Food as Medicine

Natural Alternatives to Antibiotics

Alternatives to Antibiotics
TIMEJanuary 12, 2022

Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin, in 1927. Since then, antibiotics – drugs that fight bacterial infections – have saved millions of lives worldwide.

Although antibiotics have many beneficial effects, over-use of these medicines has created the new problem of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most critical public health concerns. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in a way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply, causing more harm.

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Over the last decade, almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment. Bacteria and other microorganisms that cause infections are remarkably resilient and can survive drugs designed to kill them. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to others, threatening the community with a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to treat. Currently, roughly 70 percent of bacteria that cause infections in hospitals are resistant to at least one of the drugs most commonly used to treat infections. Tuberculosis, gonorrhea, malaria, and childhood ear infections are just a few of the diseases that are becoming more difficult to treat with antibiotic drugs.

A common misconception is that a person’s body becomes resistant to antibiotics. In reality, microbes become resistant to the drugs. Fortunately, a variety of natural ingredients possess powerful antibiotic properties. In this age of the “superbug”, it is wise to become familiar with these infection-fighting alternatives.

oil of oregano
Of all the herbal plants that have been studied to date, the oregano plant has proven to be the most powerful and effective natural antibiotic available. (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Natural Alternatives to Antibiotics

There are many homeopathic, nutritional, and herbal remedies for infection. These alternatives can strengthen your immune system naturally, protect your natural ‘friendly bacteria’, and fight infection without antibiotics. Commonly and historically used substances with natural antibiotic capacities include:


The gastrointestinal tract represents a complex ecosystem in which a delicate balance exists between trillions of intestinal microorganisms and the host. The intestinal microflora protect the immune system by reinforcing the protective barrier of the intestinal mucosa helping to prevent the entry of pathogenic microorganisms. In fact, it is often said that 80% of your immune system is in your gut.

Many harmful influences can destroy these beneficial microorganisms. Antibiotics, stress, antacids, sugar, processed foods, pesticides, and chlorine in drinking water represent only a few of the factors that can upset natural balance of intestinal microflora (dysbiosis). This imbalance eventually leads to candidiasis and promotes leaky gut syndrome.

Probiotics are the opposite of antibiotics and are defined as live microorganisms. Probiotic bacteria favorably alter the intestinal microflora balance, inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, promote good digestion, boost immune function, and increase resistance to infection. People with flourishing intestinal colonies of beneficial bacteria are better equipped to fight the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria maintain a healthy balance of intestinal flora by producing organic compounds-such as lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and acetic acid-that increase the acidity of the intestine and inhibit the reproduction of many harmful bacteria. Probiotic bacteria also produce substances called bacteriocins, which act as natural antibiotics to kill undesirable microorganisms.

Probiotics as nutritional supplements found in foods such as yogurt are primarily the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species. The dietary use of live microorganisms has a long history. Cultured dairy products is mentioned in the Bible and the sacred books of Hinduism. Soured milks and cultured dairy products, such as kefir, were often used therapeutically before the existence of microorganisms was recognized. Plain, organic yogurt provides an excellent source of probiotics. Different brands of yogurt can vary greatly in their bacteria strain and potency. Some yogurts, particularly fruit-bottomed, do not contain any live bacteria or contain an adulterated form unrecognizable by the body. If you choose to supplement, depending on the brand, two to four capsules in divided doses provides added intestinal and immune protection.

2. Oregano Oil

Of all the herbal plants that have been studied to date, the oregano plant has proven to be the most powerful and effective natural antibiotic available. In vitro studies have proven that oil of oregano is as effective as leading prescription antibiotics against bacteria. Yet, unlike these toxic drugs, oil of oregano is safe for internal use and does not allow for the development of resistant germs.

3. Garlic

Garlic’s role as an antimicrobial has been well documented. Garlic is the only antibiotic that can actually kill infecting bacteria and at the same time protect the body from the poisons that are causing the infection. Clinical research found garlic’s effectiveness to be comparable to that of penicillin, streptomycin, erythromycin, and tetracycline. In addition, it has proven effective against some resistant bacteria that no longer respond to prescription antibiotics. It has also been reported that the vapor from freshly cut garlic can kill bacteria at a distance of 20 centimeters!

For internal use, fresh garlic is best. Deodorized garlic may not have the same benefits as fresh garlic. Garlic oil can be used internally or externally. It can be made from chopped fresh garlic that soaked in olive oil for a few days.

4. Bee Propolis

Also known as “bee glue,” propolis is a sticky fluid that bees make from a mixture of plant resins. Thirty-five years ago, galangin and pinocembrin were the first antibiotic compounds found in bee propolis. Since then, a number of key antibiotic substances have been isolated in propolis. Propolis is known to inhibit the growth of H. Pylori, the bacterium associated with ulcers. It has been used to treat E. coli and Candida albicans.

5. Tea Tree Oil

Native to Australia, tea tree oil is used topically for a wide variety of skin infections including acne, athlete’s foot, and nail fungus.

6. Colloidal Silver

Acting as a catalyst, colloidal silver disables the enzyme that one-celled bacteria, viruses and fungi need for their oxygen metabolism. Within minutes, the pathogen suffocates without causing any harm to the host. The human body cannot build up a resistance to colloidal silver, and remarkably, it destroys only the invader bacteria, viruses and fungi as opposed to the protective bacteria!

7. Turmeric

This staple spice in Indian and Asian cooking is a well-researched antibiotic. It is able to inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, parasites and fungi. Turmeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory herb as well.

In some instances, antibiotics may be necessary. If you have a history of antibiotic use, the following advice will strengthen your immune system:

  • Probiotics are important in re-colonizing the intestine after antibiotic use. Probiotic supplements replenish the beneficial bacteria, preventing up to 50% of infections occurring after antibiotic use.
  • Avoid sugar – sucrose, dextrose, glucose, maltose, corn sweeteners, turbinado sugar, maple syrup, molasses, and any other products made with sugar.
  • Avoid white flour products and all refined carbohydrates including white rice, bread, pizza, crackers, soft drinks, cookies, ice cream, white flour pasta, sweetened juices, non-diluted fruit juices, jams, alcoholic beverages, and caffeinated drinks.
  • Strictly avoid: yeast, beer, wine, supplements containing yeast, bread made with yeast, mushrooms, vinegar, peanuts, pistachios, leftovers (contain mold), cheese, and melons.
  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.
  • Do not save some of your antibiotic for the next time you get sick. Discard any leftover medication once you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for your illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
  • If your healthcare provider determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about alternative ways to help relieve your symptoms. Do not pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic.

This article was originally published on




3. Haas, Elson, Staying Healthy with Nutrition (2006), Celestial Arts, Berkeley.

Lisa Roth Collins is a registered holistic nutritionist and also the marketing manager at, which first published this article.