Antibiotic, also known to the world as “antibacterials,” is a type of antimicrobial medicine that is used to fight off infections caused by bacteria. They work by either killing the bacteria or prevent them from multiplying. They aid the body’s natural defense system in fighting the foreign invasion. However, these medicines are not effective against viral infections like flu, most coughs and bronchitis.
In 1928, Alexander Flemming discovered penicillin, a substance produced by a fungus that had properties to inhibit the growth of bacteria. This revolutionized the medicine world and in the next few decades, synthetic antibiotics replaced almost all the medicines in the market that had previously been used to treat many bacterial infections; possibly due to their high effectiveness.
However, as we all know, with good comes the bad, the saying later proved to be true for synthetic antibacterials as well. With excessive use of synthetic antibacterials, numerous unwanted effects like digestive problems and allergies gradually began to surface. For this reason, even today, antibiotics are usually prescribed along with some other medicines to minimize the negative effects of the former.
Fortunately, such ill-effects arising from the use of synthetic antibiotics can be prevented without being dependent on other drugs by turning to food items that naturally possess antibacterial properties. Although these home remedies have been in use since time immemorial, limited research has been done to prove their effectiveness.
With the ever-hovering threat of the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to continuous use of antibacterials, scientists have now started looking for solutions in the centuries-old grandma’s home remedies. Following are seven food items that have been known to possess antibacterial properties:
Different cultures through their respective systems of medicine have independently and invariably identified garlic for possessing preventive and curative properties. Several studies have proved that garlic helps the body prevent infections from several bacteria, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli. A surprising fact associated with garlic is that it finds use in multi-drug resistant tuberculosis as well. Allicin is the compound found in freshly crushed garlic that bestows it with such amazing properties.
A sweet, viscous substance produced by honeybees from floral nectar has been used since the time of Aristotle for healing wounds along with preventing and curing infections.
The wonders of this sweet substance have been acknowledged by the modern scientists as well for treating burns, chronic wounds, bedsores, ulcers and skin grafts. A study done in 2016 has proved its effectiveness in healing wounds. The healing property of honey is due to the enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide, which kills bacterial cells. Honey helps in keeping the wound moist and its high viscosity prevents the entry of bacteria.
However, manuka honey – a type of honey native to New Zealand, can still prevent bacterial infections, even with low levels of hydrogen peroxide.
Another study done in 2011 showed that the best-known honey is helpful in preventing infections from nearly 60 different kinds of bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). 
A common household rhizome, ginger is widely known in the scientific community for possessing antibacterial properties. A study published in 2017 has shown that ginger is effective against various strains of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus and S. pyreus. Zingiberene is the active constituent found in ginger that is responsible for the rhizome’s antibiotic properties.
It has also been found to be effective against seasickness, nausea and high blood sugar levels.
4. Echinacea or Purple Coneflower
Finding its mention in the Native American and other traditional healers’ books, echinacea has been in use for treating wounds and infections for centuries. Modern scientists are now to trying the understand the significance of this herb.
In the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, a study was published, which showed that the extract from Echinacea purpurea can kill various bacteria, including Staphylococcus pyogenes, responsible for causing strep throat, flesh-eating disease, called necrotizing fasciitis and toxic shock syndrome. It is also effective in fighting inflammation caused due to an infection.
Also known as orangeroot or yellow puccoon, goldenseal is an herb that has been used in the treatment of digestive problems like diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and respiratory problems. It is generally taken in the form of capsules or tea. Recently, scientists have discovered its role in treating skin infections and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
These properties of goldenseal are due to the presence of a compound, berberine. A person, who is on prescription medicines should consult his doctor before starting a goldenseal supplement. Also, it should not be taken by pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers due to possible dangers to the baby.
A spice that has been used traditionally for relieving dental pain has been found to be effective in treating bacterial infections like E. coli. The essential oil of clove contains eugenol that imparts clove its antimicrobial property.
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of oregano are rather well known than its antibacterial properties. Carvacrol is the compound found in oregano oil, which is responsible for its antimicrobial properties.
Risks of Natural Antibiotics
It is a general misconception that anything that is natural is completely safe. People can develop allergies to natural ingredients as well. Supplements carry different concentrations of active ingredients depending on the brand and hence, user discretion is recommended. It is advised to consult a doctor before starting any supplement.
While consuming cooked garlic is safe, concentrated forms of garlic can increase the risk of bleeding. Therefore, people who are on blood thinners or scheduled for surgery should avoid it. Garlic has also been found to decrease the effectiveness of HIV medicines.
Likewise, colloidal silver is being used for treating many diseases, including HIV and bubonic plague. However, according to a study published by the National Center for Complementary Integrative Health, its use can be dangerous and also, there is no solid evidence for its effectiveness.
Colloidal silver supplements have been known to interfere with antibiotics and hypothyroidism medicines. Silver can get accumulated in the body and turn the skin bluish-gray, leading to a condition, called argyria, which is permanent in most people.
When to Use Prescribed Antibiotics
Due to the widespread use of antibiotics, drug-resistant strains of bacteria have developed which is alarming. Nowadays, doctors are prescribing antibiotics only when it is required and that too, strain specific. Antibiotics are generally prescribed to prevent:
- Spread of infectious disease
- Disease from becoming more serious
- Development of complications
- Prolongation of diseased state
If antibiotics are prescribed to a person, it is recommended to take the entire course as directed. Such behavior is especially recommended in people, who are at a higher risk of developing a bacterial infection or those, who cannot afford to get sick. Such people can be those, who are:
- Scheduled for surgery
- Receiving chemotherapy
- HIV positive
- Living with heart failure
- Taking insulin for managing diabetes
- Recovering from serious injuries
- Over 75 years of age
- Under 3 years of age
If there is a history of antibiotic allergy or excessive side effects, it should be discussed with the doctor before embarking on an antibiotic therapy.
According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2 million Americans become a prey to drug-resistant bacterial infection annually, out of which, nearly 23,000 result in death.
Such drug-resistant bacteria pose a serious threat to the world and are growing at a rapid rate. Natural antibiotics are one of the ways by which mankind can be protected from the wrath of these bacteria. Nevertheless, there are some risks associated with the use of these natural antibiotics as well. Research is still going on for determining the effectiveness of these substances. The scientific community is, however, continually striving to develop lifesaving drugs from these traditionally used antibiotic foods.