Antimicrobial Resistance & Herbal Medicine
The spotlight is on anti-biotics and anti-microbial resistance this week and our
Medical Herbalist, Ginny Kemp, based here at The Broad Street Practice -
has touched on the ever-relevant role of herbal medicine in infectious
What is Antimircobial Resistance & why does it matter?
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to the medicines regularly used to treat them, making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. As a result of drug resistance, antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines become ineffective and infections become increasingly difficult or impossible to treat. World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) is a global campaign that is celebrated annually to improve awareness and understanding of AMR and encourage best practices among the public and healthcare practitioners who all play a critical role in reducing the further emergence and spread of AMR. While antibiotics, anti-viral’s and other antimicrobial medicines have changed the prospects of certain infections beyond traditional recognition, it is also clear that infectious diseases remain major clinical problems, and with every new epidemic, it becomes increasingly clear that the conventional approach to preventing and treating infections doesn’t have all the answers.
The Importance of an Efficient Immune System
Infectious illness arises when two factors come together: contact with an infectious agent (microbe) and more importantly, the people’s susceptibility to the infectious agent. The presence of infectious agents is natural, they are in our air, mouths, digestive tracts, our food and our water. There is ample evidence that people (and animals) with a well-balanced and active immune system are less susceptible to pathogens and fight off infectious diseases more effectively without the need for antibiotic treatment. This is surely where we need to focus?
So how do we keep our immune systems healthy?
Herbal medicines have been used for centuries to support normal immune function and promote health and are prescribed based on a combination of traditional use, clinical experience and modern research. Our approach to optimising immunity involves using a bespoke combination of herbs based on the type and frequency of infections, the medical history of the patient and their current health status. Commonly this may include the following categories of herbs:
- Immune enhancing herbs such as Baptisia tinctoria, Andrographis paniculata or Echinacea Spp., these are at the core of the treatment of any infection, acute, chronic or reoccurring and to help improve resistance to infections.
- Relevant antimicrobial herbs with antibacterial, anti-viral or anti-parastic activity such as Artemisia annua, Thymus vulgaris, Barosma betulina.
- Mucus membrane tonics; the membranes that line our respiratory and digestive tracts are the major first point of contact and defence against the majority of pathogens. We rely on these membranes being intact and in good health in our defence against disease. There are several herbs used to support the health of these membranes, to soothe, heal and reduce inflammation, including herbs such as Plantago lanceolata.
- Warming circulatory stimulants to promote defensive immune activities and support the transport of immune cells around the body. In the case of acute infections herbs such as Zingiber officinalis can be used, Zingiber is also anti-inflammatory so has the potential to reduce infection-driven inflammation.
- Herbs to support a particular organ if it’s the subject of infection i.e. the lungs in respiratory illness/coughs with herbs such as Glycyrrhiza glabra, the GI tract in digestive infections with herbs such as Cinnamomum zeylanicum, the bladder in urinary infections with herbs such as Equisetum arvense and Barosma betulina, the prostate with herbs such as Serenoa repens or the skin with herbs such as Calendula officinalis etc.
- Tonic and adaptogenic herbs in recurrent infections, to support convalescence from previous infection or in chronic fatigue, to improve well-being, resilience and resistance to stress- all of which contribute to effective immunity. Herbs in this category include Astragalus membranaceus and many more.
- Topical antimicrobials can be applied directly in the case of skin, nail or vaginal infections in the form of oils, creams, lotions etc.
If you feel that your immune system is functioning below par or you are suffering with regular infections, a consultation, bespoke herbal medicine and some dietary alterations could help break the cycle and improve your resistance to infection. Call Ginny on 07736829755 for a free 10 minute consultation to find out how herbs could help you.