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Herbal Antibiotics for Intestinal Issues, Renata Trister DO

Herbal Antibiotics for Intestinal Issues

The need for safe antimicrobials is on the rise to fight infectious diseases evident in all parts of the world. Increases in mass population movements, international travel, animal transport, improper food handling, misuse of antibiotic drugs and the subsequent drug-resistant microbes have led to an explosion of intestinal diseases, and thus a need for new, safe antimicrobials.

With the arsenal of antibiotics available to treat infection declining due to microbial resistance, the need for alternative treatments is greater than ever. A few natural and balancing antimicrobials are available. Not only do these natural antimicrobial agents improve intestinal health by treating infection, but they also offer secondary support to multiple organs and body systems. This secondary support further promotes recovery from infection.

Intestinal Flora and Systemic Disease

It is critical to understand the relationship between intestinal health and disease. The intestinal tract has digestive and immunologic functions that are crucial for good health. The intestinal tract acts as a barrier to prevent harmful microbes present in the gut environment from entering circulation.  Addressing intestinal infection and the negative impact on the health of intestinal tissue and barrier function is a start to addressing many medical conditions.

Pathogenic microbes invade the intestine inflammation and translocation occurs. The inflammatory response initiated by microorganisms is a contributing factor to the further destruction of intestinal tissue.When intestinal barrier function is compromised due to tissue damage, translocation can result. Translocation is a process wherein microbes exit the intestines and enter the blood, lymph, or visceral organs. With the involvement of both inflammation and translocation in increasing numbers of disease processes, it is critical to recognize and treat the intestinal tract.

Antimicrobial Compounds Found in Plants

Various herbs have been used clinically in humans for their antimicrobial activity, as well as for their beneficial effects on digestion and inflammation.Thanks to their unique properties, the following herbs may be used as carminatives (to expel gas) and digestive aids, as well as for eliminating harmful microbes, cleansing the intestinal tract, and defending against infection.

Aromatic Herbs (Phenols)

Red Thyme Oil (Thymus vulgaris) The primary ingredient in red thyme oil is thymol, whose actions focus on the intestinal tract. Red thyme oil has been shown to inhibit the growth of a wide variety of bacteria and fungi.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) Like red thyme, a primary ingredient in oregano is thymol. In several studies, oregano has exhibited high levels of antimicrobial activity against a wide range of bacteria, parasites, and fungi.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) Sage prevents the growth of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, and is therefore used in the relief of digestive problems, flatulence, inflammation of the intestines, and diarrhea.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) Lemon balm supplies compounds called flavonoids, which support the actions of the immune system. Other substances found in lemon balm display potent antiviral activity; for example, by preventing further progression and multiplication of viruses, substances in lemon balm are known to neutralize viruses on contact.

Bitter Herbs (Alkaloids)

Berberine Berberine is found in medicinal plants such as coptis (Coptis chinesis) and barberry (Berberis aristata).It has been shown to have significant antimicrobial activity against bacteria, fungi, parasites, worms, and viruses.In addition, berberine inhibits the formation of microbial toxins.

Coptis Decoction A decoction of various herbs including coptis, phellodendron, rhubarb, ginger, and licorice help stabilize stomach and intestinal function. Such a decoction also improves the utilization of, and tolerance to berberine, thus complementing any formula containing high levels of berberine.

Other Antimicrobial Herbs

In addition to the herbal therapies mentioned above, the following foods have strong digestive, antimicrobial, and intestinal cleansing activity:

Garlic (Allium sativum)The use of garlic to fight pathogens has a long history. Its use against diarrhea caused by E. coli, as well as dysentery, cholera, and other infectious intestinal diseases. In addition, garlic has significant activity against fungi and parasites.

Ginger(Zingiber officinale) Ginger’s inhibitory effect on bacteria has been validated through in vitro experimentation.Recently, the number of Anisakis (a parasite found in many types of fish) infections in the United States has markedly increased due to the popularity of eating Japanese foods such as raw-fish dishes. Ginger has been shown to have a lethal effect on Anisakis larvae, eliminating both its viability and infectivity. Ginger also supports digestion and has anti-inflammatory activity.

Sour Plum (Prunus mume)Sour plum is used to treat diarrhea and dysentery, as well as expel hookworms and roundworms. This fruit also stimulates the purging of parasites from other digestive organs, including the gallbladder and bile ducts.

Wormwood (Artemisia annua) Wormwood has been used for the treatment of parasitic worms in China for over 1,500 years hence the name “wormwood.” The majority of current research on wormwood revolves around its use as an antiparasitic therapy.


As the number of intestinal infections continues to grow at a rapid rate, the importance of finding safe and effective therapies cannot be overlooked. While there exists a vast array of prescription medications to treat most forms of microbial infections, it is important to keep in mind the frequency and severity of adverse side effects that often accompany these types of treatments. Microbial resistance continues to deplete the effectiveness of existing medications, the need for alternative therapies is important.