Sir Alexander Fleming was a bacteriologist, best known for his discovery of penicillin. Fleming made the first discovery of antibiotics when he noticed mould had created a bacteria free ring around itself on a set of culture dishes being used to grow the staphylococci germ. Pharmaceutical antibiotics were developed, and have been used to treat potentially fatal illnesses and conditions since the 1940s. Today they are overprescribed and misused. In fact, a recent UK study found that up to one in five antibiotics may be prescribed when the patient does not need them. Sometimes they can have nasty side effects as well. This has led to many bacteria developing antibiotic resistance, rendering them ineffective and unable to work when you really need them to. We don’t often think of mother nature as a source of antibiotics. But mother nature has a few powerful antibiotics of her own, believe it or not, only without as many side effects of pharmaceutical antibiotics. They also don’t kill off the ‘good’ bacteria required by the body. Keep reading to find out how these natural antibiotics can benefit your health.

Turmeric, Ayurveda’s golden herb, has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of diseases and ailments. Whilst Ayurvedic culture is known because of its incredible medicinal properties, modern day science in the Western world is now catching up. You can use turmeric in a tea for chest infections and digestive issues. It’s often used in curries and Indian dishes. It is also an exceptional anti-inflammatory and is a powerful choice for fighting bacterial and fungal infections. There are at least 20 molecules in turmeric that are antibiotic. 14 of these are known to be cancer preventative. 12 are anti-inflammatory and 12 are antitumour. And at least 10 are antioxidants. Turmeric is also known to protect the liver from toxins and pathogens. A 2016 study found that ‘curcumin has potential antibacterial activity and other pharmacological actions in the past 50 years. It also has high potential to be developed into an antibiotic against S. aureus and other bacterial strains in the future.’

Echinacea

Echinacea is known for its antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and immunoprotective properties. This herb is popular, native to western States and areas east of the Rocky Mountain in North America. It’s often taken as a cold and flu remedy, and a lot of people take echinacea when they experience the first signs of a cold or flu to stop it from developing. There are many studies for and against the benefits echinacea could potentially have on the common cold and the flu, so it’s effectiveness cannot be confirmed for certain. However, many people swear by it. The major components of Echinacea are carbohydrates, caffeic acid and proteins (glycoproteins). These give Echinacea its antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.

A 2006 report done by the University of Nottingham stated that: ‘Several active constituents have been identified that may contribute to Echinacea’s immune stimulatory activity, these include: alkamides, caffeic acid derivatives and polysaccharides. The alkamides and a group of polysaccharides known as the arabinogalactans appear to contribute to the activation of the immune cells, where-as the caffeic acid derivatives appear to contribute to the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of Echinacea. It seems likely that the combined or “synergistic” effects of each of the active components may contribute to the overall reported ability of Echinacea to lead to alleviation of symptoms and faster resolution of the cold and flu viruses.’

This healing herb was highly valued as a medicinal herb by native Americans to treat wounds, abscesses, boils and snakebite. Research today indicates echinacea to be effective at enhancing immune function with an ability to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. By blocking the release of inflammatory markers such as cytokines, Echinacea can reduce symptoms of bacterial infections. Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory compound found in turmeric that protects the body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. It also boosts the body’s antioxidant capacity by stimulating your body’s antioxidant defence.

Cayenne Pepper

This popular spice is a type of chilli pepper, loved and used to add flavour to many a meal today, but its popularity has been consistent throughout history for thousands of years. Originating from Central and South America, they were first brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus in the 15th century. The active ingredient that gives cayenne peppers its medicinal properties is capsaicin. It’s also what gives it its spiciness. As it increases the amount of heat the body produces, it may boost your metabolism, enabling you to burn more calories. Research has been carried out on the potential of cayenne pepper as an antibiotic.

Notably, a 2005 study found cayenne pepper to be effective in helping to treat vulvovaginitus. It was also noted that cayenne pepper essential oil had a significant antifungal and antibiotic effect. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16180802 Cayenne peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C to provide collagen synthesis for healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and organs. They’re also a good source of vitamin B6, niacin, riboflavin, magnesium, iron and potassium. Vitamin K also maintains healthy blood flow. Studies also suggest that cayenne pepper clears congestion by loosening up phlegm and mucus in the lungs and nasal passages.

A 2017 paper by the International Research Journal of Biological Sciences, talked about the role of knowing secondary antimicrobial compounds: ‘in this age of antibiotic resistance and emergence of pathogenic microbial mutants, it is of significant importance to have knowledge about secondary antimicrobial compounds apart from the currently known antibiotics.’ This journal also indicated the potential of chillies as a natural antibiotic: ‘capsaicin, the active ingredient in chillies has numerous biological properties which are yet to be explored. Due to its characteristic pungent nature, it has attracted interest in the field of antimicrobial studies, especially in the past two decades.’

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

Amongst its many other benefits, Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is an antibiotic. For years, the saturated fat content in coconut oil was deemed ‘bad’, but since then more research has been undertaken and the saturated fat content of coconut oil has been found to actually have a few healing benefits. These include potentially aiding in weight loss, improving heart health, promoting hair and skin health, relieving chronic fatigue, boosting metabolism and strengthening the immune system. The magic antibiotic ingredient in extra virgin coconut oil is the lauric acid in its fat. When consumed, lauric acid is converted into monolaurin, which gives it its antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Coconut oil acts as an antimicrobial against bacteria, virus and fungus. It may also be effective in treating skin infections such as atopic dermatitis (eczema). This condition often leads to topical antibiotic creams frequently being prescribed to prevent infections. Reducing drug resistance to Staphylococcus aureus, one of the most common bacteria living on the skin can be achieved by reducing the use of antibiotics. By using coconut oil instead, we can reduce the use of these antibiotics, and may relieve symptoms of eczema. This is not a guarantee as we are all different and will respond to different treatments, but a natural solution is always an option to try.

So, before you ask for your usual antibiotic, why not try one of nature’s options? Will you be adding any of these natural antibiotics to your diet? Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions!

Written by Jess Burman

Wellbeing Writer

(BA) Honours Writing