Most all of us have been there, sitting in the doctor’s office, a prescription for antibiotics on its way to the pharmacy to treat that viral infection that simply won’t quit your body.
Yet, along with treatment, antibiotics also come with some negative side effects. Most of these are side effects you can’t see, taking place deep within your body at a cellular level.
What if there was another option?
While antibiotics have revolutionized healthcare and are necessary for treating serious ailments, what if we turned to our diet to help treat less serious sicknesses? What if you could use food as medicine to help prevent sickness and strengthen your immune system?
Turns out there are a host of easy-to-find all-natural foods that contain agents incredibly similar to those found in antibiotics, yet without the nasty side effects.
What Are Antibiotics?
So, you’ve made it out of the doctor’s office and now you’re at the pharmacy with a little yellow antibiotic pill bottle in a little white paper bag.
Do you know what those little pills are, how they work, and what’s in them?
While antifungals treat fungi and antivirals treat viruses, antibiotics are the only pharmaceutical drugs that are able to target bacterial infections.
Antibiotic is a term that refers to any “substance that inhibits the growth and replication of a bacterium or kills it outright.” Basically, antibiotics are chemically-derived antimicrobials — a term “for anything that inhibits or kills microbial cells” — that seeks, targets, and destroys bacteria infections “within (or on) the body.” How do these antimicrobials work? There are two categories of antibiotic: specialized — which are “effective against certain bacteria” — and broad spectrum — which “attack a wide range of bacteria, including ones that are beneficial to us,” such as our microbiome. Antibiotics either kill bacteria — such as “stopping the mechanism responsible for building their cell walls” — or they “prevent the reproduction of bacteria” thereby halting the infection.
Uncommon Side Effects of Antibiotics
Obviously, antibiotics are an important part of our modern health care system and are incredibly effective for those who need them. With that said, some studies have found alarming links between antibiotic usage and incredibly serious side effects. We’re not talking digestion issues, headaches, and fatigue, but actual cellular damage.
Damage to Our Microbiome
Thanks to recent research illuminating the importance of gut microbiome as it pertains to overall bodily health — from mental health to digestion conditions to autoimmune disorders — we now know that broad-spectrum antibiotics do a good job at destroying this delicate and important ecosystem.
What is your microbiome?
The microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms — “thousands of different species — called microbiota, which includes “not only bacteria but fungi, parasites, and viruses.” These microbiotas are “found in the small and large intestines,” as well as throughout the rest of the body giving it the label of “supporting organ because it plays so many key roles in promoting the smooth daily operations.” We all have a “unique network of microbiota,” — determined by our DNA, environmental exposures, and diet — and it’s been discovered that this unique microbiota actually makes up between “70 to 80 percent of our immune system.”
Unfortunately, antibiotics have been linked to the decreased health of our microbiomes, earning this pharmaceutical the nickname “napalm to our microbiome.” Not necessary the best nickname for something that’s supposed to heal you. Antibiotics are designed to target and kill bacteria and they aren’t picky, which means these broad-spectrum drugs will kill the good bacteria with the bad. Studies have found that “antibiotic use has been shown for years to elevate the risk of inflammatory bowel disease,” and a more recent 2017 study “found that children who are treated with antibiotics in the first three years of life have double the odds of developing asthma.”
In a recent article from the health magazine What Your Doctors Don’t Tell You, a middle-aged schoolteacher found herself suffering a side effect called delayed-onset drug-induced liver injury (DILI) all because she was prescribed a common antibiotic called flucloxacillin for an infected cyst. It began subtly with heartburn and indigestion, yet, as she continued with the flucloxacillin, she experienced nausea, stomach pain, urine discoloration, skin irritation, and ultimately the tell-tale signs of liver damage, jaundice.
It turns out that DILI is not so rare, but actually categorized as common when taking certain antibiotics, in particular, widely used amoxicillin-clavulanate and cefazolin. The truly terrifying part is that DILI can work quickly, leading to liver issues in as little as “[one to three] weeks after exposure of a single infusion” or liver damage can come on slowly taking “a few years of treatment,” seen with an antibiotic called nitrofurantoin, which was linked to “acute liver failure (ALF) or autoimmune-like reaction[s].”
That same article in What Your Doctor’s Don’t Tell You entitled The New Risks of Antibiotics refers to this next side effect lovingly as “maimed mitochondria.”
It’s probably been a while since your high school biology class, so let’s take a quick course in mitochondria.
Live Science breaks it down best as they describe these little cellular powerhouses:
“Mitochondria are specialized structures unique to the cells of animals, plants and fungi. They serve as batteries, powering various functions of the cell and the organism as a whole. Though mitochondria are an integral part of the cell, evidence shows that they evolved from primitive bacteria.”
To put it in none-sciency terms, mitochondria are “tiny engines that power every human cell” and they are incidentally “structured just like simple bacteria,” which explains how they wind up as the “accidental victims” of antibiotic treatments. Per the WDDTY article, a study performed in 2010 by Pfizer pharmaceutical researchers “found that some antibiotics affected mitochondria,” specifically, they discovered that fluoroquinolone drugs “damaged mitochondria in human liver cells.”
Natural Antibiotic Alternatives
Once again, I have to state that antibiotics are a necessity for some. With that said, due to their ability to target bacteria, antibiotics are being used for non-critical ailments — such as a treatment for severe acne — which can lead to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance “occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of these medicines,” meaning these medicines may stop working for you the more you take them. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to limit your intake of antibiotics.
How can you accomplish this?
Turns out mother nature has provided some pretty damn good alternatives in the foods we eat. Not only do natural, diet-born alternatives lack the nasty side-effects mentioned above, but your body won’t develop resistance. They can help prevent by building up your immune system and can even aid your body fight off bacterial infections that are currently raging within the body.
With that said, it’s incredibly important to speak with your doctor if you are sick, as well as before adding any new food item to your diet!
If you’re familiar with an immune-boosting, plant-based diet (especially with the articles that I’ve written), then vitamin C should not be a surprise on this list.
Vitamin C is “a water-soluble nutrient found in some foods,” which “acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals.” While initial findings were published by Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, the healing effects of vitamin C have since been substantiated by numerous studies. One such study conducted in 2017 showed “that vitamin C given intravenously (1.5 grams every 6 hours) in a cocktail with thiamine and hydrocortisone reduced one hospital’s death rate from sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection, from 40.4 percent to 8.5 percent.” On top of that, five clinical trials “have shown that taking vitamin C can halve the number of colds in physically active people, and three have shown it to prevent pneumonia.”
It’s recommended to “take at least 6 to 8 grams per day in divided dosages” for colds and at least “1 gram per hour” for more serious conditions.
Along the same lines as vitamin C, you may not be surprised to see garlic on this list. While most of us know this wonderful aromatic culinary ingredient for its delicious flavor and pungent smell, garlic happens to be one of the most powerful natural healing agents. In fact, garlic has been used to cure ailments, specifically infections, for thousands of years with documented uses in ancient civilizations including the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians.
How does garlic accomplish this?
Garlic has two active ingredients — allicin and ajoene — which have “been shown to powerfully combat infection-causing bacteria, fungi, and viruses.” These medicinal properties act “as an anti-inflammatory, providing anti-bacterial protection, and even fighting fungal infections with anti-fungal properties.” On top of its ailment-fighting agents, garlic has been used to detox the body of heavy metals, reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol, enhance athletic performance, and improve bone health, all while infusing “the body with antioxidants that may reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.”
To get the most of these medicinal properties, it’s recommended to swallow one clove daily — skin removed, crushed, and chased with a beverage— to prevent infection.
The herb is easily identifiable by its mild green coloring and earthy aromatic smells, yet did you know this commonplace herb happens to be one of the most potent natural antimicrobial agents in your kitchen? Oregano has two special compounds — carvacrol and thymol — which have been shown “to have inhibitory effects against a host of bacteria.” Yet, it’s not necessarily enough to simply sprinkle dried oregano into your stir fry. The best source of these antibacterial and antifungal compounds is from oregano oil, which offers a more potent and direct dose. Oregano oil is “one of the most powerful antibacterial essential oils” and is great to use in a diffuser or mixed with a carrier oil to use directly on your skin!
For nasal congestion, sinus infections, colds, and allergies, it’s recommended to “add a few drops of oregano oil to a small pot of boiling water” and breath in the steam being careful not to burn yourself. You can also use an aromatherapy diffuser, such as this Essential Wellness Essential Oil and Aromatherapy Diffuser for $36.99.
Have you noticed a trend with these natural antibiotics? Besides vitamin C, almost all of these healing agents also happen to be aromatics. The trend does not stop with this final natural alternative. In fact, you could argue that onion is one of the most powerful aromatics.
How does this one work?
Turns out onions share the same antibacterial and antifungal agents as garlic. These compounds are sulfur-based and include allicin, diallyl disulfide, and s-allyl cysteine, as well as aforementioned ajoene. Studies around the use of ajoene for infection treatment and prevention have shown “incredible protective and fighting properties” from this onion and garlic-based agent.
When it comes to using onion as a healing agent, make sure you enact the aromatics. What does this mean? Simply cook with onion. Stir-fry it up with some coconut oil, chop and roast, or simply pulverize and add to a salad. If your eyes start to water, then you’re actively releasing those healing agents!
Cooking with Natural Antibiotics
This may be the part you’ve been waiting for! Even though you can use these natural agents in potent dosages for immediate relief and treatment, by infusing your daily menu with a few of these agents, you are enacting their preventative powers. Here are a few recipes to get you started!
Blueberry Lemon Bars
Blueberry Lemon Bars/One Green Planet
Vitamin C is one of those wonderful vitamins that is resplendent in plant-based foods. Along with citrus fruits, vitamin C can be sourced from acerola cherries, chili peppers, sweet yellow peppers, thyme, kale, mustard spinach, and broccoli, to name just a few. While you may turn automatically to the famous vitamin C-filled orange, I’ve chosen to highlight it’s lesser-recognized cousin, the lemon. Lemons are not only a wonderful ingredient to use in the kitchen — spritzed on a salad, added to plain water, or even used as a cream of tartar-substitute — but they are also brimming with vitamin C. This Blueberry Lemon Bars recipe by Taavi Moore offers a vitamin C-rich way to start your morning. Not only are they filled with lemon juice and lemon zest, but they also use blueberries — antioxidant powerhouses — healthy fat-filled coconut oil, and protein and fiber-filled almond and oat flour.
Quinoa Bowl with Garlic Sauce
Quinoa Bowl with Garlic Sauce/One Green Planet
The key to getting the most potent dose of antibacterial compounds from garlic is by making sure to break it down and disrupt its design. What does this mean? Crush it! Take your clove and crush, smash, or chop it up. Release the aromatics! This Quinoa Bowl with Garlic Sauce by Kristina Humphreys is the perfect garlic-infused recipe. Not only will you get a healthy dose of quinoa-rich protein, detoxifying cilantro, and healing oregano, but this recipe calls for minced garlic, which is the perfect way to release those healing sulfur-compounds.
5-Ingredient Artichoke Oregano Spread
5-Ingredient Artichoke Oregano Spread/One Green Planet
Along with using oregano essential oils in lotions and aromatherapy diffusers, it doesn’t hurt to include fresh oregano in your regular cooking routine. While the oil offers a potent source of oregano’s healing compounds, the fresh herb still carries the healing compounds. By using fresh oregano regularly, you can help bolster your body’s immune system. Plus, fresh oregano is wonderfully aromatic, earthy, mild, and easy to use. If you’re looking to really infuse your food, try this 5-Ingredient Artichoke Oregano Spread by Mati Michael. This recipe is super simple — with only five ingredients — calling for a good dose of fresh oregano, as well as healing garlic cloves and healthy fat-filled olive oil.
Pique Sauce/One Green Planet
Cooking with onion is one of the most rewarding experiences in the kitchen. The moment those chopped slices hit the oiled pan, your house will instantly fill with the most amazing aromatic smell. Your taste buds will ignite and, if you’re like me, you’ll most likely start salivating. Along with prepping your tummy for a delicious meal, this powerful aromatic experience also unleashes those wonderful healing properties! Plus, there’s no end to how you can use onions in recipes. With that said, this Pique Sauce recipe by Adam Merrin and Ryan Alvarez offers a truly unique way to pulverize onion and release the bacteria-fighting agents. Plus, on top of the chopped onions, this recipe also calls for vitamin C-rich jalapeno peppers, serrano peppers, and carrots and ajoene-rich garlic.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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