Prescription antibiotics can and will wreck your gut, especially if you’re not careful about incorporating probiotics to help repopulate your microbiome after treatment. Meanwhile, many common drugs and medications have dozens of risky side effects, even OTC drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NASIDs).
Thankfully, there naturally occurring foods, herbs and botanicals that are a safe and effective alternatives for your health and wellness needs—research shows that in many cases these natural counterparts work better than synthetic drugs to cure infections of all kinds, combat the common cold, among other amazing benefits. In fact, several of these traditional remedies have even been shown to effectively combat “superbugs” that resist synthetic antibiotics.
Below are the top 17 all-natural choices to add to your medicine cabinet, and what each is best used for to keep you functioning optimally. The evidence presented comes from recent published research in peer-reviewed scientific journals. You can check out the “Resources” list below if you really want to geek out on the supporting research.
And for the record, I’ve used all of these at some point, and/or still do, and keep many on hand at home!
Always consult with your health practitioner before quitting any current medications or changing your health plan. If you have more questions on usage, dosage, or other specifics not covered please leave comments in the comments section!
Numerous studies show that the acetic acid in ACV is antibacterial and antifungal (especially for Candida). In fact, ACV has been used as a replacement for antibiotics since WWII through the present day in areas with limited medical resources.
Best taken: Mix 1 Tbsp ACV, juice from ½ lemon, and a pinch of cinnamon (or better yet, a dropper of cinnamon extract) in one large glass of water (8-12oz). ACV also makes a great addition to salad dressings!
Avoid more than 2 ACV elixirs a day as acid wears on tooth enamel.
Best used for: Candida, bacterial infections, diarrhea, urinary tract infection (UTI), increasing stomach acid for better digestion
Pinosylvin, one of the polyphenolic compounds found in sauerkraut, has been found to have powerful antibacterial effects against Salmonella, various forms of Staph, and Candida yeasts. In general, the antimicrobial effects of pinosylvin were even more prominent than those of a related compound: resveratrol, well known for its various bioactivities.
Avoid raw sauerkraut if you are sensitive to histamine or in certain cases of SIBO and autoimmunity.
Best used for: Building good bacteria in gut in general and during/after a bout of real antibiotics, gut infections, mood disorders, certain autoimmune conditions, and digestive disorders including IBS/IBD.
Medium chain triglycerides found in coconut oil, especially lauric acid, have been proven repeatedly to inhibit the growth of viruses and infections such as H. pylori bacteria (and the bacteria does not seem to become resistant to the coconut oil, unlike antibiotic medications). Our body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, and this is what has the anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties to even fight the toughest of infections! The capric acid in coconut oil is an ideal anti-microbial.
Best used for: H. Pylori, bacterial infections, fungal, yeast, gut pathogens, viruses such as the flu, dental health, giardia; benefits heart health, metabolism, immune function, and thyroid; plus helpful for the skin (healthy complexion, healing properties for psoriasis, eczema, etc., when used topically). For dogs and pets, coconut oil can be used to prevent fleas and ticks.
Colloidal silver can control the toughest antibiotic-resistant superbugs and pathogens that can result in disease. It doesn’t create a resistance like traditional antibiotics. One of the most interesting studies about colloidal silver treated patients with chronic sinus infections, which antibiotic medications failed to cure. The patients received a nasal solution with varying levels of colloidal silver. Even in low doses, there was a 98.9% decrease in the biomass of the infection. This improved to 99.8% with increased concentrations. The takeaway: colloidal silver is very effective at fighting Staph bacteria!
Best used for: Healing wounds (skin), ear infections, as an anti-inflammatory (instead of NSAIDs), sinus infections, common cold and flu, yeast infections, fungal infections, Lyme’s disease, pneumonia, stomach ulcers, parasites, pink eye, other viruses (such as herpes, etc.).
Traditional medicine has used Echinacea to treat upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) for centuries. Western science has finally caught up and provided evidence for what healers have long observed to be true. Pharmacodynamic studies have confirmed significant bronchodilatory and anti-inflammatory effects of Echinacea that was similar to effects of classic synthetic drugs! This natural herb inhibits viral growth and the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines, providing welcome relief for those suffering from asthma or cold/flu respiratory symptoms.
Best used for: Common cold, immune booster, UTIs, URTIs, wound healing, as an anti-inflammatory (instead of NSAIDs) including for those with arthritis and RA, and general pain relief. Echinacea teas can also help heal the gut and even be a natural laxative to use in certain cases (but not to be relied on for a daily bowel movement).
There is overwhelming evidence to support the health claims of fermented foods (well beyond their antimicrobial properties!) Bacteriocin and nisin are the two compounds in fermented foods with the strongest antimicrobial power. Here are a few others:
Avoid fermented foods if you are sensitive to histamine or in certain cases of SIBO, candida and autoimmunity.
Best used for: building a healthy gut and microbiome, cold and flu prevention, healing and preventing gut dysbiosis, destroying and inhibiting pathogens, balancing stomach acid, diabetes management and prevention, and as a natural probiotic.
Many studies show that allicin, a primary component of garlic, has strong antibacterial properties. Allicin not only fights the common cold, but new research suggests that it also protects against “superbugs” like VRE and MRSA, which are antibiotic-resistant. So bring on the garlic breath! It’s also very effective in healing common gut inflections including candida and SIBO.
Garlic is best taken raw or in a capsule (I like the supplement called Allimax pro). You don’t get the same potent effects in cooked garlic, but that doesn’t mean cooked garlic is bad so no need to give up this delicacy except for severe cases of SIBO or FODMAP sensitivity.
Best used for: Candida, SIBO, everyday cold, lowing blood pressure (helps hypertension), lowering risk of heart disease, preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia, diabetes management and prevention, and bone health.
The antimicrobial potency of ginger and cloves is due to tannins, saponins, phenolic compounds, essential oils and flavonoids. A number of studies have tested extracts of these plants against multidrug resistant strains of bacteria where modern antibiotic therapy has limited effect. And guess what? Ginger and clove inhibited all but two strains of these superbugs!
Best taken: just like garlic, these are best taken raw or in capsule form, but cooking them won’t harm you! You can also use ginger essential oil (food grade) or ginger powder (great for cooking). I like to juice ginger.
Best used for (ginger): Stomach pain, nausea, indigestion, alleviating malabsorption, immune booster, ulcers, GERD, anti-inflammatory, pain relief, fungal infections, staph, strep and other bacterial infections, and if you have to go to the hospital for whatever reason have some ginger (essential oil) to avoid getting a bug you don’t want!
GSE has been tested against 20 bacterial and 10 yeast strains. While all strains were sensitive, GSE had the strongest antimicrobial effect against Salmonella. I found GSE super helpful in my health plan that cleaned up several lingering gut issues once and for all, and have seen the same success in health plans for clients with SIBO. Some evidence says that GSE capsules or oil form may be tainted synthetic compounds and preservatives, but if you seek quality sources from reputable brands this may not be a problem.
Best used for: Candida, SIBO, UTIs (especially if antibiotics stopped working), salmonella, eczema, digestion, restore gut flora, cold, flu; topically for athlete’s foot, nail fungus, and skin issues; and an anti-microbial that can even be used in household cleaning.
Raw honey is great for allergies, but not all honey is created equal. Manuka honey is extra special. It’s from New Zealand and has been found to have substantial levels of non-peroxide antibacterial activity, is an amazing antimircrobial and is effective at treating a wide variety of issues. One study tested the effect of Manuka honey consumption on children with oral Strep bacteria. After 10 and 21 days, the children who used Manuka honey showed statistically significant reductions in salivary Strep in comparison to children who did not consume the honey. Unfortunately it can be pricey, but you get what you pay for!
Best used for: Acid reflux, acne, SIBO, MRSA, wound healing, IBS, IBD, gingivitis, dental health, allergies, sore throat, sinuses, sleep aid, better stomach acid, etc.
Like garlic, green tea extract has been shown to be a potent antimicrobial, not just for common bacteria but also drug-resistance strains caused by MRSA and P. aeruginosa. Consider brewing some up and adding a smidge of Manuka honey if you feel a sore throat coming on! Be careful though, oolong green tea contains caffeine so drink with caution.
Best used for: Cholesterol management, mental alertness and focus, digestion, blood sugar management, dental health, immune booster, antimicrobial, and fighting aggressive strains for bacteria.
Oil of oregano is quickly gaining popularity as a go-to alternative to antibiotics and for gut healing. Some practitioners claim it’s too hard on a dysbiotic gut, but when you need something effective, even for the common cold, oil of oregano is your friend. Carvacrol, a primary component of oil of oregano, has strong antimicrobial properties, fighting fungal infections, parasites, and sinus issues. It is particularly effective against E. coli.
Best taken: Capsule form with food, I like Designs for Health. Oil of oregano is STRONG so avoid taking straight oil or you will feel the burn.
Best used for: Common cold, flu, anti-viral, anti-fungal (candida), anti-bacterial, gut healing, antioxidant, parasites, allergies, sore throat, shingles; anytime a doctor calls for an antibiotic consider oil of oregano as an alternative.
Pau d’arco, derived from the dried inner bark of the Tabebuia tree that grows in the American tropics, is rich in lapachol and beta-lapachone, which have antiviral and antibacterial properties. It is particularly effective at killing H. pylori.
Best taken: Capsules or tea (look for taheebo tea)
Best used for: H. pylori, anti-inflammatory, candida, SIBO, certain cancers, pain relief, ulcers, detox, and arthritis.
Several studies have identified SJW as effective at inhibiting five types of mycobacteria; however, it did not entirely fight off E. Coli. SJW is also one of the most powerful natural anti-depressants without the side effects of prescription drugs.
Best used for: Hormonal balance, depression, PMS, menopause, sleep aid.
A study on these essential oils found that thyme had the broadest antimicrobial range against Staph and E. coli strains. Peppermint, Caraway Seed, Pennyroyal, and Fennel had a moderate effect against microorganisms. Tarragon was the least effective, but still showed some antimicrobial effect. The takeaway: essential oils of edible plants could potentially inhibit foodborne pathogens.
Best taken: 1-2 drops of food-grade essential oil diluted in 8-12oz of water, or capsule form. Use fresh form in cooking too!
Best used for: General antimicrobial and gut health.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is the No. 1 natural anti-inflammatory I recommend to my athletes and clients. Meriva (Curcuma longa capsules) has been shown to be more effective than NSAIDs in fighting pain due to arthritis and inflammation—without the side effects! Several studies have observed the antibacterial effect of Curcuma longa against Staph and E. coli as well, not to mention the anti-depressant qualities of this powerhouse root.
Best taken: Capsules or freshly juiced turmeric root. Cooking with the spice is great too, though, like with garlic, cooking diminishes the antibacterial properties.
Best used for: Anti-inflammatory, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, pain relief, depression, diabetes management (alternative to Metformin), IBS, IBD, ulcerative colitis, Chron’s disease, cholesterol management, anticoagulant, hepatitis, and an alternative to corticosteroids.
Both are shown to ease anxiety and a great alternative to anxiety medications. Valerian root increases GABA, the feel-good neurotransmitter that can be a sedative, while passionflower has a calming effect. Both can also help improve sleep too.
Best used for: Reducing anxiety, relaxation, insomnia, sleep, “shutting off” the brain, and even blood pressure management.
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