FIVE YEARS AGO, Laura Jackson, now 51, was delivering a shipment of antibiotics to a clinic in West Africa when she developed symptoms typical of a urinary tract infection. The native New Yorker held off on taking the antibiotics she coincidentally had on hand and instead started drinking unsweetened cranberry juice. Her urinary problems disappeared soon after. “My husband says now that he thought I was crazy, but I was worried that taking antibiotics unnecessarily would compromise my immune system,” Jackson recalls.
The concern Jackson had back then is even more relevant now, and the problem isn’t just personal but global. The improper use of antibiotics in humans as well as the animals we eat has led to a situation in which the weakest bacteria are killed and the strongest— and most dangerous—survive and thrive, proving untouchable by even the most potent antibiotics. “Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is worse today than ever before—and it isn’t slowing down,” says Stuart B. Levy, M.D., president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. In fact, the process is accelerating.
That’s why it’s crucial to reserve antibiotics for infections that are diagnosed as bacterial and unlikely to resolve without them, says Michael A. Schmidt, Ph.D., author of 2009’s Beyond Antibiotics: Strategies for Living in a World of Emerging Infections and Antibiotic- Resistant Bacteria. They are ineffective against viral illnesses such as colds and the flu, and taking them for these infections contributes to the problem.
Thankfully for anyone who wishes to avoid taking antibiotics unless they’re absolutely necessary, there’s a window of time before being diagnosed with a bacterial illness when infections can be treated using more natural remedies for which “resistance won’t emerge in any real way,” says Levy. In the following pages, you’ll learn what leading naturopaths, herbalists, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners and pharmacists recommend as a first line of defense.
One caution from Donielle Wilson, N.D., president of the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians: “If your symptoms don’t start improving within 24 hours of taking supplements—or if you have a fever above 100.4° F—see your doctor to determine if you need a bacterial culture, an antibiotic-susceptibility test and/or antibiotics.” That said, for any particular ailment, it’s safe to try whichever and however many of the following remedies as you wish.