A Paen To Penicillin: An Antibiotics User Guide from an Acupuncturista

Art is a still from 'Magical Contamination' by Antoine Bridier-Nahmias, an artistic documentation of mould and its diverse colors and textures captured in petri dishes.

Art is a still from 'Magical Contamination' by Antoine Bridier-Nahmias, an artistic documentation of mould and its diverse colors and textures captured in petri dishes.

It feels dirty and debaucherous publicly admitting that as a holistic health practitioner, I took the devil’s juice, I sipped the nectar of the underworld, I drew a pentagram in the crossroads and traded my corporeal soul and $25 dollars at CVS with Old Bones Jones for a chance at beating tonsillitis and decimating my microbiome.

I hadn’t needed antibiotics for years, but when I returned from an international flight late last year with a lymph node swollen to the size of golfball and a fever of 102, I did not have the luxury of treating this diligently on my own in a time frame that worked with my bonkers schedule. I needed to jump back into the saddle pronto because I have a lot of people that depend on me, as do you, likely. We are mothers and creators and radicals and care takers and tenders. There is no rest for the wicked.

One of the most frequently asked questions in my practice is “should I go on antibiotics?” While the answer is highly individualized, and most of us acupuncturists have a slew of herbal warriors with potency + panache to kick most pathogens to the curb, herbs are not always the most elegant solution. I take the time with each of my patients to talk about their options and how to gracefully navigate each choice. After all the cards are all on the table, I let them decide, shame free and without remorse. Because that is how medicine is practiced in a feminist model of choice and autonomy. En masse, there are steps you can take to make either choice empowering, and walk away from the whole experience feeling lusty, potent, and virile.

Step one is consider waiting. If you are not in any clear and present danger, and you are under the tutelage of an esteemed herbalist or functional doc, this is a solid approach. As my patients often remind me, beating your first infection with herbs + food is an initiation. You learn that everything you were ever taught about your body is wrong, that you are filled with adamantine strength and protean prowess if given the right tools and conditions. This approach forces you to be tender, scale back, and feel what it's like to nurture yourself back to life. You might have to de-escalate your schedule. Phew! What a relief! Or maybe your worst nightmare. But once you succeed in your pursuit of the plague, you have tools in your back pocket for any time that ol’ pestilence comes a’knocking at your door.

Sometimes you take the herbs and do the sleep and kick the stress, and you STILL get sicker. Step two is don’t fear the reaper. Those of us that have eschewed a life of Big Pharma get VERY riled up at the thought of taking antibiotics. Is it a betrayal of our values? Is it lazy, irresponsible, avoidant? AM I UNDOING 10 YEARS OF SEEDING MY GUT WITH KOMBUCHA, ARTISANAL SAUERKRAUT, AND AFFIRMATIONS THAT I RADIATE HEALTH FROM THE INSIDE OUT? Taking pharmaceuticals is NOT giving up your power and conceding to the military-industrial complex. You are not a shill of big pharma, you are not a horsewoman of the apocalypse, you are not complicit in the mass destruction of all beneficial microbial life, and, most importantly, you are not a butterfly. You are an almighty warrior priestess whose microbiome is an iron-clad vault of perpetual poetry in motion. Your microbiome is constantly evolving, and if you are not using antibiotics on the regular it will adapt. The number one factor that determines what microbes live in your gut (and which ones die off) is your daily diet. Make a point to eat a low sugar diet free of unprocessed foods and seed your gut with prebiotics from fibrous greens. Drink a little bone broth, why dontcha! And of course take probiotics along with your meds (albeit at least two hours apart from them), and keep taking probiotics for a minimum of 6 months (though truly we should be taking them all the time). I like two weeks of a very herculean CFU probie like Designs For Health ProbioMed 250, followed by my standard probiotic. If you are prone to yeast infections, you might want to do probiotic suppositories while you are downing your antibiotics. If you are concerned about the impact of antibiotics on your liver, you can take Antronex from Standard Process at 1 3xday during your course, continuing for a few weeks after. It also helps manage the dreaded ‘die-off effect’ that can happen with antibiotics like Amoxicillin.

Step three is don’t shame yourself for not being strong enough to fight the infection by non-pharmaceutical means. Shame is the enemy of health! It’s a tool of the oppressors! Shame keeps us trapped and small and holds us back from evolving and growing. I will never shame you! You did what you had to do. We are all just trying to survive. I love you.

Herbal Allies: Huang Lian /// Coptis Root

Coptis Root

This golden, auric wonder glows like a honey-dipped sun, but under its florid veneer it shrouds a lethal combination of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory moxie engulfed in an acerbic matrix of bitter oomph. Coptis is, quite possibly, the bitterest herb I have ever tasted. Long enshrined in traditional medicine for its ability to treat conditions associated with excess dampness, inflammation, and heat, its bitterness is the key to its effectiveness. The bitter taste and yellow hue indicate the presence of berberine, an alkaloid with strong antibiotic effects that effectively drains excess and heat from the body. In test tube studies, berberine was shown to inhibit the growth of streptococcal bacteria responsible for some forms of pneumonia, and it exhibits broad-spectrum antibacterial and antiviral activity (take that, o meager single-minded flu shot!) that supports the use of coptis to treat skin, mouth, eye, gastrointestinal, and vaginal infections. A robust stalwart of heavy-hitter herbal prescriptions, Coptis takes on staphylococcus, strains of streptococcus, hepatitis B, salmonella, SIBO, cholera, and its motto is basically “I can handle all this jelly.” ALL HAIL.