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Antibiotic Alternatives

With antibiotic overuse leading to resistant bacteria, it's more important than ever to look for natural substitutes

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Antibiotics are life-saving drugs, but because of overuse-in agriculture and medicine-their effectiveness is decreasing. This enables harmful bacteria to evolve into resistant superbugs that are difficult to destroy.

This overuse stems from several reasons. In the United States, 80 percent of antibiotics are fed to animals that provide meat and dairy products, largely to promote growth. Antibiotics are also often misused in medicine. Although antibiotics treat only bacteria, many patients demand-and receive-antibiotic prescriptions to treat viral infections such as colds, flu, coughs, and sore throats. Harvard researchers found that doctors prescribed the drugs unnecessarily in 53 percent of visits for sore throats, and in 73 percent of visits for bronchitis.

Reducing Side Effects
Common side effects of antibiotic use include diarrhea and fungal infections in the mouth, digestive tract, or vagina. For one class of antibiotics, fluoroquinolones (such as Cipro, Floxin, and Levaquin), the FDA requires warnings of potentially permanent nerve damage, tendinitis, and tendon rupture.

When antibiotics destroy harmful bacteria, they also kill off beneficial bugs in the digestive tract, leading to diarrhea and other adverse effects. Probiotic supplements can help, according to a review of 82 human trials covering a total of 11,811 people, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Probiotics also enhance immune function to fight infections naturally.

Natural Alternatives
In addition to probiotics, many natural remedies help improve the immune system’s ability to ward off bacterial and viral infections and may also directly kill bugs without damaging beneficial bacteria or causing adverse effects. They include vitamin C, Aged Garlic Extract, turmeric, olive leaf complex, oregano oil, echinacea, and goldenseal, as well as topical tea tree oil for skin infections. Here are some versatile remedies to keep on hand:

  • Andrographis: Can be taken alone or in combination with other herbs for infections, including colds, flu, and sore throat. A study of 223 adults, published in Phytomedicine, found that andrographis was more than twice as effective as a placebo in reducing the duration of cold and flu symptoms, including cough, runny nose, headache, fever, sore throat, earache, fatigue, and sleep disturbance. It also effectively treats ulcerative colitis.
  • Elderberry: Blocks bacteria and viruses from invading. An Israeli study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that 90 percent of people who took Sambucol elderberry extract recovered from the flu in 2-3 days, compared to 6 or more days for those who took a placebo.
  • Cranberry: In many cases, urinary tract infections can be prevented with 500 mg daily of Cran-Max, a proprietary cranberry extract, or 1,000 mg daily when symptoms first appear, according to research involving more than 600 women. Studies were published in The Gynaecologist’s and Obstetrician’s Journal and other journals.

North American Herb & SpiceOregaBiotic, Slow Release Formula, blends oil of oregano with other potent immune-enhancing herbs in easy-to-take vegetarian capsules.

Quantum HealthSuper Immune+ Power Formula fortifies immunity with antibacterial olive leaf extract, the herb astragalus, and L-lysine, an antiviral amino acid.

Wakunaga Kyolic Immune Formula 103 has an impressive blend of immune boosters: Aged Garlic Extract, olive leaf extract, oregano
extract, mushrooms, vitamin C-and more.

Protect Yourself against Superbugs
Here are some simple ways to reduce unnecessary exposure to antibiotics:

Eat wild fish and organic meat and dairy. Wild fish and animals raised according to organic standards are not given antibiotics. But farmed fish and conventionally raised animals are often fed antibiotics to promote growth and prevent sickness in cramped and unsanitary quarters.

Don’t take antibiotics for viral infections. Antibiotics don’t kill viruses. According to the FDA, antibiotics are often needlessly prescribed for viral infections, including colds, flu, bronchitis, chest colds in otherwise healthy people, and sore throats (antibiotics are indicated for strep throat, which is bacterial, but causes only 10 percent of sore throats).

Use natural remedies. There is no evidence of bugs becoming resistant to herbs or vitamins that help to prevent and treat infections.

Work with your doctor. Before asking for antibiotics to treat an infection, find out if it’s bacterial or viral. When you truly need antibiotics, ask for a targeted rather than broad-spectrum drug, and take it as directed.

Vera Tweed has been writing about nutrition, fitness, and healthy living since 1997. She specializes in covering research and expert knowledge that empowers people to lead better lives. She is the author of numerous books, including Hormone Harmony and The User’s Guide to Carnitine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine.