Foods and supplements sometimes work just as well as prescription antibiotics…without side effects.

Most likely you’ve been taught that if you have any type of bacterial infection, you must take an antibiotic. But overuse of antibiotics is increasingly rendering them ineffective and contributing to the rise of deadly drug-resistant superbugs. Not only are new strains of MRSA now emerging, but other types of bacteria, including Clostridium difficile and Salmonella, are becoming increasingly difficult to treat.

What’s more: Antibiotics inhibit the growth of nearly all bacteria in the body that they come into contact with (good and bad), often causing annoying side effects such as diarrhea and yeast and intestinal infections.

Time to change your thinking: For many minor infections, natural antibiotics found in foods, supplements and herbs can eliminate harmful microbes just as well as prescription antibiotics—without side effects. Plus, if you do need a prescription antibiotic, natural products can often help these medications work more effectively.

If you think you have an infection: See your doctor.* He/she can tell you whether antibiotics are necessary or if it is safe to try natural products—some may interact with medications you are taking. (A high fever—with or without chills—is one sign you may need an antibiotic.) If you are cleared to try a natural regimen, check back with your doctor if the infection does not improve within 48 hours.

Probiotics for Respiratory Infections

You probably already know to take probiotics or eat yogurt to reduce the chance of side effects when you are on antibiotics. What you might not know is that probiotics also can help prevent and treat infections. And yogurt isn’t the only food source. Little-known probiotic-rich alternatives include fermented vegetables (such as sauerkraut and kimchi)…fermented soy foods (such as miso and tempeh)…and kefir, a fermented milk product. When you eat these foods, their beneficial bacteria displace some of the disease-causing bacteria and secrete substances that inhibit or kill harmful germs.

A study found that individuals who took daily supplements of Lactobacillus reuteri (a common probiotic) were less than half as likely to take sick days for upper-respiratory or gastrointestinal illnesses than those who took placebos.

Natural approach: Regularly consuming probiotic foods helps prevent and treat infections. If you get recurrent infections and/or frequently use antibiotics, a probiotic supplement may be advised as well. Check with your doctor for the best probiotic and dosage for you.

Colloidal Silver for Ear Infections, More

The antibiotic properties of colloidal silver were first described nearly 2,000 years ago. It comes as a suspension—microscopic bits of silver are suspended in water or a gel-like substance—and can be used for ear, nose, throat and eye infections. Another silver product, silver sulfadiazine cream, is used to prevent and treat skin and wound infections.

Natural approach: Colloidal silver can be used orally or topically, depending on the condition being treated. Use a product that contains “true silver particles” rather than “ionic silver,” which may be less effective at killing pathogens. Caution: Colloidal silver can cause argyria, a grayish or bluish skin discoloration that may be permanent if you take massive doses (38 g per day). A standard colloidal silver product has less than 1 mg of silver per dose.

Oil of Oregano for Throat and Bladder Infections

Oregano contains carvacrol, a powerful antimicrobial chemical compound. In a lab study, even low doses of oregano oil inhibited the growth of staph (Staphylococcus aureus) as effectively as streptomycin and other antibiotics. I recommend this oil for throat and bladder infections.

Natural approach: Add one or two drops of concentrated oregano oil to one teaspoon of olive or coconut oil to avoid burning your mouth. Take once a day during an infection.

Garlic for Diarrhea, More

Garlic has allicin, a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent that fights a variety of bacteria, viruses and fungi. It’s been found to be effective against Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium linked to stomach ulcers and cancer, and against certain bacteria that cause diarrhea.** Even some antibiotic-resistant strains of H. pylori responded to garlic in studies. And in both World Wars, garlic was used to prevent wound infections.

Natural approach: For prevention and treatment of the infections above, take deodorized garlic capsules (such as Vitacost Deodorized Garlic Ultra). They’re more convenient—and less smelly—than eating lots of fresh garlic. Follow label directions. For a topical solution for wounds, mix one part garlic juice (found in health-food stores) with three parts water. Apply to gauze and place on skin. Never put garlic juice or crushed garlic directly on the skin—it can cause irritation.

Homeopathy for Skin Infections

Silica, a homeopathic remedy, helps treat painful skin infections—such as boils, inflamed acne and skin wounds—that seem to take forever to heal.

Natural approach: Take one pellet (6C concentration) every day for seven to 14 days until the area is about 80% healed. After that, watch the area for a few days to make sure it finishes healing.

Caution: If, at any point, the wound gets very red and inflamed…if redness spreads quickly…or if you have a high fever and/or chills, see your doctor immediately. Also, see your doctor if the wound does not finish healing after using the silica. These are signs that you may need an antibiotic.

* To find a naturopathic or homeopathic doctor near you, go to or

**Caution: If diarrhea lasts for more than 24 hours in a child or more than two days in an adult, see a doctor. Also, see a doctor if diarrhea is accompanied by blood in your stool, severe abdominal pain or signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth and/or low urine output.