As the modern medicine community learns more about the human microbiome and its relation to human health, we learn that antibiotics aren’talways our ally. After all, antibiotics kill pathogens (harmful microorganisms), but they also kill good bacteria we need for our gastrointestinal, immune, and brain health. Scientists have also recently learned that bacteria is crafty, and many pathogens have, in a sense, learned how to protect themselves against commonly used antibiotics. As we discover more about human health and our close relationship with microorganisms,natural remedies are catching the eye of researchers. Integrative medicine is fusing the divide between modern medicine and traditional natural treatments, and the discovery of antibiotic resistance is one of the catalysts that sparked this union.
If you have a medical issue that might require a prescription antibiotic, it’s very important that you talk with your doctor. However, you’ll be surprised to learn that natural alternatives to antibiotics can often be found right under our noses. In fact, many are fragrant, delicious, and used to enhance the taste of foods and beverages. Not only are these natural antibiotics easy to add to your diet, they are often gentle or harmless to microorganisms that are beneficial to human health. These natural antibiotics include:
We add it to everything from tea to baked goods, but honey is much more than a delicious natural sweetener. It has been used for preventing infections for centuries before we knew anything about bacteria.
The oldest honey discovered is over 5,000 years old and is still edible today. The history of this goldensuperfood was enough to make scientists curious about potential antibacterial qualities. They found that the secret to honey’s longevity and healing potential comes from a combination of nectar and an enzyme called glucose oxidase found in bees. These two combine and the byproducts, gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide, are eventually regurgitated by bees. These byproducts are what give honey its coveted antibacterial properties. Harmful microbes can’t survive long in honey due to the fact that honey naturally draws moisture from bacteria and creates an unfavorable environment because of its low PH. When applied to wounds, honey draws moisture from the area while dispensing safe amounts of hydrogen peroxide to treat the wound.
There are two types of honey that are most prized for their medicinal value:Tualang honey (made by rock bees) andManuka honey (made from bees that pollinate the Manuka flower). According to the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, Tualang honey can be taken by mouth to help with the recovery of GI infections caused by bacteria like E. coli. They also note that they can also help treat bacteria that has developed resistance to antibiotics, like MRSA.
This sweetener has been getting attention lately after proving itself against B. burgdorferi — the bacteria that is transmitted by the deer tick and causes Lyme Disease. A 2015 study published by the European Journal of Microbiology and Immunology couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it is in stevia that was effective against the bacteria, but researchers hypothesized that the plant’s phytochemicals were the reason.
Phytochemicals protect stevia from pathogens, and they appear to operate in a similar way in the human body. The study showed that stevia extract was as effective as antibiotics used to kill the bacteria with the added bonus of penetrating a biofilm where bacteria love to hide in to protect themselves. The antibiotics tested against stevia actually promoted the development of biofilm. More studies need to be done to prove that stevia is effective against different types of bacteria, but these findings are promising to say the least. As is the case with most food, seek out the least processed stevia you can find with little to no additives.
Garlic tops the list of powerful natural antibiotics. Its antibacterial properties come from a component calledallicin. Allicin is what garlic uses to protect itself from insects and pathogens, similar to the phytochemicals in stevia. Fresh garlic extract was proven to enhance the effectiveness of antibiotics and antifungals in a 2015 study published by Jundishapur Journal of Microbiology. The garlic was used as a tool against resistant microorganisms specifically, and it proved itself to be a secret weapon. It also contains antiviral properties that might help prevent and fight colds, but more research needs to be done to explore garlic’s antiviral potential. The earth didn’t only gift us with this culinary treat, it provided a powerful antimicrobial agent for us to help us live healthy lives.
Overcooking garlic will break down the enzymes and compounds that give garlic its antibiotic properties. Crushing or pressing garlic releases its oils and allows the garlic to do its work in our bodies. Opt for raw garlic, or add it toward the end of your cooking process to retain its health benefits.
This is another yummy addition to our list. Ginger has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. More recently, ginger has been studied and has proven itself to inhibit growth of harmful yeast and bacteria. We’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg with ginger studies. A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences noted that ginger has remarkable antimicrobial properties, but scientists don’t yet understand exactly what it is in ginger that makes this happen. For now, we’ll just acknowledge ginger’s magic and use it to our advantage.
Just like garlic, ginger is best consumed as close to raw as possible. Light steeping in warm water for tea or in cold water for an extra kick are two great ways to enjoy ginger. Add it to food toward the end of your cooking process. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the flavorful kick this superfood will add to your life.
It’s hard not to love cinnamon. You can sprinkle it on most foods, sweet or savory, to give it a wonderful spicy flavor. This spice has many hidden qualities that make it a valuable addition to our pantry, and one of them is its ability to inhibit growth of harmful microorganisms. Cinnamon has even entered the realm of cosmetics to replace harmful preservatives — after all, we absorb what we apply to our skin. It can also help preserve food by preventing food spoilage. If we start to replace synthetic and carcinogenic preservatives in food and cosmetics with natural products like cinnamon, we’re taking a huge step in the right direction.
Scientists pinpointed exactly what gives cinnamon its special antimicrobial properties in a 2015 study published in Nutrients. The answer is, once again, phytochemicals — specifically cinnamaldehyde and eugenol. Over and over again we find that humans can benefit from the natural components that plants use to protect themselves.
Let’s talk about combating those pesky biofilms again. Though scientists don’t understand how yet, cumin seed essential oil proved to be effective in treating resistant infections on its own, and boosted antibiotics to help treat resistant infections. Cumin essential oil prevented the formation of biofilms and enhanced ciprofloxacin’s activity in a 2010 study published in Pharmacognosy Magazine. There is some serious potential sitting in that taco seasoning, though it’s best to crush cumin seeds yourself and eat the spice as fresh as possible.
Preparing naturally sweet and flavorful dishes with these six foods and spices can help us maintain balance and protect us against pathogens. We certainly lucked out when nature tied these tasty foods to our health! Looking back to traditional methods of treating infection and preserving foods might just help us in the search for ways around antibiotic overuse and bacterial resistance. Let’s spice things up a bit with these delicious foods that we probably already have in the pantry.