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May 30, 2009

We bet there are many of you reading this article who think nothing of taking Vitamin C and lots of liquids for a cold or using Aloe Vera gel for a burn. But, how many of you think about using natural treatments for bladder or vaginal infections, for a strep throat, or for more serious infections such as hepatitis or pneumonia? Most of the time the proper use of natural substances such as vitamins and herbs and homeopathic remedies will help you get over these conditions.

But it's important to know what works best for each condition, evaluate whether or not it's working, and to assess the consequences of unsuccessful treatment. In the case of hepatitis, for example, orthodox medicine has no real treatment, so you've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. (We've seen Hepatitis A cases respond within a week to a combination of nutrititional supplements, herbal liver support, and homeopathy.) With pneumonia, strep throat, and bladder infections, on the other hand, we monitor our patients very carefully. We recommend natural treatment for nearly all types of infections, with the exception of gonorrhea and chlamydia, both of which are often asymptomatic in women and can result in permanent infertility if not eliminated.  In such cases, there are natural interventions which are helpful following antibiotic treatment. Otherwise, we refer out only a few times a year for antibiotic treatment because natural alternatives work so well. If your infection is minor, you can try some of these suggestions yourself; otherwise be sure to consult a naturopathic physician.

Antibiotics have a number of drawbacks. They kill bacteria indiscriminately throughout the body. That's their job. So, if you have a strep throat, for example, the antibiotic you take kills the good bacteria, lactobacillus, in the gut and the vagina, which you need to crowd out Candida (yeast) if it arises. That's why vaginal and intestinal yeast infections are so common after antibiotic use. Antibiotics are often prescribed routinely, without any evidence of infection, with a "just in case, it can't hurt " mentality. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses, but are routinely prescribed anyway. When taken repeatedly, they can weaken, rather than strengthen, the immune system, and may lead to more serious problems later. This is especially true when antibiotics are given for years, as tetracycline for acne, or when, as with resistant bladder infections, one antibiotic is followed, unsuccesfully, by yet another stronger one. There are many effective natural alternatives which work with, rather than against, the body's own healing mechanisms. Why not try them first and save antibiotics for a last resort?

There are many more infections than we can mention in a short column. We include here a few of the most common and troublesome infections to inspire you to use natural remedies.

General recommendations for infections: Eliminate caffeine, alcohol, sugar, refined foods, meat, and dairy while you have an acute infection. Eat lightly. Drink lots of hot, warm, and room-temperature beverages such as herb tea. Juice fasting, or even water for a couple of days, can be very helpful during an infection. Enemas can help flush the system. We suggest vitamin C, beta carotene, and zinc to strengthen the immune system. Herbs such as Echinacea and Hydrastis (goldenseal) can help support the immune system, but more specific herbs are often more helpful. Saunas and steam baths can also be helpful in detoxifying the system during infections. Massage can speed up the elimination of toxins, particularly a garlic oil foot massage. Listen to what your body's trying to tell you and ask it what it needs. REST! Don't keep pushing yourself past your limit when you're sick. It may take you twice as long to recover.

Throat infections: Even if you have a strep throat (diagnosed by a throat culture), natural therapies can be very useful, but it's important to verify through a blood test that no strep is lingering because on occasion an undetected strep throat infection can lead to kidney, joint, or heart problems. Throat infections often respond well to gargles such as salt water, Calendula, goldenseal, myrrh, or oil of bitter orange. There are lots of excellent herbal throat lozenges available. Homeopathy works great for throat infections. We often use Belladonna, Lachesis, Lycopodium, Phytolacca, and Mercurius for sore throats. We recently treated a case of strep throat with a very unusual remedy, Spigelia, with a complete relief from pain within two days.

Skin infections: A mixture of Calendula and Hypericum tincture is what we use for bacterial skin infections. Other herbs commonly used are goldenseal, comfrey, and plantain. Boils and cysts can be successfully treated with hot packs, ginger poultices, and epsom salt soaks and homeopathic remedies such as Silica and Hepar sulphuris. Fungal infections often respond well also to homeopathy or to dilute vinegar applications. Also effective are turmeric powder and Tee Tree oil applied topically.

Bladder infections: A word of caution with bladder infections-treat them immediately. The longer you wait, the more pain and the greater the chance of a kidney infection and ending up on antibiotics. We recommend lots of water, cranberry juice or capsules, herbs (commonly Hydrastis, Uva Ursi, Bucchu, Chimaphilia, Berberis, and others) and homeopathy (remedies such as Staphysagria, Cantharis, Apis, and Sarsaparilla, to name a few).

Sinus infections: Rememember, no dairy! Drink lots of hot ginger tea. We use a great Ayurvedic combination called Sitopaladi to break up mucus. Homeopathic remedies such as Kali bichromicum, Pulsatilla, Mercurius, Natrum muriaticum, and Allium cepa work well. Use a neti pot to irrigate your sinuses with warm salt water. Treat yourself to a sauna or steam bath.

We could mention ear infections, conjunctivitis, vaginal infections, and many more, but hopefully we've conveyed the idea that there are effective natural treatments for all of them.

Be sure to consult a doctor if your own efforts don't work, and to get the necessary tests such as a strep culture, chest X-ray, etc. And, regardless of which method you use for your healing, remember to check in with your inner self to understand what the purpose of the illness is for you, what you can learn from it, and what will bring the deepest healing.

Drs. Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman and Robert Ullman are naturopathic and homeopathic physicians and cofounders of the Northwest Center for Homeopathic Medicine in Edmonds, WA. They are coauthors of The Patient's Guide to Homeopathic Medicine and Beyond Ritalin: Homeopathic Treatment of ADD and Other Behavioral and Learning Problems. They can be reached at (206) 774-5599.

 

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Posted: Saturday May 30, 2009, 4:13 am
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