We all, unfortunately, know how the common cold or maybe even the flu makes us feel. Most of us will go to the doctor when we cannot report to work and will be promptly prescribed antibiotic pharmaceuticals and given a work excuse. However, it is very difficult to actually determine the originating agent of our symptoms- be it bacteria or virus.The symptoms produced by viruses and bacterium are virtually the same. Most healthcare providers no longer take cultures to determine bacterial or viral infection, and simply prescribe drugs. Although the rapid strep (a bacteria) test exists, it has a false negative rate of up to 20%. Meaning, 2 out of 10 people tested may actually have strep but the test shows that they do not.
Without a culture, the best indicator of whether or not something is bacterial is how long it has lasted without getting better. The idea is that if it is chronic (lasting a while) it is more likely to be a bacterial infection (perhaps in addition to a viral infection).
Taking an antibiotic for a potentially viral infection is not without consequence. This practice can have serious side effects for the person taking the drugs. Selected Side effects from some types of antibiotics include:
Penicillins- general stomach upset
Fluoroquinolones- irreversible tendon rupture
Tetracyclines- turn children's adult teeth brown
It also leads to multidrug-resistant organisms a.k.a. super germs. These bacteria are a major problem facing the current population. The chances that our children will no longer benefit from the nearly miraculous effects of antibiotics, is very real and materializing in our present generations already.
But the future, ironically because of the age-old traditions passed on to us, is not as bleak as it may appear. Although we had largely forgotten the true purpose of the winter herbs, we have retained their uses for culinary and aesthetic reasons. Thanks to research, we have regained an understanding of their importance and value on our comfort and health for cold and Flu season.
Essential oils and pharmaceuticals work against bacteria and viruses in similar ways. Their chemical compounds work to kill the bacteria or stop the bacteria from growing and reproducing.
For instance, penicillins are a class of antibiotic that are bactericidal, meaning they kill bacteria. They intervene with the bacteria's ability to maintain a cell wall. This causes the cell to leak out or allow the environment into the cell. Because animal cells lack a cell wall, the human host is usually uninjured by these chemicals. Many essential oils are made of chemicals that work in similar ways. Tea tree, which causes this same process to take place, is potent against Staphylococcus aureus (referred to as staph). This organism is a common cause of pneumonia. Some chemicals in essential oils have been singled out from the mix and studied, and found to work on bacteria in similar ways. Carvacrol, a chemical found in clove, thyme, and oregano, also induces this bactericidal leakage.
Macrolides, another class of antibiotics, are an example of pharmaceutical antibiotics that are bacteriostatic. They prevent the bacteria from making energy and reproducing. Carvacrol, an essential oil compound listed above, also stops bacteria from reproducing by preventing it from being able to move.
Cinnamaldehyde, the chief constituent of cinnamon essential oil, also prevents bacteria from being able to make energy. Clove also contains cinnamaldehyde.
Each herb makes a unique mixture of bacteriostatic and bactericidal essential oils. It is kind of like using several methods at once to kill or render the bacteria impotent. This natural mixture allows for a balance to be struck, and reduces the risk of toxicity or side effects; whereas laboratory produced antibiotics (which may very well have been inspired by nature and synthetically replicated by mankind) isolate one chemical in particular and reproduce it artificially. There is some evidence that due to these, and many other complexities found in essential oils, the risk of antibiotic resistance to essential oils is not an imminent concern and may even be reversed by essential oils.
In the case of treating viral illnesses, essential oils and antivirals both work to prevent the replication of the virus. Lemon balm essential oil is effective against avian influenza H9N2. Patchouli essential oil inhibits influenza a, the H2N2 virus.
So before you consider taking antibiotics for a cold or flu, first you may want to try some of these essential oils we mentioned. Fighting the cold and flu symptoms the natural way without having to deal with the nasty side effects of antibiotics is the best strategy in the long-term for your health and wellbeing.
Sierra Hamm, CD, BSN, RN
Certified Doula & Women's Health Nurse
Antimicrobial effects of essential oils https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5206475/#!po=37.5000
H7N9, a strain of the bird flu, has a kill rate of 40%, according to the World Health Organization. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/h7n9-virus.htm