Taking antibiotics when you are sick is suppressing an important message your body is telling you. We are surrounded by bacteria & viruses constantly yet it is only when our bodies defense is low can we pick up a bug. The stronger our immune system the less likely we are to be infected and even when we ‘get the bug’, it is short lived and no antibiotics are necessary. Constant infection means an adjustment in lifestyle/eating habits to address the imbalance.
While antibiotics can and do save lives, they are very much overused. They are also incorrectly prescribed often as it is not always obvious if the infection is bacterial or viral without blood tests and blood tests take a while to come back. Instant blood tests look promising for the near future but are not yet in place with GP’s. If you’re lucky and managed to get the right antibiotic, it still does not address the underlying weakness. The reality is, there if often a repeat infection because your unique gut flora is not that easy to replenish with a few probiotics directly after the antibiotic. Every time you take antibiotics you are increasing the chances that next time you use that particular antibiotic, it won’t work as effectively. Research has found taking just one course of antibiotics can contribute to this problem.[i]
According to the independent in 2015 the EHII (European Health Information Initiative) expressed concern about the rise in use of antibiotics in Ireland. [ii] Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing public health issues of our time. If we don’t tackle it, we can go back to a time when even the simplest medical operations were not possible, and organ transplants or intensive care even less so”. E. Coli and MRSA are a big concern. [iii] How to avoid antibiotic resistance and survive the arrival of superbugs?
Herbs and The Natural Way
It is true Herbal medicine shines when used in a preventative way yet it is also powerful enough to treat some acute infections IF used as part of a holistic treatment plan. Herbs are best administered by a Healthcare Professional/Herbalist to ensure best dosage, duration and correct combinations. It is always wise to see your GP for relevant tests if there is cause for concern. One does not have to cancel out the other. Some of the herbs listed in the table below are both antiviral and antibacterial. Many phytochemicals are often the inspiration behind pharmaceutical drugs. One of many studies on Elderberry has shown it to be effective against MRSA (hosptial bug) “strong antimicrobial effects exhibited on various nosocomial pathogens notably upon methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus MRSA”vi
UTI’s are some of the most common infections in Ireland. One plant, Uva ursi contains a substance arbutin that converts into hydroquinone (a potent antibiotic) in the urinary tract. It should be noted that Uva ursi is not suitable for children and should only be taken 5 days at a time.
Respiratory tract infections can be treated with Mullein, Elecampagne and Lungwort. These herbs are powerful for clearing congestion and infection of the upper and lower respiratory tract. When we are a little run down and our white blood cell count is low, herbs such as Echinacea, Astragalus, Siberian Ginseng and Elderberry are all anti viral herbs that can raise white blood cell count and help fight of infection.
Berberine, an alkaloid compound found in some herbs such as barberry and goldenseal, has recent clinical data showing it to be as effective and in some cases more effective than rifaximin (antibiotic) for gastroenteritis[iv]. It also shows it to be effective when IBS is present. Goldenseal is an endangered herb and as result very expensive. Barberry (Berberis Vulgaris) is much more affordable and can be used as a reliable source of berberine.
Fasting – All Resources to Immune System!
Fasting – If you are sick, simply stop eating. Your body needs to be able to cleanse itself and if all its energy is going into digesting it will cleanse less. Regular intermittent fasting not only protects against immune system damage — but it also induces immune system regeneration. It may also extend our life by lowering levels of IGF-1, a growth-factor hormone and the PKA enzyme which is linked to longevity[v]. Longer term fasting should be done sensibly and under the guidance of a qualified Therapist. Fasting duration and whether it is a juice or water fast etc are all decided on based on age, time of year and medical condition.
Diet – A convalescent diet i.e. soups, grain free, meat free, sugar free, lots of sleeping, regular bathing are good old fashioned ways of keeping yourself safe when sick and when on the return journey back to wellness. Many have a few hours or a day of feeling OK and return to negative habits too quickly. This should be the back bone of self care with the addition of key nutrients & herbs taken short term.
Antibiotics are lifesaving medicines and we are fortunate to have them freely available. There are times as mentioned during operations, and intensive care they are essential but outside of life threatening illnesses they should be a last resort not a first resort. Herbal medicine is a time honoured tradition and the use of herbs should always be done safely and under the guidance of a qualified health professional.
Siobhán Shinnors is a licenced medical herbalist, registered with Irish Institute of Master Medical Herbalists (IIMMh)