Last week, I shared my story of battling a throat infection with a natural remedy, and then suffering from a much worse secondary infection in my lymph nodes a couple of weeks later.
I absolutely believe in the power and importance of natural remedies whenever possible, however I made a couple of mistakes when I had the first infection that I believe contributed to suffering a secondary infection.
I spoke briefly in that post about not taking it seriously enough the first time around and not hitting it hard enough with my cayenne gargle. Another mistake that I made was to not diversify my strategy at all, which I’ll explain more below. I did my cayenne gargle, but that was it.
I have been thinking about this experience a lot and want to outline for you the 5 points that I think are absolutely imperative for anyone attempting to avoid antibiotics in favour of natural remedies.
First things first: do your research. I’ve been openly mocked by a doctor before (my obstetrician, who rolled his eyes and blatantly ridiculed me for declining the brand-new H1N1 flu shot while pregnant) for going against mainstream medical advice based on the research I had done. Did I use the internet to do much of my research? Of course! But that doesn’t mean I believed anything and everything I read, and it doesn’t mean that I didn’t read anything credible.
The internet is an incredible resource, and I think it’s fairly obvious that solid information exists within it. You can even search for articles in peer-reviewed medical journals on the topic you are interested in (hint: google search your topic + “pubmed” to easily pull up journal article abstracts. For example: “antibiotic resistance + pubmed” will give you hours of fascinating reading.)
The key is to be discerning, of course. Don’t base pivotal medical decisions on a single blog post written by a mom of three with an keen interest in natural health (like this one, ahem.)
On the other side of the coin, we also should avoid blindly trusting the advice of one medical professional. Doctors and other health professionals disagree with one another’s opinions frequently, even on matters of grave importance. Be an active participant in your own health care by doing research of your own.
Also, be sure to get to the know the typical sources that pop up in your research. Be aware of whether the author may have certain credentials that might cause you to weigh their opinions more heavily. Note whether or not the article or blog post in question cites any sources, and what they are. Uncover things like potential biases and conflicts of interest.
For example: studies on vaccine safety are most often funded by vaccine manufacturers – an obvious conflict of interest. Conflicts of interest or biases can happen anywhere on the spectrum, however. Dr. Mercola, a highly-knowledgeable and controversial MD with tons of excellent information on natural health often hawks his own products to readers as the only good solution to the problem he just laid out, which some feel damages the credibility of his information (personally, I still think he’s credible, but avoid reading him regularly because of the marketing pitches.)
One thing that I’ve learned in the years that I’ve been focused on learning about natural remedies is that it’s important to diversify your remedies. This is for 2 main reasons:
Using natural remedies can come with a steep learning curve because each person’s situation is so unique, so I think it’s best to use a variety of different remedies to ensure you use something that works best for you. This need may decrease as you go on in your natural health journey and grow more and more connected to your own body and how it works.
Image by Maxwell GS via Flickr CC
Natural health typically lends itself to more of a holistic approach, which means that we look at the whole body and how it is working together to cause or deal with the illness, as opposed to simply treating the most obvious issue. In most typical health complaints, there are often several different factors at play which may require varied types of support (example: immune system, gut health, food sensitivities, hormonal balance, etc.)
A good example of this is in bacterial infections. What I now wish I had done when I got my first throat infection is this (I have most of these on hand already):
- Gargle with my cayenne mixture to help kill bacteria in my throat and reduce pain
- Up my intake of fermented, probiotic-rich foods to give my good gut bacteria a boost
- Increase my immune-system support through herbs (like elderberry), fermented cod liver oil, and Vitamin D
- Take colloidal silver internally (a natural antibiotic to compliment the localized work of the cayenne gargle)
- Do a detox clay bath (to allow my body to gently detox as it works hard to heal)
- Use raw garlic (there are lots of ways to use garlic medicinally – it’s one of the most popular -natural remedies thanks to its antibacterial properties).
- Avoid dairy and sugar stringently during the illness
Mainstream medicine often makes the mistake of treating the symptoms without actually addressing the cause, which is exactly what leads to more and more health complications down the road. If you treat skin issues (like eczema) with a steroid cream but ignore the food sensitivities and damaged gut that are likely causing it in the first place, that damaged gut will just continue on to cause other issues that you likely won’t even know to connect (and thus we continue on as a culture that is chronically fatigued, bloated, and aching – while thinking that it’s totally normal. But I digress…)
3. Fight hard and long
Similarly to how we are told by the doctor to be sure to finish the entire round of antibiotics in the bottle even if we are feeling better, I believe that I should have continued on with my natural treatment for at least a few days after feeling better. I think this was my biggest mistake.
The entire objective is to support the body back to a place of sustainable health, correct? (Or at least it should be…) The more holistic support you give to your body the healthier it will likely be. This applies to both preventative and reactive measures, as your body does the hard work of staying healthy, or recovering from illness and then growing strong again.
To use a comparison – what I did with my first throat infection was gargling a couple of times until the pain subsided, and then nothing else. It was like I simply triaged the emergency situation but failed to execute any follow-up care. Imagine wrapping some bandages and applying pressure to a gaping wound to stop the bleeding, but failing to stitch it or clean it. It’s not going to work out in your favour long-term, right? Same kind of deal here: your body needs time and proper support to regain full health. Use a variety of remedies, and give them time to do their work.
4. Use common sense and intuition
Personally, I believe that my intuition is one of the most powerful tricks in my natural remedies toolbox. I had a gut feeling that the lumps in my neck were just not right, and that they were not simply a bit swollen as in the usual way after an illness, and so I paid closer attention. I was right.
Along those lines – it’s important to listen to common sense. I do not want to ever live my life dependent on pharmaceuticals for every little sniffle and pain, but I do certainly acknowledge that some pharmaceuticals have their rightful place. Even antibiotics, which have certainly saved countless lives since being discovered. Avoiding pharmaceuticals is not a hill to die on – literally and figuratively!
Image by Lalithamba via Flickr CC
I think it’s also important to emphasize, however, that one of my goals is certainly to avoid pharmaceuticals (especially antibiotics) as much as possible, even to the point of pushing the envelope a little on what is typically considered wise by the mainstream. For example: allowing ear infections to run their course without antibiotics, allowing a fever without dosing up on tylenol (the body is raising its temperature to help kill off the germs!), or even just using natural remedies in the first place.
As you grow and evolve in your knowledge of natural health, your “common sense” will look different. We all have different comfort levels with just how far we’re willing to go, and that’s totally okay. Commit to continuing to learn more, but remember that your end goal is not the natural remedies in and of themselves, but an overall, vibrantly healthy individual.
5. Reclaim gut health
With the secondary infection in my lymph nodes, I did end up taking the antibiotics, however regaining gut health is of vital importance after dealing with an infection no matter how it’s treated. Your gut flora has been disrupted after any infection of bad bacteria, and must be restored in order to regain full health.
This is something that I am doing right now by taking a daily dose of a high-quality probiotic capsule. I started it the day after finishing my round of antibiotics, and plan to finish the whole bottle (a couple of months worth). I also consume homemade bone broth regularly, which is a wonderfully nourishing, highly digestible support for the gut (it’s a key part of the GAPS Diet, which focuses on gut-healing).
We also brew kombucha at our house, which is rich in probiotics, and I drink that daily. Ideally I’d also be consuming several other types of fermented foods in my diet as well, but we have not been fermenting anything other than yogurt in the last couple of years due to the massive amounts of upheaval (cross-country moving, etc.) that we’ve had. Homemade probiotic-rich yogurt is actually super easy, but I don’t have any on hand right now as we’ve been experimenting with a dairy-free diet.
One of my goals for 2014 is to begin fermenting again – starting with sauerkraut and moving on from there. The more kinds of ferments you include in your diet, the better variation you’ll have in the different strains of bacteria.
Another factor in recovering your gut health after illness is avoiding certain things in your diet that are hard on the gut and harmful to the immune system, like sugar, dairy, grains, and vegetable oils (exactly how bad those things are is certainly controversial, but I think there’s enough of an argument that they are worth mentioning. Again – do your own research to come to a conviction of your own.)
All of these factors are critical components to successfully avoiding antibiotics in favour of natural remedies. I was going to continue on at this point to give you a list of natural remedies that may be used in place of antibiotics, as well as a great collection of links for further reading… but once again this post has gotten too long, so I will be publishing another part later in the week.
Keep your eye out for that post, and if you don’t want to miss anything, you can subscribe to my posts by email.
Do you agree with everything on this list? Do you have anything to add?
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*Disclaimer: Please remember I am not a doctor, and this post should not be taken as medical advice. Please do the research on these issues and decide for yourself what is best for you and your family. I assume no responsibility for your own usage of the remedies I’ve discussed.
I'm Beth. I created Red & Honey because I'm obsessed with the wild art of wellness.
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