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An Antibiotics Guide: How to Know If You Need An Antibiotic + Exactly What To Do About It

woman looking out the window

Antibiotics are a type of medication that is prescribed to patients in order to kill bacterial infections. They are given more than 154 million times a year and the CDC states that close to 30 percent of the time it is unnecessary. Some reports even say that the number is actually closer to 50 percent. That is a statistic that should concern all of us, as there are many consequences that go along with taking antibiotics, especially if they are unneeded.

For example, an overuse of antibiotics in our society has caused a rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant infections such as MRSA, along with many other direct side effects which you may not automatically associate with antibiotic use.

About 14,000 Americans die every year from diarrhea caused by antibiotics and many others have to live with permanent damage to their nerves, tendons, and skin. These shocking facts should have us questioning; what are these antibiotics doing to our immune system, our nervous system, our musculoskeletal system, and our skin?

A large part – close to 75 percent – of your immune system resides in our microbiome which is the bacteria in our gut that we need to stay healthy. Antibiotics are known to damage this collection of bacteria which is vital to maintaining optimal health. The antibiotic ciprofloxacin, for example, has been shown to reduce the bacterial diversity of your microbiome by about one-third. Even though most of the bacterial diversity recovered after the round of antibiotics ended, in this study, some bacterial strains did not recover, even after six months.

When antibiotics can actually be helpful (and even lifesaving)

Although there are many dangers of overusing antibiotics, it’s important to recognize that there are times when antibiotics have actually saved lives. Proper antibiotic use is all about using discretion to decide on when they are needed and when they are not. So, when are some instances when antibiotics can be a good course of action? If an infection is a major concern, seeing your doctor can help determine the nature of your illness and determine if it may be life-threatening. There are two major categories of infection:

Viral infections

The common cold and the flu (influenza) are both upper respiratory infections that are caused by viruses, not bacteria. In fact, sinus infections and eye infections like pink-eye are also almost always caused by viruses. Since antibiotics are designed to only kill bacteria, knowing what type of infection you have can narrow down whether or not an antibiotic will even be effective.

Bacterial infections

Once you know that your illness is bacterial in nature and not viral, it is still important to remember that there are a lot of different kinds of bacterial infections which should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with the help of your doctor. An ear infection is one example of an infection that in general, can resolve itself within a few days. However, urinary tract infections can sometimes need the help of antibiotics if they don’t resolve themselves after a few days. Skin infections as well – ones that include red and inflamed areas – can benefit from the use of antibiotics.

What about natural antibiotics?

Luckily there are many natural antibiotics that can either amplify the effect of pharmaceutical options or can be used on their own. Oregano oil is one of my favorites and has been shown to be effective in fighting staph infections when used alongside monolaurin – a by-product of coconut oil, which also has its own antibacterial properties.

How to support your body when taking antibiotics

If you have decided that your bacterial infection does need the support of a prescribed antibiotic there is still a lot you can do to give your body the support it needs while you take this medication:

  1. Antioxidants

Antioxidants fight free radical compounds that contribute to making us sick. Food should ultimately be the primary source of our antioxidants but for times like this when your immune system needs an extra boost I turn to:

  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC): This powerful antioxidant is a precursor to one of your body’s most vital antioxidants – glutathione. NAC has also been shown to have natural antibiotic properties by beneficially regulating biofilms. This bacterial protective slime can be the cause of ongoing bacterial infections.
  • Pterostilbene: Blueberries, almonds, and grape leaves are all good sources of this antioxidant. Pterostilbene is chemically similar to resveratrol but has been found to be even more potent. Research has shown that it is in fact, four times more bioavailable than resveratrol. It can also increase the molecule NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) which has intense anti-aging effects.
  • Curcumin and Turmerone: No antioxidant list is complete without turmeric. Curcuminoids and turmerones are active compounds found in this spice that are able to reduce the negative effects of antibiotics.
  • Andrographis: I often recommend this herb to my patients who are taking antibiotics as a natural antibacterial, antiviral agent.
  1. Probiotics

While many people can benefit from taking quality probiotics, it is especially important for those taking antibiotics. Studies have shown that taking a probiotic in conjunction with your antibiotics – while seemingly contradictory – can reduce some of the negative side effects of antibiotic therapy.

  1. Bone Broth

Bone broth is probably my favorite food medicine to nourish the primary home of your immune system – the gut. You can either make your own or purchase it already premade. Bonafide Provisions is my go-to brand since it is handcrafted the same way it has been for centuries: in small batches. By being packaged frozen, all the real food goodness is preserved, unlike most other shelf-stable carton bone broths.

If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.

Much of this information contributed by Dr. Will Cole

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.