Antibiotics, according to The US National Library of Medicine is “a powerful medicine that fights bacterial infections and can save lives when used properly”. The first antibiotic was penicillin, discovered by a British scientist Alexander Fleming in 1920s and it transformed the field of medicine.
Today, paediatricians and other doctors can choose from dozens of antibiotics now on the market, and they’re being prescribed in very high numbers. At least 150 million antibiotic prescriptions are written in the United States each year, many of them for children.
What it can and cannot do
Although the effectiveness of antibiotics cannot be diminished, it is important to realise that it is not the answer for all ailments. There are many different types of antibiotics and each one is effective only for certain types of infections, so in most cases the doctor must prescribe based on the most likely cause of the infection. Also, antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, and are useless against viral infections.
Examples of illnesses caused by bacteria and may be treated by antibiotic:
- Strep throat
- Bacterial pneumonia
- Whooping cough (pertussis)
- Many skin infections
- Some ear or eye infections
- Some sinus infections ( these are usually viral)
- Bacterial meningitis
- Urinary tract infections
Examples of illnesses that are caused by viruses and cannot be treated with antibiotics:
- Most sore throats
- Most coughs, colds and runny noses
- Acute sinusitis
- Acute bronchitis
- Some eye or ear infections
- Respiratory syncytial virus
- Flu (influenza)
Simply put, antibiotics cannot kill viruses because viruses have different structures and replicate in a different way from bacteria. Antibiotics work by targeting the growth machinery in bacteria (not viruses) to kill or inhibit those particular bacteria. When you think about it structurally, it makes sense that an antibiotic could not work to kill a virus which has a completely different set of replicating “machinery”.
However when we are sick, even if it’s only a mild cold, a trip to the doctor would probably result in you leaving the office with an antibiotic prescription. However, based on scientific findings, antibiotics are not necessary because most colds/flus are cause by viruses. The over-reliance on antibiotics in recent decades has led to abuse or overprescription of antibiotics for sore throats or bronchitis, and the worrisome rise of antibiotic resistance. Beyond the problem of antibiotics resistance however, are the side effects of even a single round of antibiotics, and the disturbance of gut flora causing gut health imbalance. The bottom line is that drug-based antibiotics really should only be used for life threatening situations – as a last resort if you will.
For bothersome everyday infections that are not life threatening, however, nature provides some very powerful and effective alternatives. Here is the list of the best of these natural antibiotics which have succeeded in keeping my own family off all drug-based antibiotics - whether it be for colds, flus or skin infections.
Garlic has been used medicinally by cultures around the world for thousands of years. It is a powerful natural antibiotic – about one-fiftieth as powerful as penicillin. The active ingredient only found in raw garlic, allicin, is the key component in the strong smell of garlic, and effectively kills pathogens - not just bacteria but also fungus, worms, parasites, and viruses too, without harming beneficial gut flora. The nutrients, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in garlic make this condiment a remarkable natural remedy.
In studies, garlic has been found to be almost as effective as penicillin, while recent research shows similar activity to a more modern antibiotic called chloramphenicol, used for typhoid fever as well as conjunctivitis. Many of the chemicals in garlic have been studied as potential antibiotics. One study, published in a 2011 issue of "Applied and Experimental Microbiology” used a variety of biochemical techniques to examine how some of the compounds in garlic interacted with bacteria and found that garlic was effective against the bacteria C, jejeuni. Another study, published in the "Journal of Medicinal Food," found that allicin was able to kill some pathogenic oral bacteria, such as S. mutans and P. gingivalis.
Even the blood of people who eat garlic can kill bacteria, and it is also reported that the vapour from freshly-cut garlic can kill bacteria from a distance of 20cm.In the past, garlic was used to treat tuberculosis, as the invading organism, mycobacterium tuberculosis, is sensitive to several of the sulphur components found in garlic.
Echinacea, the beautiful purple coneflower, is definitely one of my favourites when it comes to colds, flus or infections. Echinacea works by stimulating our immune system, increasing the ability of the white blood cells to deal with any viruses or micro-organisms. As a result, your body becomes stronger and better able to deal with the infections and viruses, and will heal faster.
Several laboratory and animal studies suggest that echinacea contains active substances that boost immune function, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and have hormonal, antiviral, and antioxidant effects. For this reason, professional herbalists may recommend echinacea to treat urinary tract infections, vaginal yeast (candida) infections, ear infections (also known as otitis media), athlete's foot, sinusitis, hay fever (also called allergic rhinitis), as well as slow-healing wounds.
Manuka honey is one of the most unique and beneficial forms of honey in the world. Many use Manuka honey for sore throats, digestive illnesses, and for curing Staph infections and gingivitis.
Typically, raw unfiltered Manuka honey is rich in amino acid, vitamin B, calcium, magnesium and iron and among others. Besides this, it also contains a higher level of enzymes than regular honey; these enzymes create a natural hydrogen peroxide which is anti-bacterial. Some strains of this New Zealand honey are particularly rich in hydrogen peroxide, methylglyoxal and dihydroxyacetone. This medicinal trilogy helps make up what is referred to as the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF), a global standard in identifying and measuring the antibacterial strength of Manuka.
The minimum UMF rating recognised is UMF 5, however, it is not considered beneficial unless the honey carries a UMF 10+ level of antibacterial activity. Anything ranging from UMF 10-UMF 15 is a useful level, and anything UMF 16 and above is considered of superior quality.
In 2011, research showed that Manuka stops the growth of sore throat-causing Strep bacteria. It is no wonder that so many people benefit almost instantly from taking a spoonful of honey when they don’t feel well. And recently it has even been approved by the National Cancer Institute to be used to heal inflammation in the throat from chemotherapy. In 2007, the FDA even approved Manuka honey-based wound dressings.
Clinical trials have found that Manuka honey is effective against more than 250 strains of bacteria, including:
- MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
- MSSA (methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus)
- VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococci)
- Helicobacter Pylori (which can cause stomach ulcers)
Oregano is a member of the mint family and oregano oil is an incredible natural alternative to prescription antibiotics. It takes over 1000 pounds of wild oregano to produce just 1 pound of the oil, and it has been a precious commodity for over 2,500 years.
The oil contains two powerful compounds - carvacrol and thymol, that have powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Over 800 studies reference carvacrol in PubMed, the world’s number one database for scientific evidence-based literature, which emphasises that research is quite supportive of its healing capacity. It is known for helping to prevent and treat infections such as:
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs) caused by bacteria like E. coli, Proteus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
- Respiratory infections brought on by Klebsiella pneumoniae andStaphylococcus aureus bacteria strains.
- Yeast infections, even those that are resistant to the commonly used anti-fungal drug Diflucan.
- Parasitic infections caused by the amoeba giardia – it was even found to be more effective than antibiotics like Tinidazol.
- Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection – A team of Indian and British researchers found that oregano oil has strong anti-bacterial properties that can kill this deadly superbug
- Valerie Sjoberg, 8 Effective, Natural Antibiotics to Help Beat Infections, http://www.chopra.com/ccl/8-effective-natural-antibiotics-to-help-beat-infections
- Deepak Chopra M.D., David Simon M.D.The Chopra Center Herbal Handbook, Forty Natural Prescriptions for Perfect Health, first edition, 2000
- Hassan ZM, Yaraee R, Zare N, et al. Immunomodulatory affect of R10 fraction of garlic extract on natural killer activity. Int Immunopharmacol. 2003;3(10-11):1483-1489.
- University of Maryland Medical, Medical Reference Guide, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide, Herb
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- ConsumerLab.com. Product review: echinacea. Accessed on April 1, 2002.
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- Adams C. J. , Manley-Harris M. , Molan P. C. ( 2009 ). The origin of methylglyoxal in New Zealand manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honey. Carbohydr Res 344, 1050–1053.[CrossRef] [PubMed]
- andejani T. , Marsan J. , Ferris W. , Slinger R. , Chan F. ( 2009 ). Effectiveness of honey on Staphylococcus aureus andPseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 141, 114–118.
- Celik F, et al. Neuroprotective effects of carvacrol and pomegranate against methotrexate-induced toxicity in rats. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 2013; 17(22):2988-93.