Sick of Antibiotics? Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs Can Help

pill bottlesA lot of people come into my office who have taken a lot of antibiotics.

Often it’s for a sinus infection, which mostly resolves, followed by another sinus infection, and so on. Sometimes it’s for a urinary tract infection that does the same thing.

This happens easily with antibiotic treatment. The overt symptoms get better, but something is not quite right afterward. There’s some residual congestion, or you just feel a little foggy-headed and “off”. With a bladder infection, there may be some lingering feelings of pressure, or cloudy urination.

Then the next infection comes more easily, and the not-quite-right afterwards gets a little worse every time. Over time, it can become a chronic situation you never imagined when you had that first trip to the doctor.

A Chinese Medicine View of Antibiotics

Let me say this first: antibiotics are probably the best thing ever to happen to Western civilization. I know I wouldn’t even be here without them. They’re extremely effective at killing bacteria, and saving lives. They’re just not so great at restoring you to complete health.

If you look at antibiotics from the perspective of Chinese medicine, the problem becomes clear: antibiotics resolve some, but not all, of the aspects of an infection. And, because they are such a strong medicine, they also leave the body just a little bit weakened.

Chinese medicine sees most infection as a combination of “heat” and “dampness.” Antibiotics are very effective at clearing the heat-related symptoms, but don’t do much at all to resolve dampness.

So symptoms like fever, sore throat, inflammation, and redness (all “heat” signs) usually get better with antibiotics, while “damp” signs remain — phlegm, a feeling of pressure or swollen tissues, nausea and loose stool, vaginal discharge, and feeling tired, weighed down or foggy-headed.

To add to the problem, the cold nature of the antibiotics is actually damaging to the Spleen, which is the organ system that helps the body clear dampness on its own. As a result, these symptoms hang around longer than they normally would, which further stresses the Spleen. And each successive round of antibiotics adds to the problem, making the condition more chronic.

Help From Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese medicine can help you avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics. And, in times when antibiotics are needed, it can help protect your body and assist you in recovering fully from antibiotic treatment. Here’s how:

Instead of Antibiotic Treatment

Chinese herbs work amazingly well for many situations where antibiotics are commonly used, including:

  • Sinus Infection
  • Urinary Tract Infection
  • Bronchitis
  • Tonsillitis
  • Dysentery

Most herbalists, myself included, have successfully treated all these conditions with Chinese herbs — often in cases where repeated rounds of antibiotics have failed to clear up the infection.

Instead of one purified substance, Chinese herbal formulas are usually a combination of 5-15 different herbs, carefully balanced to protect the body from the harshness of heat-clearing herbs. The formula will also include herbs that build the body’s ability to fight infection and clear dampness on its own. This treatment strategy is translated as “attacking the evil qi and restoring the righteous qi.” The idea is to leave your body strengthened, not weakened, by the herbal treatment.

As an added plus: herbal medicine does not create the same problems with drug resistance that antibiotics face.

Of course, if your symptoms are severe you should check with your doctor. Some situations definitely require immediate antibiotic therapy. I can help you decide when to consult with your doctor about this.

During Antibiotic Treatment

If you need to take antibiotics — there are plenty of situations where this is necessary! — Chinese medicine can help protect your system.

Along with the antibiotics, you can also take an herbal formula that strengthens and protects the Stomach and Spleen. There may also be ingredients to help clear dampness, which will not be resolved by the antibiotics alone.

These herbs will not interfere with the effectiveness of your medications, and will help you get back to your optimum level of health.

After Antibiotic Treatment

Herbal medicine can also help if you find yourself with a case of post-antibiotic, chronic low-level yuck (that’s a technical term!), such as:

  • Chronic sinus congestion
  • Lingering fatigue, heaviness or fogginess
  • Recurrent sinus or bladder infections
  • Urinary urgency and pressure
  • Chronic yeast infection
  • Loose stool, bloating, or loss of appetite

This is where Chinese medicine really shines: at restoring health, not just fighting disease. Acupuncture and herbs can relieve symptoms, clear residual dampness and heat, and rebuild your body’s own defenses.

I’ve seen many, many people get back to the health they remember from before the cascade of infection and medication began. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about whether herbs can help in your situation!

Homemade Herbal Tea for Antibiotic Side Effects

Here’s a recipe for a homemade herbal tea that will help counteract the cold damage from antibiotics, and resolve the dampness that is often left behind. This tea is made from “kitchen-grade” herbal medicines that are surprisingly effective.
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You Will Need:

4 cups of water
3 half-inch slices of fresh ginger root
peel from one tangerine (or clementine, or orange)

Boil for 15 minutes and drink hot. You can keep leftovers in the fridge and reheat gently.

Some possible additions:

  • For dry, scratchy throat (or just for yumminess), add honey to taste.
  • For headache or foggy feeling, add a teabag of green tea after boiling and steep for 3 minutes.
  • For nausea or poor appetite, add a teabag of peppermint tea and steep for 3 minutes.

You can drink as much of this tea as you like. Unlike some other herbal formulas (ahem), this is very tasty and something you would drink on purpose!