Why Natural Antibiotics are Garnering Attention
Following the discovery of penicillin, the compound responsible for the antibacterial activity of the fungus Penicillium notatum, was used successfully in the Second World War to treat infections both in the field and in hospitals throughout Europe. By the end of the war, it was nicknamed “the wonder drug” and had saved many lives. Since then, antibiotics have protected millions more and changed the face of medicine.
However, fast forward to only a decade after penicillin’s major advances, and we now are dealing with the onset of antibacterial resistance.
In as early as the 1960s, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was identified, and since then resistance has been seen to nearly all antibiotics that have been developed. The rapid emergence of resistant bacteria worldwide has become a health crisis, and with fewer and fewer drugs being introduced, bacterial infections have become a threat again.
But there is a new promise found in the traditional field of herbal medicine. Constituents in certain plants including oregano, garlic, and horseradish show broad and significant antibacterial activities against pathogenic bacteria, and even antibiotic-resistant bacteria including MRSA.
DID YOU KNOW
Antibiotics have been used for thousands of years to treat all sorts of infections? Many people are familiar with pharmaceutical antibiotics, which have only been around since the early 20th century, but the actual origins of antibiotics go back as far as some of the earliest civilizations! The ancient Egyptians would apply mouldy bread to infected wounds, while other cultures used plant extracts to treat infections, even though at the time it was not known that bacteria caused infections.
Let’s take a look at how these HERBS AND SPICES function and what to look for when choosing a natural health product to combat infection and support immunity.
OREGANO (ORIGANUM VULGARE)
Oregano contains carvacrol, a potent phenol that inhibits microbial growth, and as an antioxidant, it has shown to have preclinical anticancer activity. With a carvacrol content of 80% or higher, oregano oil protects against infectious organisms including MRSA, supports the immune system, helps reduce symptoms of respiratory and sinus conditions, and can be used topically to relieve minor skin issues.
GARLIC (ALLIUM SATIVUM)
Garlic has powerful antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal properties and boosts the immune system in general. Its main active antibacterial component is allicin, which has been shown in studies to exhibit great antimicrobial activity at low concentrations against several pathogenic microorganisms like Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. Supplements that have guaranteed amounts of allicin, alliin, and gamma-glutamylcysteine are suggested in order to provide the health benefits boasted by this ubiquitous culinary bulb.
HORSERADISH (ARMORACIA RUSTICANA)
Horseraddish has a long history of use and is recognized as a non-prescription medicine for upper respiratory tract infections by the German Commission E. This modern-day condiment is known for the antimicrobial benefits of its isothiocyanates (ITCs) and for helping to eliminate the oral bacteria responsible for bronchitis and coughs. A concentrated form of horseradish is more beneficial, and an enteric-coated supplement.
ECHINACEA (ECHINACEA PURPUREA)
Echinacea is one of the best-known herbs for its use as an immune booster, and research has validated this. The herb may stimulate white blood cells and lymph cells to attack viruses and bacteria. However, other research suggests echinacea encourages the body to make more proteins to alert the immune system to defend against bacterial infections. When choosing an echinacea product, look for the species E. purpurea and one that guarantees high levels of all three active ingredients: alkylamides, polysaccharides, and cichoric acid.
Zinc supports the development of white blood cells, ensuring that your immune system is functioning correctly. Excitingly, in 2019 new details about how cells in our immune system known as macrophages use zinc to clear bacterial infections were discovered. It is thought this may help in developing new non-antibiotic treatment strategies for bacterial diseases. I suggest taking it in lozenge form, which not only helps boost white blood cells, but also has a topical antiviral effect.
Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses and a deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased susceptibility to infection. With more people being diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency, it is wonderful to know that it can now be sourced from lichen, meaning everyone, including vegans, can benefit from vitamin D supplementation.
In addition to antibacterial herbs, supporting a healthy immune response is a crucial way to help reduce our susceptibility to getting sick without the concern of antibiotic resistance. Vitamin D, zinc, and echinacea are three common supplements that can help with just that.
With antibiotic resistance becoming a more significant concern to doctors and patients alike, scientists are looking to nature when developing new medications.
Although they are not currently a replacement for pharmaceuticals, further studies on natural antibiotics are underway with promising results under medical review. Supporting your immune system with vitamins, minerals, and select herbs is a crucial way to help prevent infection from the start.
And with new clinical findings, there is hope that more natural-based medicines will be viewed as effective in providing antibiotic activity without the encouragement of the antibiotic resistance crisis we are trying to work our way out of.