Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance is a problem for everyone. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is one of several bacteria that cause more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States every year. More than 35,000 people die each year due to these infections. 

We all need to do our part to slow the further development of antibiotic resistance. Doctors are increasingly cautious not to overprescribe antibiotics. Patients can prevent infection through good hygiene and immune support, including handwashing, adequate sleep, and good nutrition. And both patients and physicians can, in many situations, use nonantibiotic alternatives, such as plant medicines, to treat infections.

Choosing an alternative to an antibiotic drug does not mean you should avoid your doctor or sidestep an accurate diagnosis. Whether it’s your skin, ears, bladder, or stomach that’s sick, you need your health-care provider to examine you and monitor your infection. But you can be the one to tell your doctor you’d like to avoid antibiotics, if possible, and ask if a plant medicine would be reasonable for your situation.

Here are several that I prescribe every day in my family practice:

Oregon grape root. Mahonia aquifolium is a shrub that is native to the western United States, particularly Oregon, Washington, and northern California. The medicine comes from the root and bark, which are yellow, due in part to berberine, a plant constituent that has antimicrobial properties. Oregon grape root can be used to treat bladder, gastrointestinal, and throat infections. My typical dose is two capsules every four hours for three to five days.

Garlic. Allium sativa is an antibacterial plant medicine I use frequently for treating ear infections. For an uncomplicated ear infection, I prescribe garlic oil directly into the infected ear. I also recommend that my patients use hydrogen peroxide in between garlic oil applications. A typical schedule is five drops of peroxide in the ear(s) in the morning, two drops of garlic oil at noon, five drops of peroxide at 5 p.m., and two drops of garlic oil into the ear(s) at bedtime. Do this for three to five days until the ear infection is gone.

Uva ursi. Arctostaphylos, also known as Kinnikinnick or Bearberry, is my go-to herb for food poisoning, acute diarrhea, and bacterial vaginosis. A typical adult dose for infection is 1/8 teaspoon Uva ursi tincture in 2 ounces of water, away from meals, four times a day for one to five days until the infection is resolved.

Calendula is my number one antibacterial plant medicine for mild skin infections such as acne and boils, or to prevent infection in cuts and scrapes. For skin infections, it’s best to use a tincture applied full strength over the infected skin three times a day. To prevent infection in a cut or scrape, wash the injury with soap and water first, and then apply diluted calendula (50/50 water/tincture) twice daily for two days or until the injury is healed.

Echinacea works by increasing white-blood-cell activity in the body. It’s a great herb to combine with other plant medicines to boost the immune response. My typical adult dose is 60 drops of echinacea tincture, four times a day, in 2 ounces of water, taken 30 minutes away from food, in addition to any of the above prescriptions.

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