aspects of the immune system are engaged and activated in identifying the nature of the invasion. The recognition of invaders first takes place on the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract and airways. While no actual symptoms of disease are yet apparent, there may be fussiness, emotional outbursts, and changes in appetite or difficulty sleeping at this stage. During this phase a chill can develop. The chill signals the body to increase its temperature.
Next a fever erupts. This can build slowly over a period of days or suddenly with a frighteningly high temperature. During this time antibody production is initiated to neutralize the pathogen or virus. Viral illnesses stimulate moderate fevers while bacterial invasions require a high fever to destroy the pathogen.
During the fever, white blood cell activity localizes and de-activates the pathogen. A discharge or eruption follows to remove the antibody/antigen complex out of the body (i.e. the pustules of chickenpox, a loose cough, or purulent runny nose). Next a period of perspiration happens as the fever breaks. After which the body finds resolution and cell-mediated immunity, completing the circle and returning to health.” (source)
Yeah I know… Blah, blah, blah… “sciency stuff”
Cycle of a healthy immune response…
Because I'm a visual person… I created a handy little diagram 😉
In our natural, healthy state, our bodies are designed to fight off invaders that may try to harm us. When we are exposed to harmful bacteria, our bodies naturally begin this immune response, and, if all is working properly, will work through all the stages of the process until we achieve resolution of the problem or “immunity” to the intruder. Because I know that my body is naturally designed to fight infection, I feel comfortable letting it do what it was designed to do with as little intervention as possible.
Let me ask you this… when do you find yourself calling on the doctor when you are feeling unwell? Some people may go at the very first sign of a sniffle, but most people go to the doctor after trying to “tough it out” for a few days… and the doctor, in an attempt to aid and/or appease the patient, will give them a prescription for an antibiotic. The patient returns home, takes the antibiotic and within the next couple of days begins to feel better. Naturally the patient would credit the pharmaceutical antibiotic for their healing.
Unfortunately, this is often times a poor assumption. It could be that the antibiotic helped to speed up the process, but more than likely, your body has already been hard at work, and by the time you head to the doctor you were already well on your way to resolution of the illness. Knowing this and having more knowledge about the immune process can empower us to make better decisions for our health overall!
So how can we encourage our bodies through this immune process to the much desired “resolution”?
Recently it dawned on me that for years now I've been saying “I don't have time to be sick.” I've decided this is a poor excuse, and the only person it is hurting is me.
When exposure to a pathogen happens, it signals your body to SLOW DOWN. Often, our careers, our kiddos… our lifestyles… make it challenging to pay attention to these signals. But if you're smart, you'll listen, and heed the warning signs. Often times just getting rest in the beginning stages of an illness (the prodromal period) can shorten the length of time it takes for recovery and the intensity of the illness.
So that's my first suggestion.
Simple and sweet, easy enough to do, but so often forgot. And sometimes, it's just a matter of mindset. Take a minute to sip a hot cup of tea and just chill for a second… it will help, I promise!
My next suggestion is…
Don't get totally freaked out over a fever.
In our culture, fevers are often misunderstood. More often feared, a fever represents to our society something to be avoided at all costs. (source) Remember that fevers are a natural part of the immune response, and can actually assist our bodies in fighting infection.
Of course, common sense must come into play here, especially when it comes to babies and children. If you have concerns, don't hesitate to call your doctor. We know that fevers, if left to run wild, can potentially do more harm than good, and have the potential to be life-threatening. Because of this, many people, not understanding the difference between a “helpful” fever and a “pathological” one, will take or give an antipyretic (like Tylenol) in an attempt to bring the fever down as quickly as possible.
The difference between a helpful fever and a pathological one is usually demonstrated by the symptoms present. A helpful fever will be demonstrating that the immune system is progressing and having a healthy response without worrisome symptoms. When it comes to children…
The child will exhibit a level of calmness and will just want to sleep and be left alone. The temperature may get quite high but it will be followed within four to ten hours with a perspiration that marks the “breaking” of the fever. After this phase, recovery should follow. (source)
a helpful fever will signal the body to produce antibodies and increase the body's core temperature in an attempt to kill the bad bacteria or virus in your system.
On the other hand, fevers that are not assisting the body through the immune process need to be addressed… I realize this can be a confusing and sometimes unsettling thing to determine, particularly when it comes to managing a child with an acute illness.
As a general rule of thumb, I will first assess my child's general demeanor and activity level. If he remains active and playful, I am still watchful but less concerned. If he is acting tired and sickly, I will monitor more closely and, depending on all factors considered, am comfortable letting my child run a fever of no greater than around 102° taken by mouth or under the arm, or around 103.5° taken rectally. Fevers are usually higher in the evenings as opposed to the daytime, and fevers resulting from a bacterial infection typically run higher than those resulting from a viral infection (just a couple things to be mindful of also).
**Fevers accompanied by restlessness, intense pain, worrisome vomiting or diarrhea, agitation, delirium, or excess lethargy along with rapid respiration or feeble pulse are cause for concern and would indicate a need to call the doctor.
Although this does not directly address the “real remedies: antibiotics” theme, I thought it might be helpful to also include some ways to naturally support a helpful fever.
Ways to naturally support a helpful fever
If you're like me, staying hydrated with a mild fever and getting rest is all fine and well… but I also like to be able to feel like I'm actually doing something to help myself get better… whether it's taking a pill or drinking a hot cup of tea. Luckily, there are some really beneficial things you can take to fight infection! (finally the “natural antibiotic” part!)
Natural Antibiotics and Infection Fighters
…to try before hitting the Z-Pak! 😉
Honey in general has antibacterial properties, but manuka honey in particular is known for it's superiority
among all the other honey choices (it comes from New Zealand, by the way). Whatever honey you
choose, make sure it is from a reliable organic source and is preferably raw or only slightly filtered, otherwise you may be getting more or less than you bargained for! (you may want to see this helpful article by Food Renegade on what secrets your “honey” may be hiding)
What to do with it: You can eat it (no complaints here!), you can add it to warm water with some lemon juice or peppermint oil and drink it as a tea, and you can even apply it topically to wounds to prevent and treat infection! Use it in place of neosporin for minor cuts or skin abrasions.
(Where to get Manuka honey) We buy our regular use honey from a beekeeper right down the road from us (which helps with seasonal allergies!) but here is –> where to get the other kind of honey we love to use!
Elderberry syrup is awesome for preventing and aiding in fighting infection! A study done in 1993 during a flu outbreak showed a “significant improvement of the symptoms, including fever” within 2 days in the group who took elderberry extract as opposed to up to 6 days in the control group. (source) I don't know about you, but avoiding FOUR extra days of the flu is pretty significant!
You can purchase our elderberry syrup kit here to make your own elderberry syrup at home! It's a cost-effective way to get the benefits of elderberries (and some other immune-boosting herbs).
How we use essential oils to support a healthy immune system:
1. Topically: I make a “sick time blend” with several oils and will apply to the bottoms of the feet of whichever one of us is feeling under the weather. I have also applied this blend to the upper back and along the sides of the neck where the lymph is. For ear infections, I put a couple drops of melaleuca essential oil on a cotton ball and allow to rest in the ear.
There are Several essential oils that have antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal, etc properties. It's hard for me to narrow it down, but probably the main ones we use in our homes to support our immune system are Lemon, the Plant Therapy blend called Germ Fighter Blend (which is a blend of Lemon, Clove Bud, Eucalyptus Globulus, Cinnamon Cassia, and Rosemary), Tea Tree, Frankincense, and (when we need to pull out the big guns) Oregano and Myrrh.
2. Aromatically: I will diffuse one or a blend of some of the oils (especially OnGuard/Thieves or Purify blends) in the room we are all gathered in. This has especially helpful when dealing with a respiratory infection, but can aid in all sorts of ailments and be beneficial for helping you relax and get some much needed rest.
side note: I have to admit that when I began using essential oils I was a bit skeptical about the benefits of diffusing them, but after using them in this way for myself and my family I can certainly attest to their benefits!
…you may also find it interesting that Vanderbilt University Hospital (in Nashville, TN) did a brief study on the benefits of aromatically diffused essential oils (see the video below). Their focus was on the stress-relieving aspect, but I think it's an excellent testament to the benefits that essential oils have to offer when diffused!
3. Internally (???): I will be totally honest with you and say that I have some concerns about internal use of essential oils, so until further notice I won't be able to give my “official” stance on this. However, I will note that for very persistent infections we have filled capsules with a blend of immune supporting oils (including oregano) and take it in a similar fashion as you would a pharmaceutical antibiotic, and it has been extremely effective. (*for any essential oil use, but especially for internal use, be sure to use only therapeutic grade oils.
There are way more ways to utilize essential oils than I could possibly mention here… but they are a Really good choice for supporting your immune system!
An effective home remedy for colds is to eat several cloves of raw garlic at the first onset of symptoms. (ewww?) Eating raw garlic does not appeal to everyone, but garlic loses its antibiotic properties when you cook or dry it, and commercial garlic capsules do not preserve the full activity of the fresh bulb. You can make raw garlic more palatable by chopping it fine, mixing it with food, and eating it with a meal. Or cut a clove into chunks and swallow them whole like pills. (source)
A recent study found incredible results when reviewing the antimicrobial properties of Allicin (the active chemical component in garlic)… including showing antibacterial activity against a wide range of bacteria, including multidrug-resistant strains of E.Coli. (source)
As a side note: garlic is also very valuable for all sorts of other conditions, particularly related to heart and blood. Garlic actually may be effective in slowing the development of atherosclerosis and seems to be able to modestly reduce blood pressure. (source) Pretty cool if you ask me!
There is at least one study showing that ginger has super powerful antibacterial properties. The results of a study done in 2010 showed that ginger extract of both the plant and root showed the highest antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes when compared to three commonly used antibiotics used (chloramphenicol, ampicillin and tetracycline) which “were also active but at less extent compared to ginger extract”. (source)
Similar to garlic, you want to get fresh ginger to get the best bang for your buck, so to speak. The easiest way to get some ginger is to shred or chop it from a fresh ginger root, add it to some warm water, and steep it as a tea. However, one of my favorite ways to get the benefits of ginger is actually to make a honey infusion.
1. Combine about a tablespoon of finely chopped ginger in a cup of honey
2. Let it infuse for 2 hours or up to 2 weeks in a glass jar with a tightly fitting lid
3. Strain when it’s finished if you’d like, or enjoy together
How to Use: You can eat the ginger-infused honey straight, or add it to some hot water and drink it like a tea for a yummy and soothing way to fight infection!
Other natural & herbal remedies with antibacterial properties –
Sage – known for many benefits ranging from treating ailments of the mouth & teeth to blood, joints, liver, urine, head, sinuses, throat, lungs, and stomach! That's pretty impressive… but I'll have to do a little more research.
Thyme – particularly useful as an expectorant and for respiratory infections
Colloidal Silver – can aid other antibiotics by helping to increase their antimicrobial-ness
Goldenseal powder – mix a teaspoon of the powder with a pinch of salt in a glass of water, gargle the mixture and spit it out)
Andrographis – taken either as a tea or as a capsule supplement
Family Herbal Co.'s Organic ImmuniTea – a blend of immune-boosting herbs to help support a healthy immune response.
Ok, so I think it should go without saying, but I feel the need to put in an disclaimer/addendum (perhaps it's just the nurse in me!). Pharmaceutical antibiotics can be really helpful and useful if used sparingly and within reason, and sometimes we need them, and if/when those times come, I am grateful for them!
**Important** If you have a persistent infection that is worsening, a fever that has not had any break within 24-48 hours, a severely high fever or severely low temperature reading, a resting heart rate greater than 100 (that is abnormal for you), a “racing” heart beat, or a low(er than your normal) blood pressure… please consult a physician as soon as possible. A worsening infection with these symptoms can be a sign of sepsis, which is a serious and life-threatening condition if not treated in a timely manner.