Why I Didn’t Take Antibiotics for Strep Throat
What I thought was bronchitis turned out to be strep throat.
I only know because my boyfriend – who without a doubt got sick by me – finally went to the doctor because he couldn’t take the sore throat anymore.
He was giddy when he texted me, “Amoxacillan, here I come!” I, on the other hand, was not so excited.
I know the status quo on strep throat. You have to take antibiotics to get rid of it. You can really harm your health if you don’t. It can spread to your heart or your kidneys and cause permanent damage. Yep, I know it all well.
I also know that I had strep throat three times in college, and was on a round of antibiotics each time. I also know that I spent most of my 20s after that fighting illnesses directly linked to a jacked-up stomach.
I battled systemic candida overgrowth, low iron, low B12, constant post-nasal drip, feeling as if a large, heavy weight was on my chest at all times. I struggled to get out of bed, had repetitive stress injury in my arms and hands for which I got worker’s comp and had to take time off, and had total adrenal fatigue.
I had warts on the bottom of my big toes, when I had never had a wart before in my life (needless to say, I was not pleased).
It took me a while to figure it out, but after working with several naturopaths, acupuncturists, and nutritionists, and studying a whole lot on my own, I realized that those three rounds of antibiotics tore my stomach to shreds and pretty much ruined my digestive system.
Antibiotics Do More Than Kill Bad Bugs
What most people don’t realize is that along with “bad” bacteria floating around in our bodies, we have “good” or beneficial bacteria that is critical to properly digesting foods, maintaining the integrity of our guts, fighting off inflammation, and absorbing nutrients that directly impact our brains and hormones.
Some of them do these things in part by fighting off invaders and maintaining a healthy balance with yeast, that is also naturally occurring in our system.
So when we take antibiotics to kill off an intense invader like Group A Streptococcus bacteria, it also kills off all the good bacteria in our bodies. After we are done with the antibiotics, more bad bacteria comes back. Yeast has a chance to proliferate because it doesn’t have beneficial bacteria to keep it in check.
Suddenly you have out-of-control yeast that decides to puncture little holes in your gut, allowing undigested particles of food and yeast to make it into your blood. This is where your body goes into attack mode, causing allergic reactions (this stuff shouldn’t be swimming in your bloodstream or hanging out in your tissues) and eventually, if it’s not fixed, an auto-immune disorder can develop.
Only recently has it hit mainstream that replenishing the good bacteria with probiotics after taking antibiotics is a good idea. Still, it can take some time for that good bacteria to re-attach to the lining in your stomach and colon.
I spent about 7 years healing my gut. Needless to say, I’m not super psyched to go down the antibiotics road again, even if I know now how to stave off some of the damage.
The Fear Factor
In some ways, I was lucky enough to not find out it was strep until I was already on the road to recovery. But I did have more than a few moments of freaking out and almost going to the doctor after I did learn it was strep.
If you search the internet, even most alternative health writers say, “When it comes to strep, you have to take antibiotics.” So I was impressed when I came across the Healthy Home Economist’s thoughts on the subject:
Despite the seriousness of strep throat, are antibiotics really necessary in the majority of cases?
In light of the fact that every round of antibiotics potentially damages the gut in a manner than can never be 100% repaired, I think this question is worth consideration even if it may seem ludicrous at first. The complications of strep throat are, after all, extremely serious albeit rather rare. Scarlet fever, inflammation of the kidney, or rheumatic fever which could permanently damage the heart are all possibilities.
She continues with her own personal story:
Strep was by far the worst sore throat I’ve ever had and the pain when I swallowed was almost unbearable to endure…
My Father, a Family Physician, made the decision not to put me on any antibiotics and let me ride it out under my own power. My Dad wasn’t into herbs or anything so I didn’t have any alternative treatments administered either.
The infection lasted over a week … my memory remembers a full two weeks but it might have been a few days shy of that. I lost several pounds during that illness as I could only endure swallowing liquids the entire time…The interesting thing is that I’ve never had strep throat ever again.
She concludes with essentially what I blame for a lot of my health issues in my 20s:
Even WebMD states that antibiotics aren’t really needed for strep after all.
“Strep throat will go away in 3 to 7 days with or without treatment. Doctors usually treat strep throat with antibiotics even though they may not make you well faster.”
Given the fact that a round of antibiotics has the potential to cause some permanent damage to the gut flora which has lifelong impact on overall immunity to both chronic and acute illness, skipping those pills altogether may prove in the long run to be the smartest approach of all. [Bold font added by me]
You can read the whole piece here.
Weighing the Options
Considering we are now innundated with antibiotics during our lifetimes (beyond these pills being prescribed for just about every sickness and skin disorder, they are found in our water supply, our soil, and our food), is it really a good idea to take them unless absolutely necessary?
I understand that “absolutely necessary” means different things to different people. I know that I pay particularly close attention to my body, partly because of my experience of being sick in my 20s, and know that I have a pretty strong immune system at this point (so getting strep was a big indicator to me I need to cut the sugar, alcohol, and constant go-go-go that’s been happening in my life of late). I felt I was taking an educated guess in the direction of getting better by using natural means, and by rest.
And really, that’s what a lot of us don’t want to take: rest. We think our lives are too busy to really slow down; that things will fall apart without us, that we don’t have a choice but to continue to work, work, work. Well, I call bullshit. Nothing that you are doing is so life-threatening that you can’t take some time off to let your body heal. So unless you are a single mom who is going to lose your job because you call in sick, it’s time to stop telling yourself you “just can’t”.
Yes, it took 2 1/2 weeks for me to get over strep. No, I did not take every single day off, and in fact “pushed through” the first couple days of it because of a short-term job commitment (looking back, it probably would have been wise for me to just quit the job, but it was at the tail end of it, and I thought it was just a cold coming on). Yes, it sucked being sick that long. But I also knew that there was a reason to slow down and let my body heal on its own. Now my hope is that I’m one of those people who won’t have strep again in my life.
I’m not saying I won’t ever take antibiotics again. Or that if this bout of strep flares back up, that I won’t go get a prescription. But I did witness the power of my immune system (with a little help from some natural sources*) when I was patient and let it do its thing. It may be worth a try for you in the future, too.
*My protocol: Gargle with apple cider vinegar several times a day, grapefruit seed extract (pill form), Yeast Defense, Oil of Oregano, fermented coconut water, raw garlic, EmergenC, vitamin D, homeopathic muscle rub (on throat), zinc tablets, acupuncture (once – should have done more), hot baths with epsom salt, regular vitamin C. What I should have done: cut sugar, dairy, and alcohol out immediately, and not halfway through, and consumed more broth.