Posted on: August 26, 2020 at 4:01 pm
Last updated: October 15, 2020 at 2:59 pm

An antibiotic is any substance that inhibits the growth and replication of a bacterium or kills it outright. 

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The introduction of antibiotics into medicine revolutionized the way infectious diseases were treated and allowed doctors to treat infections that were previously likely to kill patients. Antibiotics are one of the most common classes of drugs today, and many of the complex surgeries that are now routinely done around the world have been made possible by these important drugs [1].

Often when we think about antibiotics, our thoughts first go to man-made drugs that have been created in a laboratory, but antibiotics exist in nature as well. In fact, most of the antibiotics used today are based on compounds scientists have found in nature [1].

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To this day, nature still provides some of the most powerful antibiotics, and can even be used as home remedies for a variety of bacterial infections.

Nature’s Most Powerful Antibiotics

There are certain plant extracts, essential oils, and even foods that have powerful antibacterial properties in order to prevent bacteria from growing in the food itself. In some cases, however, these properties provide benefits to humans as well.

For example, a 2014 study found that patients with small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) who were treated with an herbal therapy experienced the same amount of relief as those treated with the common antibiotic Rifaximin [2].

There are several antibacterial compounds that already exist in nature, some of which are common household items. Continue reading to learn how you can reap the benefits of these powerful antibiotics. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather to shine a light on some of the more powerful naturally occurring antibiotics that can either be consumed or used topically by humans.

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1. Honey

Honey has been used as an antibiotic since ancient times. Its strong antibacterial properties can be attributed to a number of things, including its hydrogen peroxide content. Its ability to maintain moist wound conditions and to provide a protective barrier against infection. This is why it has been used historically to treat cuts and lesions [3].

The high sugar content of honey also stops the growth of certain bacteria, and its low pH level pulls moisture away from bacteria, causing it to become dehydrated and die off. For this reason, even non-peroxide honey (aka Manuka Honey) displays significant antibacterial effects despite the fact the hydrogen bacteria activity is blocked [3].

Research has also shown that Manuka honey is effective against several human pathogens, including E.coli and Salmonella. Other less commonly-known kinds of honey, such as Tualang honey, have also been shown to be even more effective against these pathogens [4].

Honey can also be taken internally, either by simply swallowing a spoonful or by stirring it into warm water or herbal tea, however, most of the research regarding honey has focused on its topical use.

Related: Honey better treatment for coughs and colds than antibiotics, study claims

2. Garlic

A 2014 study found that garlic extract is effective against C. jejuni, one of the most common causes of food poisoning in Europe and North America. The researchers determined that the efficacy with which garlic could inhibit the growth of this bacteria was proportional to the concentration of organosulfur compounds within the extract, therefore the organosulfur compounds (diallyl sulfides and thiosulfinates) contributed the strongest benefits [5].

Garlic concentrate or extract can be purchased at most health food stores, or can be made at home by soaking garlic cloves in olive oil. Garlic is generally considered safe, however large doses may cause internal bleeding, so up to two cloves per day is considered a safe dosage. If you’re taking a supplement, be sure to follow the directions on the bottle.

3. Myrrh

You may recognize myrrh as one of the three gifts in the Biblical Christmas story, but like many people are unaware of its ability to fight off harmful germs and bacteria. Research from the year 2000 found that myrrh extract (myrrh essential oil) was effective at killing off a variety of common pathogens, including E. coli, S. aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Candida albicans  [6].

Burning myrrh incense can also help purify the air, and a 2018 study found that burning myrrh and frankincense reduces airborne bacteria by 68 percent, which can help prevent the spread of contagious diseases [7].

Myrrh essential oil can be used topically, however it can irritate the skin so it is best to dilute it into another oil like jojoba, almond, or coconut oil before applying. It can also be put through a diffuser to distribute the oil as a fine mist into the air. For instruction on several ways to safely use myrrh oil, click here.

4. Thyme

Thyme essential oil has shown to be particularly useful against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In 2011 researchers tested both thyme and lavender essential oil against 120 strains of bacteria from patients with various infections. Out of the two oils, thyme demonstrated greater efficacy at killing bacteria than the lavender [8].

Thyme is used as a germ-killer in mouth washes and liniments, and can also be applied to the scalp to prevent baldness and to the ears to fight bacterial infections. 

Typically, thyme oil is used topically, however it can irritate the skin and so should be combined with a carrier oil like almond, olive, or coconut oil. There is currently insufficient information to know if thyme oil is safe to be taken orally, and so this should be avoided [9].

Read: Thyme Benefits: A Medicinal Herb and A Natural Antibiotic

5. Oregano

Oregano essential oil contains a compound called carvacrol, which has been shown to stop the growth of several types of bacteria [10].

One study found that 43 percent of mice who were infected with S. aureus bacteria lived past thirty days when treated with oregano essential oil, which is very close to the fifty percent survival rate of those who were treated with regular antibiotics [11].

More human studies on the effects of oregano oil extract are needed, however it has shown promise as an effective antibiotic.

6. Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has been used for nearly a century as a healing treatment in Australia but is now available worldwide both as a pure oil and as a component in a variety of products [12].

The oil is best known for its antibacterial activity, and there is some research to suggest that this is due to its ability to damage the cell walls of bacteria however more research is needed to fully understand how tea tree oil works [13].

In 2018, researchers in Australia used the antibacterial properties of tea tree oil to create a bioactive coating to prevent a “biofilm” from forming on medical devices, potentially preventing millions of infections every year.

“It’s thought about 80 percent of worldwide surgery-associated infections may relate to biofilm formation,” said Mohan Jacob, the head of the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Department at James Cook University (JCU) in Queensland, Australia [14].

Using the antimicrobial molecules produced by plants as a way to prevent bacterial biofilms without relying on antibiotics will also prevent antibiotic-resistant bacteria from forming, which creates a whole other human health problem.

7. Cranberry

Cranberries are a commonly-used treatment for UTIs, especially among women, and there is research that demonstrates the fruit’s efficacy against this type of infection. It is important to note, however, that only cranberry capsules have been shown to be effective at preventing or treating UTIs, not the juice alone [15].

It is also extremely important that if you develop a UTI that does not go away within a matter of days, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible, who will provide you with an antibiotic to get rid of the infection.

Research has also shown that cranberry juice is effective at inhibiting the growth of the S. aureus bacteria, more so than other berries like blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, and acai berry [16].

Read: 15 Medicinal Plants That Can Easily Be Grown In Your Yard

When to Use Prescription Antibiotics

Just because there are naturally-existing antibiotics available does not negate the importance of regular antibiotics. Due to the increase in drug-resistant bacteria over the last several years, doctors will often avoid prescribing antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary, so if you are given one it is in your best interest to follow your doctor’s recommendations.

When you are prescribed an antibiotic, it is equally as important that you follow your doctor’s instructions very closely, and always take the entire dosage as directed. This is particularly important for people who are at a higher risk of developing a bacterial infection, or have a higher risk of serious complications if they become ill [17].

Natural Antibiotics to Prevent “Superbugs”

The overuse of antibiotics can cause the development of “superbugs”, or drug-resistant bacteria, which are responsible for 23 thousand deaths in the United States every year [17]. For this reason, researchers and health experts are looking more closely at the efficacy of natural antibiotics and how they can help reduce our reliance on man made antibiotics.

Always be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a natural antibiotic regime, as they will be able to offer guidance and help you weigh the risks and benefits of all of your options.

Keep Reading: 16 Unusual Ways To Use Rosemary That Goes Way Beyond Cooking

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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