Natural Alternatives to Antibiotics

Natural Alternatives to Antibiotics

Before you reach for that pill, with all its nasty side effects, consider trying a prescription alternative.

Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin, warned us nearly a century ago that the overuse of antibiotics would create resistant bacteria. In fact, antibiotics are a major cause of recurrent infections, and our overuse of them is breeding highly resistant strains of “superbugs” that are immune to all known types of antibiotics. To add insult to injury, we have lost the war on infectious diseases, even with all these antibiotics and better hygiene.

By using antibiotics as a cure-all, the magic bullet has come back to hit us. Every time we take antibiotics, we give harmful bacteria a new opportunity to become resistant. The consequence is that many antibiotics are useless. An increasingly common scenario in American hospitals is a hospitalized patient who gets a hospital-based staph infection or pneumonia that is totally resistant to antibiotics. People with antibiotic-resistant diseases often die.

Clearly we need to find other ways to fight infections and to support our immune systems when we get sick. Antibiotics should only be used as a final resort in fighting a potentially life-threatening infection. Before he or she prescribes an antibiotic, your physician should do a culture to find out (1) if bacteria are present, and if so, (2) what strain of bacteria is present and thus what type of antibiotic to give you. Avoid wide-spectrum antibiotics whenever possible.

Here are some natural alternatives to prescription antibiotics:

Grapefruit Seed Extract

A grapefruit bioflavonoid concentrate works well to help knock out a cold. Grapefruit seed extract is a product you can use if you feel an infection coming on. You can take one 100 mg tablet every four to five hours or a few drops of the liquid. There are also anecdotal reports from women that grapefruit seed extract will effectively cure urinary tract infections.


The herb echinacea, sometimes combined with goldenseal in formulas, is an effective immune stimulant, but works best when used early on in an infection. Some people are allergic to it, so if you take a dose and feel worse, stop taking it!

Olive Leaves

Olive leaves have been used medicinally for centuries to treat fever, malaria, colds, and fungal infections. Modern research shows that a bitter constituent of olive leaves called oleuropein has antibacterial, antiviral, and antiprotozoal effects. The best way to take olive leaf as a supplement is as an extract in capsule or liquid form.

Homeopathic Remedies

Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic remedy I recommend for preventing and relieving the symptoms of the flu. This is a great remedy to travel with and to keep in the medicine cabinet, as it can quickly knock out a flu.

Chinese Herbal Remedies

Yin Chiao is a Chinese herbal remedy that’s good for preventing colds and flus. It can actually prevent a full-blown cold if taken soon enough.


EpiCor is a fermented yeast product that enhances natural killer cell activity and helps modulate and strengthen the immune system. It contains a unique blend of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants that research has shown to be very effective in warding off colds and flus. This is a supplement that can be taken daily during cold and flu season as a preventive.


American Indians have a long history of using Elderberries, primarily for the treatment of infections. Elderberries contain anti-inflammatory bioflavonoids that have been shown in test tube studies to inhibit viral growth. Specifically, elderberry flavonoids can stifle the activity of a protein needed by the flu virus to multiply and spread. It’s no surprise that elderberry is especially effective against viral infections such as the flu and the common cold.


Take vitamin C to tolerance, and take vitamin A (10,000 to 15,000 IU a day) for up to two weeks.

Infections And Antibiotics

Many people think that you can kill the germ with an antibiotic, and your infection problem is solved. For the past 50 years, this is how conventional medicine has been treating patients. But 98% of those infections would have become better with some very basic care, like rest and fluids. Antibiotics do nothing to get rid of a virus when you have a cold or the flu.

Here are some thoughts about common infections:

* Children’s Ear Infections

Recent studies have found that antibiotics make little to no difference in the course that children’s ear infections take. Many children have had multiple courses of antibiotics for recurrent ear infections before they’ve passed through toddlerhood, and this just sets children up for weakened immunity and more infections. Watchful waiting and allowing the infection to resolve naturally–along with children’s echinacea, a multivitamin, vitamin C, and a no-sugar, no-refined-carbohydrate diet–may stop the cycle of repeat infections in children.

* Internal Fungal Infections

Candida is a common fungus that grows out of control in many people, thanks to too many antibiotics and too much sugar. Your best strategy for fighting a fungal infection is to boost your body’s natural resources as much as possible, so that your own “good” bacteria can fight off the candida. It’s extremely important to eliminate sugar from your diet if you’re fighting a candida infection, and it helps to eliminate or cut back on fermented foods such as beer, wine, vinegar, aged cheeses, and anything made with yeast. Grapefruit seed extract, garlic oil, and oregano oil are all very effective antifungals. It’s certainly worth giving them a try before taking a potent antifungal drug. And be sure to take probiotics to enhance your body’s production of its own “good” bacteria.

Resisting Infection

One of the keys to resisting an infection is to begin helping your body fight it as soon as you are aware it’s there. We all know the symptoms: fatigue, achiness, sore throat, swollen glands, runny nose, cough, and fever. If you have a sore throat and ignore it, stay up late, and eat a bowl of ice cream, it’s bound to get worse. If you gargle with salt water, go to bed early with a cup of chamomile tea, and avoid sugary foods, chances are it will be gone by morning.

Here are some simple, specific steps you can take to stay free of infections:

* Wash Your Hands

If you have been around people with colds or the flu, keep your hands away from your face and wash your hands before eating. Don’t, however, be fooled into thinking that all of those antibacterial household cleansers and soaps are going to protect you. It has been found that the bacteria-busting chemicals they contain create an ideal environment for the formation of resistant bacteria. Soap and water works just fine for the hands, and vinegar (dilute and put in a spray bottle) is the perfect kitchen cleaner.

* Gargle

If you’re coming down with a sore throat, one of the simplest and most effective solutions is to gargle with a germ-killing mouthwash (make sure the gargle reaches your throat) or a simple salt water solution (1 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of water). A sore throat is often caused by mucus from the sinuses dripping down the back of the throat, so giving that area an antibacterial bath can work wonders. There are some herbal throat sprays on the market that are excellent for banishing throat infections.

* Sinus Rinse

Sinus rinse is a great remedy for an encroaching sinus infection. Rinse the sinuses with a salt water solution (1 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda per 1 cup of water). This remedy takes some discipline and focus, and it’s not recommended for most children. The best tool for the job is called a neti pot, which looks like a little teapot with a spout that is made for rinsing the sinuses. You can buy a traditional ceramic neti pot or get the plastic version at the drugstore. Mix the solution of salt and baking soda in the neti pot. Tip your head sideways, and insert the spout gently into one of your nostrils. If you hold the spout at the right angle, the water will flow in one nostril and out the other. The real experts allow the water to flow in one nostril and out the mouth, but this can cause gagging if you swallow some of the water. This technique can work wonders for a stubborn sinus infection.

* Avoid Sugar and Alcohol

As your body fights infection, it helps to eat wholesome, healthy foods. Sugar and alcohol suppress the immune system and can make it harder for your body to do its job.

* Extra Vitamin C

Vitamin C can help fight infections and viruses. If you take 1,000 to 2,000 mg every three to four hours as soon as you feel a cold coming on, drink plenty of water, and avoid sugar, you can often knock the cold out before it ever gets started. Vitamin C will work even better if you combine it with bioflavonoids.

* Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a powerful infection-fighter. It is an immune stimulant that boosts thymus gland function and helps maintain healthy cells in your mucus membranes. You can take 10,000 to 30,000 IU daily for a week to help fight off an infection. (If you’re pregnant, don’t take more than 10,000 IU daily.)

* Zinc and Selenium

Zinc and Selenium are your two most important infection-fighting minerals. A wide variety of lozenges are available at your health food store that contain zinc, selenium, and vitamin C. Pass on those with a lot of sugar.

* Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for a healthy immune system. People who don’t get out in the sun or who have long, gray winters should take at least 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily.

* Allow a Fever to Run Its Course

Bacteria are adverse to high temperatures, which is why we sometimes get a fever when we get infections. This is why it’s important to not bring down a fever unless it’s dangerously high. The fever is the very thing that will kill the bacteria or virus that’s making you sick. In children in particular, a fever is part of the body’s mechanism for training the immune system to recognize hostile bacteria and viruses and forming antibodies that will recognize them in the future. If you suppress the fever with acetaminophen (Tylenol), your child could be more likely to get sick again the next time the bug comes to visit.

Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert on nutrition, drugs, vitamins, and herbal remedies. He is the author of more than 20 books and is a registered pharmacist, master herbalist, and a professor of nutrition at Pacific Western University in Los Angeles. Dr. Mindell has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Live with Regis and Kathy Lee, Good Morning America, The David Letterman Show and CNN, in addition to conducting more than 300 radio and television interviews annually. he conducts nutritional seminars around the world and lives in Beverly Hills, California.

VIRGINIA HOPKINS, M.A., is the editor of the email newsletter “The Virginia Hopkins Health Watch,” and has an extensive website of articles about bioidentical hormones, nutrition and prescription alternatives at Virginia Hopkins Test Kits.

She is the co-author, with John R. Lee, M.D. of the best-selling and classic book, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause.

Hopkins and Lee also co-authored the books What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About PREmenopause, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Breast Cancer, and Dr. John Lee’s Hormone Balance Made Simple.

Hopkins also co-authored the best-seller, Prescription Alternatives, which with Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D.

Hopkins has been a writer and editor since she graduated from Yale University in 1976. She has a masters degree in Applied Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

Find out more about Dr. Earl Mindell @ and Virginia Hopkins, M.A.

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