Antibiotics: Adverse Effects and Natural Alternatives

Antibiotic medications are some of the most commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals. According to a Pew research center, in 2015, there were nearly 270 million antibiotic prescriptions, which does not include the 18.4 million pounds of antibiotics that were used in agriculture [1]. Remember, antibiotics are live organisms, and when they are dumped into the environment, they become part of the environment and have the potential to change the world’s microbiome.

This mass use has raised concerns about weaning antibiotic effectiveness due to increased microbial resistance. In a statement released by the World Health Organization (WHO), scientists noted that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has the potential to kill 10 million people a year, which will make AMR more deadly than cancer [2].

Further, AMR threatens to reverse much of the beneficial medical progress made during the last century and could cost the world economy nearly $100 trillion annually [2].

Now, researchers are looking towards natural compounds that have anti-microbial properties as possible alternatives in low-danger situations.

In this article, we will examine the benefits and risks of antibiotic use and investigate some of these possible natural alternatives.

The Benefits

Most infections will run their course naturally, and in most situations, the body will typically heal itself. Therefore, people may give unearned praise to antibiotics, even though the infection would have been improved without them.

Studies have compared the use of a placebo to the use of probiotics in certain infections.

For example, in a 2015 systematic review, researchers compared the use of antibiotics to the use of a placebo in acute rhinosinusitis, which is one of the most common diagnoses for which an antibiotic is prescribed [3]. The researchers found there was only a slight benefit of antibiotic use over placebo use.

The researchers noted, “The results showed that while antibiotics are more efficacious than placebos in the treatment of ARS, the risks of potential side effects need to be weighed against the potential benefit that antibiotics give to the patient. This is especially pertinent as the usage of the placebo has shown to be almost as efficacious as using the antibiotic therapy, and also much safer” [3].

Now, this is only one example of a generally non-life-threatening infection, so I understand the counterargument. However, the truth is many of these non-life-threatening infections may be able to be treated without the use of antibiotics.

The Risks: Microbiome-Dependent

After scientists discovered the human microbiome, conventional research should have gone back to the drawing board and reevaluated its tactics. An individual’s microbiome influences their epigenetic expression, which includes nutrient production, metabolic health, hormonal balance, immunity, and inflammation response. Therefore, the preconceived notion that the body is a machine is no longer relevant because researchers must learn what influences the health of an individual’s microbiome.

In a 2016 study, researchers began to investigate the many effects of antibiotic use on the microbiome, but the study seemed to conclude with more questions than what it started with [4].

Scientists have examined the gut health of very healthy modern-hunter gatherers [5] [6], noted the beneficial effects of probiotics [7], and learned that glyphosate in food is hugely detrimental to the gut’s microbiome [8] [9].

Scientists have also discovered the transfer of bacteria occurs well before birth, continues through breastfeeding, sets the precedent of the child’s health by age two [10] [11] [12].

It is also a universal axiom that antibiotics are non-discriminate killers, meaning they kill both good and bad bacteria.

In a 2016 study, researchers noted that because antibiotics kill good and bad bacteria, they can leave a trail of imbalance that makes the patient more vulnerable [4].

Further, in a 2017 research review, researchers noted the increased risk of foodborne infection, which included antibiotic-resistant strains, in those who take antibiotics while traveling, with a seemingly unending recovery period. The authors noted, “Even short antibiotic exposures disrupt the gut microbiome up to a year or more, and repeated exposures appear to attenuate recovery from ever occurring” [13].

In a 2008 study, researchers noted that a one-third reduction in beneficial bacteria that has been caused by antibiotic use could last longer than six months after a short course of a popularly-prescribed antibiotic [14]. Moreover, this decrease in biodiversity can welcome in a new illness, such as inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmunity, obesity, and weight gain [15] [16] [17].

So, while some individuals may agree that people should be using fewer probiotics, skeptics may say, “Why not just take a probiotic afterward?”

Virtually all research that has investigated this point comes to one conclusion: Yes, probiotics are safe to take after antibiotic use [18] [19], but it is complicated to restore a person’s microbiome diversity to the point where it was. In a 2018 study, scientists were able to do so, but the patient was an infant, and they were given probiotic supplements and being breastfed [20].

The issue is the human gut’s microbiome is so diverse that most probiotics only offer a few probiotic strains and lower doses.

However, if you are interested in a high-dose, diverse probiotic supplement, Healthmasters offers such an option. Healthmasters’ Probiotic 350 Billion provides a total of eighteen strains, totaling 350 billion CFUs, which makes it one of the most potent and diverse probiotic supplements available.

The Risks: Microbiome-Independent

Besides the risks concerning an individual’s microbiome, there are additional risks that should deter individuals from taking antibiotics for just-in-case reasons. Including slowed bone fracture healing times [21] and acute liver injury [22], antibiotics affect various cellular level mechanisms by inducing dysbiosis [microbial imbalance or maladaptation on or inside the body].

These changes can include negatively affecting up to 87% of gut metabolites that are functional in the gut, inducing injury and destruction to mitochondria, and damaging gut tissue [23]. Of all the risks of antibiotic use, perhaps the most troubling are the well-document psychiatric risks.

In a 2017 study, researchers investigated the neuropsychiatric effects of microbial agents, such as antibiotics [24]. The scientists suggest patients should be made aware of these effects, including irritability, confusion, encephalopathy, suicidality, psychosis, and mania [24]:

“The neuropsychiatric effects of antimicrobial drugs are extensively documented in the literature. A number of antimicrobial drugs have the potential to exert CNS effects and many are associated with stimulant, psychotomimetic and epileptogenic properties, mediated by GABA antagonism (beta-lactams, quinolones and clarithromycin), NMDA agonism (D-cycloserine, aminoglycosides, and perhaps quinolones), MAO inhibition (linezolid, metronidazole and isoniazid weakly) as well as more exotic mechanisms, as in the case of trimethoprim, isoniazid, ethambutol, rifampicin and the tetracyclines.” [24]

These symptoms are so apparent that researchers have created the term antibiomania, and in a 2017 review, researchers noted two-thirds of these mania-inductions were in male subjects [25].

Accordingly, research has suggested that antibiotic use increases an individual’s risk of new-onset depression in a dose-dependent way: greater antibiotic exposure – greater depression risk [26].

Natural Alternatives

In this section, we will review alternatives that can help bacterial imbalances without the adverse side effects of pharmaceutical antibiotics.

Colloidal Silver. Also known as silver nanoparticles, colloidal silver has been used for thousands of years for bacterial infections [27]. Today, silver is used in intravenous catheters, dental fillings, wound dressings, and bone implants [28]. While the specific anti-microbial actions of silver are still being investigated, current research indicated that silver damages the cell membranes of pathogenic bacteria.

Depending on the specific strain of bacteria, bacteria can be killed by the creation of free radicals, an accumulation of nanoparticles within its cell walls, or through the depletion of cell membrane components [29].

Research has found colloidal silver to be useful for MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) [30], a type of skin infection, and as an oral antibiotic [31].

Healthmasters offers a Colloidal Supplement.

Botanical Herbs. Like colloidal silver, botanical herbs have been long used as antimicrobial agents, and there are numerous examples [32] [33] [34]. The herb Inula helenium is 100% effective against 200 isolated of staph infection [35].

Likewise, a study has shown that Alpinia galanga, a plant related to ginger, is effective against Salmonella typhi and E. coli and other drug-resistant bacterial strains [36]. Nigella sativa, also known as black cumin seed, can kill MRSA [37], and cinnamon and oregano are potent, selective antibiotics against drug-resistant bacterial strains [38], along with cumin [39] and rosemary [40].

Child-friendly options include elderberry [41] [42], and researchers have noted that oregano [43] [44], echinacea [45] [46] [47], and goldenseal [48] [49] [50] can be used as a traditional immune support supplement.

Probiotics. Although it might seem strange, probiotics have been researched as alternatives to antibiotics. Probiotics help to improve immune function and crowd out dangerous bacteria. Research has shown that probiotics may be used in situations ranging from oral gingivitis [51] to H. pylori-mediated gastric infections [52] and bacterial vaginosis [53].

As noted above, one of the earliest ways that children receive probiotics are through breast milk, and research has shown that breastmilk probiotics are superior to antibiotics in treating mastitis [54], which is a common infection during lactation.

Healthmasters offers several probiotic supplements, such as Healthmasters’ Probiotic DF, Healthmasters’ Probiotic 100 Billion, and Healthmasters’ Probiotic 350 Billion.

Garlic. Many studies have noted the antimicrobial effects of garlic. In one study, researchers tested garlic-water against 133 multidrug-resistant bacteria strains and recorded a remarkable response [55].

Further, in a 2014 randomized, controlled clinical trial, researchers compared the effects of garlic and oral metronidazole, a standard antibiotic, for bacterial vaginosis, and the researchers noted garlic was more productive with less adverse side effects [55].

Research has also shown that garlic is effective against H. pylori [56], C. difficile [57], pneumonia [58], and various lung infections [59].

Additional benefits of garlic include supporting healthy blood pressure [60] [61], healthy blood sugar [62] [63], and decrease cancer risk [64].

Healthmasters offers a high-potency Garlic Supplement.

Manuka Honey. Manuka honey is typically used in high-quality skincare products because it is widely anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial [65]. Research has shown that manuka honey may cure antibiotic-resistant infections, such as C. difficile [66] [67], Strep throat [68] [69], urinary tract infections [70], and MRSA [71].

Further, this type of honey includes bee glue, a kind of bee saliva and wax mixture, which contains over 300 therapeutic compounds that fight cancer [72] [73] and harmful bacteria [74] [75].


In this article, we reviewed several aspects of antibiotics. We began by noting antibiotic use is too high, and such use threatens to be costly and give rise to antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Then we reviewed negative consequences of antibiotics, such as a long-term, deteriorated microbiome and increased mental health risks. Finally, we discussed several promising natural alternatives to antibiotics, such as colloidal silver, herbs, probiotics, garlic, and manuka honey.

If you have questions about any of the products mentioned in this article, please feel free to call out office at 800.736.1834.