In the war against antibiotic resistance, natural remedies have a big part to play
Bacteria are clever little creatures, show them an antibiotic and before long they’ll have come up with a way to prevent it endangering them. They’ll produce enzymes to make antibiotics ineffective, close the entry route into cells so the medicine cannot penetrate, and even ‘mate’ with each other to pass on their antibiotic-resistant genes. The problem now is that microbes have become so immune to antibiotics we face a global threat where the simplest of infections could become untreatable. This winter, before you ask your GP for an antibiotic*, it might be worth looking at a natural alternative. There’s evidence to support the use of natural remedies – in fact, some are arguably more effective than prescription antibiotics. Here are five remedies to get you started.
What it is: Echinacea is a pretty pink flower, native to central and north America. A member of the daisy family, the best species for healing is echinacea purpurea. Different parts of the plant have different properties so the herb and root should be included in the preparation, and fresh extracts, as in a tincture, have been shown to be 10 times more effective than the dried form.
What science says: Research published last year in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, by scientists from the University of Pavia in Italy, conducted a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, and found echinacea reduced the total number of cold episodes and inhibited virally confirmed colds.
Why it works: Animal studies have shown echinacea increases the numbers of immune cells in the blood. It reduces inflammation, and has a direct influence on viruses by stopping them from entering cells, and also helps prevent respiratory complications by preventing virus-induced bacteria from sticking to the bronchial cells in your lungs, according to the journal Virus Research.
Give it a try: To prevent upper respiratory tract infections, the Pavia scientists suggest taking 2,400 mg of echinacea a day over four months. If you do succumb to infection, they recommend 4,000 mg a day during the acute stages of a cold. Try A. Vogel Echinaforce, £10.50 for 50ml; avogel.co.uk
What it is: Garlic belongs to the allium family and is closely related to onions. It’s been used to promote health for the past 2,000 years, with the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, recommending its use for treating respiratory problems. It’s pungent smell comes from the sulphur compounds, including allicin, that garlic contains.
What science says: One of garlic’s constituents, diallyl sulphide, was found to be more than 100 times more effective than two popular antibiotics in fighting the food-poisoning bug campylobacter, according to research published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. While a study in the journal American Family Physician, showed that using garlic preventatively can reduce the frequency of colds. Even more impressive, about 82 percent of the antibiotic resistant bacteria were susceptible to a crude aqueous extract of allium sativum, say researchers at the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences in India.
Why it works: Scientists don’t exactly know how garlic helps the body, but researchers at the University of Nottingham are interested in how its sulphur compounds might affect nitric oxide and hydrogen sulphide molecules naturally produced by our bodies. These molecules become altered when we are ill.
Give it a try: Healthspan Garlic 800mg (£8.99 for 180 capsules; healthspan.co.uk) contains 8mg of pure garlic extract (equivalent to 800mg of fresh garlic) in each capsule, plus parsley oil to neutralise the taste and odour.
What it is: Symprove is a water-based supplement that contains four strains of bacteria that are normally present in your gut. However, your diet and lifestyle can alter the balance of these beneficial flora, allowing unhealthy bacteria to flourish. This supplement, which contains L. rhamnosus, E. faecium, L. acidophilus, and L. plantarum, helps to rebalance your gut flora.
What science says: Research by University College London found Symprove inhibited the growth of C.difficile, which causes diarrhoea. It was also shown to be effective against established colonies of E.coli (responsible for urinary tract infections, pneumonia, meningitis and traveller’s diarrhoea) and MRSA.
Why it works: Around 70 percent of your immune system is in your gut, so it’s important that it’s as healthy as possible. The bacteria in Symprove lowers pH levels and produces by-products that inhibit the growth of pathogens. They also create a better environment for healthy gut bacteria to thrive in.
Give it a try: Available in Original and Mango & Passionfruit flavours, take 70ml of Symprove in the morning on an empty stomach. To see the best results, it’s recommended that you continue for three months. £158 for 12-weeks supply (3 x 4-bottle pack) or £79 (1 x 4-bottle pack); symprove.com.
What it is: You’re probably more used to sprinkling oregano on your homemade pizza than taking it as a supplement, but the essential oil of the herb oregano is also traditionally prized for its antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral effects. A member of the mint family, the essential oil is extracted by steam distillation.
What science says: A study in the Polish journal Experimental Medicine and Microbiology found oregano oil is effective against many clinical strains of bacteria, including E.coli which can cause urinary tract infections, diarrhoea and pneumonia. It’s also effective against the unpronounceable pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can result in respiratory conditions, urinary tract infections and dermatitis.
Why it works: The essential oil of oregano contains several beneficial compounds, including thymol, a natural fungicide that helps to boost your immune system, antimicrobial carvacrol and terpenes which have powerful antibacterial properties.
Give it a try: Solgar Wild Oregano Oil (£16.49 for 60 softgels; hollandandbarrett.com). Take one to two soft gels a day.
What it is: Manuka honey is made with flowers from the manuka bush native to New Zealand. It’s graded according to the strength of one of its constituents, methylglyoxal (MGO) – basically, the higher the number the higher the anti-microbial effect.
What science says: Honey’s antibacterial properties come from the presence of hydrogen peroxide. It’s made naturally by an enzyme called glucose oxidase, which is added to the plant nectar by bees. In fact, honey is so effective, Public Health England and the National Institute for Health Care and Excellence (NICE) recommends using honey first for a cough or cold instead of visiting your GP, and only seeking medical advice if your cough continues for more than three weeks.
Why it works: Manuka honey alters the size and shape of bacterial cells, and prevents them from dividing. In theory, while the high sugar and low pH levels of all honey can prevent microbes growing, manuka honey still has antimicrobial effects at very diluted levels. This is due to the presence of MGO which affects the ability of bacteria to move around your body and to adhere to your cells.
Give it a try: “Honey with an MGO level of between 40 and 100 is used for daily maintenance, while honey with an MGO of above 100 is used more for a health boost,” says Dr Young Mee from Manuka Doctor. Try Manuka Doctor Manuka Honey MGO 40 (£26.99 for 250g) or Manuka Lab MGO 300 (£59.99 for 500g); hollandandbarrett.com.
Active 10+ with Lemon and D3, £5.39; lifeplan.co.uk
£1 each or £6.95 for a 200g pack; Ocado and turmerlicious.com*Natural remedies should be used alongside standard medical care. Please seek advice from your GP for any remedies you intend to use to support your health and wellbeing.
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