How to Treat Gut Infections: Antibiotics or Natural Herbs?
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Gut infections are common, and they can prohibit healing and cause a leaky gut. They must be treated to keep the body healthy, but are antibiotics the right choice for you? For some serious infections, antibiotics might be a good choice, but there are deleterious side effects.
Let’s explore why antibiotics have side effects; why antimicrobial, or natural, medicines may be a better choice. And also, what the benefits are of natural medicines.
Antibiotics Pros & Cons
Antibiotics are one of the true miracles of the twentieth century. The invention of penicillin and other antibiotics over the last 50-75 years have saved thousands if not millions of lives!
We live in a world today where antibiotics are handed out like candy, and as a result our gut biome and our health are finally paying for it. Most conventionally trained physicians are still not recommending a round of probiotics after an antibiotic treatment. In my professional opinion, this is an absolute must if antibiotics are ever to be used.
There is a phenomenon known as antibiotics resistance where we are creating superbugs from excessive antibiotic use. I saw a patient just last week who over a 10-year period was given over 100 prescriptions!
This excess antibiotic use causes rebound overgrowth in the digestive tract, essentially causing the bad or sometimes pathogenic bacteria to proliferate. As a result, it will take up most of the space in our GI tract.
If you use the garden analogy for our gut bacteria, everyone knows it takes virtually no effort for weeds to grow, yet, it takes good eating habits, stress reduction, and sometimes supplements to keep the good bacteria predominating. In the garden analogy, the healthy plants or vegetables growing.
When to take Antibiotics?
The bad bacteria in our gut can produce toxins and make it harder for us to absorb nutrients from food. In acute serious infections, antibiotics may be the right choice. With these chronic everyday situations, herbal medicines have a longer and safer track record and tend to be more selective to the bad bugs without causing as many side effects.
I was in a serious situation this last summer with a hand infection from a cat scratch and I was very close to using an antibiotic to treat the infection. I actually had the prescription in my possession, yet after 3 days of natural herbs, the infection resolved. If the infection hadn’t started resolving so soon, I would have had no hesitation to use the prescribed antibiotic.
What Are Efflux Pumps?
Bacteria or infections have a phenomenon known as efflux pumps. The antibiotic enters the cell, where it is metabolized. The efflux pumps then force the antibiotic out of the cell and into the extracellular space or back into the gut.
Imagine you’re in a canoe on a river, and the canoe has a hole in it. The canoe starts taking in water. Your natural response would be to grab a bucket and start bailing water from the canoe.
Efflux pumps are very similar to the bucket. The bucket takes the water that shouldn’t be in the canoe and bails it back into the river.
The same thing happens with the bacteria. That bacteria wants to thrive, and it knows the antibiotic isn’t good for it, so it takes the antibiotic. Just like you’d bail water from your canoe, the bacterial will shoot it’s way back into the intestinal track where it thinks it belongs.
Our goal, however, is to kill the bacteria, so we must inhibit the efflux pumps. If we inhibit the efflux pumps, the bacteria will retain the drug or the antimicrobial, which will procure its demise. If the canoe is analogous to the bacteria, we want the canoe to take on water faster. So knocking out the person with the bucket (the analogous efflux pump) is the goal.
Do you think you have an infection, click here!
How Can We Block the Efflux Pump?
When we create protocols to knock out these infections, how to block the efflux pump is the question that is first and foremost in mind. There is a family of herbs called berberines, and it includes the following:
• Oregon grape
These herbs have efflux-inhibiting properties. They have been used in cancer medications, infection-treatment plans, and other treatments. They actually block the function of the efflux pumps.
If you’re going to use an antibiotic, at least use it with a gram of goldenseal to block the efflux pump. This will prevent the bacteria from shooting the antibiotic back out into the extracellular space or the gut.
However, a better choice, which may give a far superior result, could be to take a combination of berberines and other herbs. This is especially effective if you are in relatively good health and making good dietary changes. This healthier lifestyle will boost the immune system, giving you a better chance of responding to the herbs.
What Are Natural Ways to Address Gut Infections?
- Local killer: Goldenseal is one local killer that will target the area of the infection.
- Systemic killer: Artemisia or wormwood are systemic killers that will get in the blood and target the whole system.
- Infection-specific killer: Herbal cocktails are created specifically to fight a certain infection. If you have a virus, we may use silver; If you have a Lyme disease coinfection, we may use neem or noni; And if you have a gut-bacteria issue, we may use oil of oregano.
There is an excellent synergistic effect when combining local and systemic killers—wormwood and Artemisia combined with goldenseal. The goldenseal makes the Artemisia stronger.
The Viscous Cycle of Infections:
Most people with a chronic unaddressed infection are kept trapped in a viscous cycle of a weakened immune system, nutrient malabsorption, and a leaky gut.
Our body needs nutrients to run its energy systems, and we derive those nutrients primarily from food. With a chronic leaky gut due to infections, we are assured to develop food allergens to even so-called healthy foods, like broccoli and beef. Thus, our diet becomes more restrictive as the root cause to many of these gut issues gets commonly missed.
With the additional stress to our digestive system, we also lose the ability to make adequate levels of enzymes and HCL. These compounds help break our food down, but they also help kill potential foreign invaders in our food, like bacteria and parasites.
As you can see, it’s common for people, over the years, to collect their gut infections like souvenirs on their mantle. The more gut bugs or infections you have, typically the longer it takes to recover.
If you want to break the viscous cycle of gut infections, click here!
Efflux pumps are the real problem, and that’s why a lot of antibiotics have side effects. The protocol for most antibiotics is only about 10–14 days. With a natural antimicrobial program, the protocol can be 60–90 days, allowing us to slowly break down the whole efflux pump system.
Natural programs include using specific herbs, like the goldenseal, and utilizing the synergistic effect of stacking local, systemic, and infection-specific herbs.
Use Mother Nature’s natural herbs first and foremost. Antibiotics can be beneficial when used in combination with the appropriate natural herbs, but antibiotics should be the last-resort approach.
If you have a gut infection, tough-to-remove parasite, H.pylori infection, or viral infection, these are common blocks that keep you from healing and cause a leaky gut. If you need more help to eliminate these gut infections, click here.
The Good, Bad, and the Ugly of Your Gut Bacteria
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Did you know that the bacteria in your gut has a huge effect on your immune system? Your gut houses 70% of your immune system. Gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) and mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) reside in the gastrointestinal tract, and these lymphoid tissues produce antibodies that fight bacteria, viruses, parasites, and infections.
If you don’t have a healthy gut balance, your immune system will be severely affected. There are three main types of bacteria that determine the health of the gut: beneficial, commensal, and pathogenic.
3 Main Types of Bacteria Involved in Gut Health
Beneficial bacteria include probiotics, such as Lactobacillus and soil-based probiotics. They aid in the following:
- Nutrient Breakdown
- Immune Function
You need certain nutrients and absorption of these nutrients to help run your detoxification pathways. If you don’t have beneficial bacteria, you can produce enzymes known as beta-glucoronidases that can negatively affect how bile conjugates hormones. Beta-glucoronidase and good bacteria levels are an inverse relationship. If you have high beneficial bacteria levels, you’re going to have low beta-glucoronidase.
The good bacteria in your gut also produce acids, like lactic acid or CO2, that can lower the pH. When the pH in your gut is lower, it’s harder for bacteria that are bad, or pathogenic, to proliferate. Yeast infections proliferate more in an alkaline urinary tract than in an acidic urinary tract. That’s why things like cranberry extract and resistant starches can be beneficial. Resistant starches feed butyrate (butyric acid), which helps decrease microbes.
You need healthy hydrochloric acid (HCl) levels in your stomach. Without it, you can’t break down proteins, start protein metabolism, or ionize minerals. If you can’t ionize minerals, you can’t absorb minerals. Protein digestion starts in the stomach, so the first domino falls over in the stomach. If that domino doesn’t fall, then the dominoes in the gallbladder, where fat is emulsified, and pancreas, where lipase and other enzymes and fats are produced, won’t fall. So beneficial bacteria is very important for helping the first domino of digestion fall.
Commensal bacteria are switch-hitters that can become either beneficial or pathogenic. Stressors, the factors shared later in this post, can push them to one side or the other.
Symptoms of Bad Bacteria Levels
If you have any of the following symptoms, there is good chance that your bacteria levels in your gut are tipped more toward the pathogenic side. Unless changes with diet, gut bacteria, infections, and stress are changed, symptoms tend to get worse over time!
- GERD or acid reflux
- Constipation or not having a bowel movement at least once per day
- Stomach pain
- Any active gut infection
Pathogenic bacteria include bacterial infections (e.g., H.pylori), parasites (e.g., C.difficile), and infections. They can produce the following:
These toxins include mycotoxins, endotoxins, or various biotoxins produced by infections. These infections disrupt peristalsis, which can cause bowel movements to take longer and can cause the body to reabsorb a lot of toxins from the bowel, resulting to autointoxication.
If you’re not able to absorb certain nutrients and minerals, it’s going to have an effect on your energy systems, the Krebs cycle, and the electron transport chain. You must have nutrition to run your energy pathways.
Leaky gut drives autoimmune conditions. In a leaky gut, the tight junctions in our bowel start to open up, forming various cracks and allowing food molecules and bacterial infections to slip into the bloodstream. The immune system creates a hate response to these foreign molecules, and because a gluten molecule may look similar to the thyroid tissue or a dairy molecule may look similar to the pancreas, other tissues start to get destroyed by mistaken identity.
If you think your gut bacteria is out of balance, click here.
Factors That Push “Gut Bacteria”
There are many factors that push gut bacteria in one direction or the other. All of these tend to be opportunistic, which means we start to see a decrease in HCl, enzymes, and nutrition. You aren’t what you eat; you are what you eat, break down, absorb, and assimilate.
The following factors push us in the direction of the pathogenic bacteria:
Proton pump inhibitors (PPI), such as Nexium and Prilosec, shut down HCl production, but HCl production is important for the first domino of digestion. When acidity is low, HCl will trigger the esophageal sphincter to close. If it doesn’t close, it’s very easy for the acids to rise up, burning the throat and creating a reflux disorder. Acid breaks down nutrients, and if you don’t get good breakdown, it creates a downward cycle that only gets worse. A good doctor can find the root cause of the issue and pull you off a PPI responsibly. Don’t randomly take yourself off it.
If you’re eating too much refined and processed sugar, it feeds the bad bacteria in your gut. About one hundred years ago, each person was consuming and average of 3–4 pounds of sugar per year; now it’s about 150 pounds. Too much sugar consumption feeds the funguses and pathogenic bacteria in your gut.
Emotional stress will increase interleukin 6 (IL-6), which is an immune compound that can throw your immune system out of balance. Your immune system and gut are intimately connected, and you should minimize emotional stress to have a healthy gut balance.
Maybe you’re not eating probiotics via fermented foods, like raw milk if you can tolerate dairy. Get natural probiotics from foods you can tolerate.
The consumption of antibiotics wipes out everything in the gut and causes rebound overgrowths to occur. If you wipe out everything in a garden, the first thing that grows back, unless you plant seeds, is weeds. If antibiotic use is an issue, you need to consume good seeds (prebiotics and probiotics) for balance.
Infections tend to be opportunistic, which means they happen when someone already has a compromised immunity. A tick bite causing Lyme disease can drive one person into a pathogenic episode while another can be bitten and recover quickly. Everyone is a little different, but the more stressors a person has, the more complicated the infection can be. Those who bounce back quickly may be feeding, and have a greater abundance of, the beneficial bacteria in their gut. An infection can prevent healing even when these stressors are removed, and the infection may need to be addressed for you to fully heal. Some patients can get exposed to a parasite, like Giardia, or pathogenic bacteria, like H.pylori, and not recover from the infection and get sick.
Foods and unwanted bacteria in the intestinal track can slip through the tight junctions into the bloodstream. This can put stress on the immune system and is the main cause of autoimmune disease for most people.
Most people who have a digestive problem seem to have a higher amount of bad bacteria as well as a potential active gut infection. These problems tend to be active for many years before symptoms start to even show. Getting the gut fixed is one of the most important codes to crack for any functional-medicine doctor trying to get his or her patient healthy again.
If you need help balancing your digestion, feel free to click here.