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It’s been a rough winter.  A lot of people have been sick.  And truthfully, when people get sick, a lot of them call the doctor and get antibiotics. Luckily, there are lots of safe and effective natural antibiotic alternatives.

First, let’s look at the some of the reasons why we might not want to use antibiotics, and when they may not even be necessary.

Dangers of Antibiotics

You may or may not need antibiotics for minor infections.  Ear infections and sinus infections often resolve on their own in just a few days — no antibiotics required.  Overuse and misuse of antibiotics contributes heavily to antibiotic resistant “super bacteria” which can cause serious illness, and which few, if any, current drugs can fight.

Antibiotic use statistics are pretty scary, too:

  • 70% of all antibiotics sold are used in livestock (another reason to buy pastured, sustainable meat!)
  • In 1954, only 2 million pounds of antibiotics were produced per year.  In 2000, it was 54 million.
  • From 1997 to 2005, the percent of antibiotics used for MRSA cases went from 7% to 28% (a four-fold increase!)
  • Children have the highest antibiotic use.  In fact, when parents expect antibiotics, they are prescribed 62% of the time, vs. only 7% when they are not expected.
  • Most ear infections (the most common reason for antibiotic use in children) are viral, not bacterial, and antibiotics have no effect.  Even bacterial ear infections don’t really require antibiotics.
  • Up to 80% of the antibiotics prescribed for upper respiratory infection are unnecessary

We also need to worry about gut flora.  Antibiotics, especially those most used by the public, are typically broad spectrum.  That means they’re not at all specific about which bacteria they kill.  They will kill any bacteria that is in your body, including the good bacteria in your gut.  When this bacteria is killed, it reduces your immunity and opens you up to future infections.  It also allows bad bacteria to grow uncontrolled and make you sick long-term, because the good bacteria isn’t there to keep the proper balance and battle it back.  Scientists are still studying this issue, and many — even mainstream doctors — recommend that you take a probiotic supplement along with a course of antibiotics to try to minimize this effect.  It is uncertain how effective these supplements are at this time.

Antibiotics also come with side effects, which can include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Skin rash
  • Diaper rash (in children)

There are a number of other side effects, too, depending on the particular antibiotic prescribed.

Natural Antibiotic Alternatives

Given all this data, it is important to understand that antibiotics are not to be taken lightly.  They should be used in very careful situations when “waiting it out” or other treatment methods have failed.  They should never be used for viral illnesses.  Antibiotic use is very serious, and although many people take them because they “just want to feel better,” they are not always warranted, and serious problems can result.

But, this doesn’t mean you have to do nothing when you are feeling poorly.  There are many excellent, natural antibiotic alternatives to antibiotics that are safe, that bacteria will not become resistant to, and which have no side effects.  These should be your first line of defense; you should call a doctor and consider a prescription only if these remedies fail.

Here are our top 9 natural antibiotic alternatives:

  1. Garlic
  2. Coconut oil
  3. Oregano essential oil
  4. Grapefruit seed extract
  5. Collodial silver
  6. High dose vitamin D
  7. High dose vitamin C
  8. High dose vitamin A
  9. Homeopathy (various remedies, depending on constitution)

The first five remedies are all antibacterial, and antiviral too.  They can help to clear up many different infections.  The first two are the safest — garlic and coconut oil can be used on anyone, even babies.  They can all be applied to the feet (anything applied to the feet is quickly absorbed into the body), taken orally (some under the direction of a naturopathic doctor), or applied topically.  Remedies 3 – 5 may require a naturopathic doctor if you are uncertain.

  • Fresh-crushed garlic may be mixed with coconut oil and applied to the feet.  Put thick socks on and go to sleep.
  • Put fresh-crushed garlic in a capsule and swallow it.
  • Top food with fresh-crushed garlic and simply eat it.
  • Cook in coconut oil, or add it to a smoothie.  Make candy out of it to eat a large amount at once (without the ‘gross’ factor of eating it straight).
  • Put 1 – 4 drops of oregano essential oil into a capsule and swallow it.  This may knock an infection out overnight.  Talk to a naturopathic doctor if uncertain about dosing.
  • Mix oregano oil and coconut oil and apply to the feet.
  • Mix grapefruit seed oil into water and drink (check package or ask a doctor for dosing amounts).
  • Collodial silver can be taken internally, too.  Check package or ask doctor for dosing.

How to boost the immune system in general:

  • Vitamin D can be taken up to 10,000 IU per day, or up to 50,000 IU per day for 3 days under the direction of a doctor.
  • Vitamin C can be taken 1g per hour until “bowel tolerance” (loose stools).  Since it is water soluble, overdose is not possible.  Too much will cause minor stomach cramps and diarrhea which will resolve quickly.
  • Cod liver oil is a great source of vit D and vit A, and extra doses can help get over illness.
  • Immune stimulating tincture, a wonderful combination of herbs to help boost your overall immune system and combat the winter nasties

In addition to these, it’s a good idea to give probiotics (especially from food), homemade stock, plenty of water, herbal tea, etc.  Rest is great too.

Symptoms can be managed with various other things, like the neti pot, ginger tea, hot/cold compresses, and so on.

What are your favorite natural remedies? 

**This post has been entered in Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist!**


This is the writings of:

Kate is wife to Ben and mommy to Bekah (5), Daniel (4), Jacob (2), and Nathan (born March 2013). She is passionate about God, health, and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and a book entitled A Practical Guide to Children's Health. When she's not blogging, she's in the kitchen, sewing, or homeschooling her children. You can also find her as a contributor at Keeper of the Home.

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45 Comments

  1. Do you have any advice in avoiding antibiotics in babies? My 8 month old daughter recently developed an upper respiratory infection and was prescribed antibiotics. She had been miserable for almost 2 weeks, and I felt like taking her to the doctor was the last resort. I am not happy about giving them to her, but she is doing so much better already, and is actually sleeping. I wish I had read this article before I took her in, but I didn't know what else to do. I didn't want the infection to develop into something more serious since she is so young.

    Reply

  2. I love using On Guard (essential oil blend from doTerra): http://www.doterra.myvoffice.com/essentialoilsforwellness/index.html
    And also Anti-Plague (adults) and Propolis Plus (kids) from: http://www.vsnatureworks.com/ are great! They all help in immunity and prevention and also knock things out fast if you do get sick. I wrote a post here: http://www.morethanmundane.com/?p=188 about using essential oils during cold and flu season. My kids have gotten small colds this winter once, but nothing compared to what all my friends have been dealing with this winter. Also…knock on wood…I have not yet gotten sick, even when my kids did.

    Reply

    • Onguard has oils in the blend that are not safe for use on kids under the age of 10 ( years). Specifically, cinnamon and clove. Oregano, Thyme ct. Thymol, Wintergreen and even Tulsi/Holy Basil are also “hot” oils that contain high amounts of phenols that can cause liver damage in children, because their liver is not developed enough to process these oils until they are about 10 years old. As a medical aromatheripist, I am concerned with the lack of saftey information coming from doTerra, not to mention, the quality of their oils leave much to be desired. For young children and babies I use a blend of Ravensara, Thyme ct. Linalool, Eucalyptus ct. Radiata, Tea Tree and Lemon. I use this when my kids start to show signs ear infection or sore throats. Rarely do I need to add another oil to get rid of it. I also use colloidal silver along with the oils, they work synergistically to amplify the affects of each other. (I have found that TRUessence oils from ForeverGreen have, consistently, the highest quality (you can see them at http://www.lizpeak.com) as well as the single oils from NAN (Native American Nutritionals).

      Reply

  3. Thanks for all of this info! :)

    Reply

  4. I've been thinking about antibiotic alternatives lately as well especially when I heard reports of the increase in resistant super bacteria. I wonder why doctors don't simply give natural antibiotics like tea tree oil and colloidal silver to combat common infections? If they would only use these then bacteria wouldn't be able to build resistance and especially in hospital areas. Heck, some natural antiobiotics have been shown to be affective even with serious infections like MRSA, AIDS, and Lyme Disease. If only the conventional medical establishment would actually give people real relief with non-toxic medicines.

    Reply

    • Kelli: Because doctor’s paychecks are supported in part through the drug industry and they are dependent on these resources for their livelihood. In Allopathic Medical Schools they are indoctrinated with the belief that the fastest route wins without considering a cost-benefit analysis. It is our responsibility to first try and dispel disease by simple lifestyle changes, if that does not work resort to natural antibiotic therapies and if the dis-ease persists then go to a doctor for antibiotics.

      ModernAMama: Why are you even on here? You’re opinion is irrelevant and uninformed.

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  5. Kelli — There is no money in these natural antibiotics, and doctors don't believe they work. They think it is "voodoo," not real medicine. They are, in many cases, too arrogant to admit anything but a 'real' drug would work.

    Reply

  6. Kate, this is such important info especially this time of year when folks are REALLY getting sick – at least in my neck of the woods. The oak pollen is THICK down here and folks are dropping like flies with really nasty sinus infections. When I feel something coming on, I temporarily go off all grains and this boosts my immunity most of the time to fight it off without going down hard. I don't eat many grains as it is and when I do, they are traditionally prepared, but going off them when I am in the throes of an immunity challenge seems to really help me. LOVE the idea of a 40 day grain free challenge. I hope you get tons of participating as folks really need to try this out to believe how wonderful the experience can be! Thanks for sharing at Monday Mania this week! :)

    Reply

  7. This is SUCH a fantastic post! I use coconut oil, garlic, colloidial silver, cod liver oil, and natural vitamins any time I get sick (and as preventative measures). A colloidial silver spray is great for a sore throat.
    Another way to get some good Vitamin D intake is to spend some time in the sun. If it's too cold out, I like to use Garden of Life's Raw D3 as a supplement.

    Reply

  8. Thank you so much for this post! Due to my severe allergies, I get sinus infections 5-6 times a year. And each time, I wind up on antibiotics (sometimes more than one round!), and I experience the yucky side effects you mentioned (also, yeast infections!). Although I've started immunotherapy for my allergies, I'd still love to find an alternative to traditional antibiotics that works for me!

    Reply

    • Me too! I get allergies that end in sinus infection at least 2 times a year. The last one I had was very scary. I got a Blue Nasal Mucus(The microorganism pseudomonas is usually responsible turning nasal mucus blue/green in color) I decide to skip the doctor visit and go straight with garlic. In a couple of days the mucus was gone. Later I learned that Pseudomonas is actually resistant to antibiotics (but not to natural ones like garlic :) Try it next time. I needs to be raw and cut just before you eat it to release the potent power that kills the bacteria.

      Reply

  9. I follow you on Twitter Kate and love your entire blog! Thank you! I use almost all of these listed above…but going to try the garlic for sure!

    Reply

  10. I'm bookmarking this one for reference and going to see where I can get some of the things you mentioned in your list. My family has relied on fresh, crushed garlic for years. I am curious to try the oregano e/o and the coconut oil, especially as applied to the feet (never heard of that before.) I've been battling a recurrent sinus infection all winter, but I've been hesistant to go to my family doctor because I know she'll just blow me off and toss an Rx for antibiotics at me. The few times I've had to take antibiotics, I've been displeased with the side-effects and their overall ineffectiveness. I will try what you have suggested here first. Thanks!

    Reply

  11. I tried the garlic on the bottom of my feet…only I forgot the oil! Just fyi, don't ever do that! Lol! It was working really well for the first hour or so, I mean I noticed an improvement pretty much immediately, but then after a while my feet started to BURN! And it didn't stop for a while after I got the garlic off my feet. Well, lesson learned. I will definitely try it again- but with the oil!

    Reply

  12. I don't really suggest colloidal silver, it can accumulate in your body and is sometimes known to be toxic. Just thought I would let you know!!

    Reply

  13. Oregano oil is my go-to antibiotic. It has both anti-viral and antibiotic properties (coincidentally, I just blogged about this). Sometimes I use it internally. Most often, I use it topically and let it absorb into the skin. Oregano is considered a “hot” oil. If you have sensitive skin, it should be diluted in a carrier oil. Be extremely careful when using internally. The only brands that I would recommend using internally are doTERRA and North American Herb and Spice as both of these are FDA approved for internal use.

    I have successfully used oregano oil in treating bronchitis, colds, flus, urinary tract infections and yeast infections. It is amazing stuff. I actually use everything on your list in some capacity or another but have found that oregano oil is often the easiest and most effective. I just wish it smelled better. :)

    Thanks for the post. A great reminder to us all.

    Reply

    • I would also highly recommend Young Living Essential Oils. The company has been around since 1993 and is very high quality, pure, therapeutic essential oil that is approved for internal use. I use to like North American Herb and Spice and it is very effective, but have no need with our amazing, pure oils.

      Reply

    • Hi Stephanie

      My 3 year old daughter is suffering her second urine infection. I really would like to try an alternative to antibiotics if this happens again as I know the risks of repeated use. Could you please let me know how to use oregano oil to treat/prevent UTI’s?
      thank you

      Reply

      • Hello, Hayley!

        I know this is a bit after the fact, but maybe you’ll see it for future assistance. Go to vitacost.com and search for D-Mannose. This is a natural UTI deterrent/treatment. It binds with the bacteria that cause UTIs and then both pass harmlessly out of the system through the urine. It’s not terribly expensive and is reportedly very effective. I can’t say for sure because we just don’t seem to get them. I did pick up a bottle, though, should it ever be needed.

        HTH!
        Jessica

        Reply

      • Hey,
        Totally agree with Jess. D-Mannose is great. Most UTIs are E.Coli. D-Mannose makes the lining of the ureter slick so the E.Coli cannot adhere. We have used it with great success. I have also had a time or 2 when the D-Mannose did not cut it alone and I added oregano and lemongrass topically on the abdomen. Oregano has natural antibiotic properties and lemongrass has anti-inflammatory properties. For the little ones, be sure and dilute as both lemongrass and oregano are hot oils.

        In his book, “The Cure is in the Cupboard,” Dr. Cass Ingram uses oregano for UTIs and has a method of dipping a tampon in coconut oil with a drop of oregano added. I have used this method on myself as well. It’s actually a great book and all about oregano oil.

        Reply

  14. just wanted to throw this in to the mix – Echinacea and golden seal together works great to! we had strep throat in the house, me and the kids took this and were better in 2 days my fiance went to the doc and got antibiotics and didnt feel better for almost 2 weeks. also a shot glass of aloe vera juice everyday helps build up the immune system. for many years i have stayed sick from oct-march this year since drinking the aloe vera juice i have only been sick twice and never more then 3 days.

    Reply

  15. Thanks for posting all this. I found your blog while searching for natural antibiotics, and you have the most suggestions by far. Two questions/comments:

    1) Others have suggested that cooking garlic destroys the allicin (i.e. the part that kills bacteria). You, however, recommend cooking it; do you have any resources to recommend where I could read more?

    2) You mention “homeopathy”, but I’m not sure it means what you think it means (I was misinformed for a long time as well). True homeopathic “medicine” — and I use the term loosely — is based on the belief that you can kill off a disease (or counteract the effects of a poison) by (a) ingesting a diluted version of the substance that caused the problem, or (b) taking other substances that cause the same symptoms. See https://www.google.com/search?q=define+homeopathy for a more succinct definition.

    Reply

  16. Grapefruit seed extract is amazing! I use it for everything from mastitis to cleaning. I want to try colloidal silver sometime, but I don’t know if it’s safe when breastfeeding.

    Reply

  17. Wondering what your thoughts on Apple Cider Vinegar? Or Is it more of a preventative measure?

    Reply

  18. KOMBUCHA! :D

    Reply

  19. I’m saving this site for future reference. Thank you all on your recommendations. Our family takes a tsp (for children) and a tbsp (adults) of manuka honey daily, about once to twice a week we also take Black Elderberry Syrup by Gaia (I get mine at Whole Foods). We do this during flu season and on one gets sick. When my children were younger and had ear infections (which was twice), I would get a jar of minced garlic, extract some of the juice with a medicine dropper and drop it in their ears. Ear infection was gone after one use.

    Reply

  20. Hello, my 18 month daughter has been suffering from a rash on her bum. It first started small, it seem like it didn’t bother her. Normally I put Vaseline on her tush whe there is a rash and the next day it’ll be gone. At first it seemed that it woul get better and look like it was healing, then she started scratching as soon as she would bathe. She scratched so much that the skin broke and it got bloody. The rash has spread there are red bumps and it looks irritated. I cut her nails as short as possible, stripped the cloth diapers and change them often. I have tried aveno rash cream with no luck, I still breastfeeding and reduced consuming milk and grains. I’m jot taking any antibiotics, have used the same detergent, and disinfect the tub before she bathes ( with just vinegar). Although her pediatrician is mostly holistic ped, I don’t like to take her to Dr.s I think it might be a yeast rash and if so do you have any remedie for toddlers to put on their bum?

    Reply

    • Janet, if you’re breastfeeding, use breastmilk to put on her rash. Let the milk air dry as much as possible and reapply a few times a day. Breastmilk has amazing properties and I’ve used it to clear up yeast and eye infections and other things. Wish it was still available to me :) but my son is 6 now.

      Reply

  21. To anyone who has tried garlic-on-the-feet: could one night do the trick, or do I need to plan for several nights in a row? Thanks!

    Reply

    • You might want to try for 2 – 3 nights, or whenever symptoms are mostly subsiding. Luckily garlic doesn’t have the same resistance issues as antibiotics do, so if you stop too soon, you can always re-start without issue.

      Reply

  22. Olive leaf extract should be in the top 5 if not # 1.

    Reply

  23. Breastmilk is an amazing remedy as well. When my daughter had pink eye last year, we put about 3-4 drops of breastmilk in her eye in the morn and at night, she woke up perfectly clear the next morning! I continued to put the BM in her eyes for a couple days to ensure the infection stayed away. Also, I put BM in my sons ears when he got an ear infection last month. It cleared up almost overnight. I was amazed. No fever, no tugging at the ears or waking in the night crying and holding his ears… OVERNIGHT! Just make sure you are using a sterile dropper,… :)

    Reply

  24. I am VERY pregnant and am wondering which of these choices are safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding. Thanks!

    Reply

    • I think all of them are safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding. I used several of them while breastfeeding my baby this last year.

      Reply

  25. Hi I have absessed teeth and no dental insurance I have been
    Taking deoderized garlic capsuals it seems to work somewhat.what
    would be the method to use I would greatly appriciate it thanks

    Reply

  26. Thank you for this great list of antibiotic alternatives. My favorites are liposomal vitamin C and garlic softgel capsules. A year ago I got dental implants and one got infected. I fought the infection but it was up in the implant where nothing could kill it. These remedies worked well to suppress it. Now I have had the infected implant removed and am suffering from infection from the surgery. My dentist gave me a prescription for antibiotics but I couldn’t make him understand that I have already had 7 rounds and can’t take any more. I am bloated, gassy, fatigued and vunerable to more antibiotic complications. So in addition to my favorites I am going to add a few from your list. Thanks again.

    Reply

  27. Kate, olive leaf is a good antibiotic also. :)

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  28. One of your best posts yet. Thank you.

    Reply

  29. Thanks for such a thorough post, Kate! So appreciate you sharing your experience and recommendations. I’ve pinned this for future reference and am sharing it today on my FB fan page so many others can benefit as well. Blessings to you, Kelly

    Reply

  30. Grapefruit seed extract has proven itself to be a very effective natural antibiotic without side effects! Read more about how it works!!!

    Reply

  31. Hi i tried the garlic on babies feet but you should be more specific on instructions it didnt say how much and my babies feet are burnt. Pleaso do so next time how much how long and how. I know this remedies work but again more specifics. Thanks. Especially when dealing with babies.

    Reply

  32. Turmeric is also amazing at knocking out staph, even MRSA. I worked at a jail and on my LAST day got MRSA. It was awful. After several rounds of IV antibiotics, a painful session of pus-squeezing, and absolute agony, it returned. I decided to do something different. I made a poultice of garlic and turmeric and then I drank turmeric and water. Wiped it out! I am a true believer.

    Reply

  33. Hi! I am new to all of this, and just happened to stumble across this page while searching for alternatives for antibiotics for my daughter who is seven. I took her to the Dr. today because she has been having headaches, and and an irritating little cough (almost daily) for the past few weeks. He said it was sinuses and said that she had a sinus infection and drainage, and wrote her a script for an antibiotic. I do not want to use it!:/ Our family is pretty healthy for the most part, we eat healthy, as organic as possible, and stay pretty active. I am thankful that we rarely get sick, so we have not yet experimented with a whole lot of natural remedies for sickness. I do oil pulling with coconut oil, but that’s about it. I am definitely wanting to learn more and I am seeking to do so. I feel there has to be a better way that wont be harmful to her in some other way. Is there anything that you ladies would recommend for sinus infections? Also what books would be good for me to learn about essential oils and how to use them, and other natural remedies? I have appreciated all of the comments, and look forward to learning more. Thanks so much!

    Reply

  34. Hi – I was just tested positive for H-Pylori bacteria infection in my digestive track. The treatment is two antibacterial medicine (Amoxil and Biaxin) and Prilosec. I’m wondering if the above suggestions would work instead? If yes, how long would they take – any ideas?
    Thanks!

    Reply

  35. I am partying with you because I love learning about alternative ways to help my family. I basically need all the help I can get because there is not one person in my family who has a desire to change or who understands how important it is for me to be able to offer my family a better healthier lifestyle. I joined the party a little late but have enjoyed going through all the posts!

    MaLynda

    Reply

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