Scott had been sick for over a week. Sore throat, aches, chills, the works. We thought it was some version of the flu and treated it as such. Despite having his tonsils removed for recurrent strep infections as a child, Scott was still suffering with a particularly sore throat seven days later despite his other symptoms resolving. At that point, we decided it was time to investigate further and he went to see a doctor where he tested positive for strep throat. Did he have to take the antibiotics? Could we treat this safely with natural remedies for strep throat?
Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by an overpopulation or overabundance of Group A streptococcus bacteria. Group A strep is a normal part of our oral flora, the population of microbes that colonizes our mouth and throat. It is always there to some degree and, in proper balance with the other microbes around it, does not cause any issues. When the population of Group A strep gets out of control, we develop the illness known as strep throat. It is characterized by a very sore, inflamed throat, fever, body aches, and swollen tonsils and lymph nodes. It is more common in children, less so in adults. Left untreated, it can lead to some serious side effects.
Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat
While strep throat is often feared whenever one’s throat becomes inflamed, the vast majority of sore throats are not caused by a strep infection. In fact, 85-90% of sore throats are caused by any number of viral illnesses. Of the rest, the cause can be any number of things such as environmental irritants, allergies, or bacterial infections. (1, 2)
It can be difficult to differentiate between a viral sore throat and strep throat since many of the symptoms overlap. One key difference is that strep infection is rarely accompanied by nasal discharge or chest congestion, such as would be expected with a case of cold or flu. If you have a runny nose and cough with your sore throat, chances are good you do not have strep. (3)
If you are still concerned, you can see a pharmacist for a rapid test, though the rate of false negatives with these tests are quite high. A positive is for sure a positive, but a negative may not be negative and worth investigating further if strep is believed to be an issue. You can see a doctor to request a swab that is sent to a lab for culture for a definitive diagnosis.
Are Antibiotics Always Necessary?
The standard conventional treatment for strep throat is a course of antibiotics, most commonly one of the penicillin family. If penicillin allergy is a concern, there are other antibiotics that can be effective against strep throat. A sore throat is one of the most common causes for antibiotic prescriptions at a medical clinic. In some cases, doctors will not even complete a swab for the infection before writing the prescription, going purely from a visual diagnosis.
The problem with this is that 85-90% of sore throats are viral in nature, making antibiotics useless for the problem while carrying a variety of side effects. Additionally, the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, particularly antibiotic resistant strep, is cause to evaluate the freedom with which we use antibiotics to treat strep throat. That’s not to say that antibiotics cannot be used responsibly in the treatment of strep throat. But it does mean that we need to evaluate other options such as natural remedies for strep throat.
The use of antibiotics to treat strep throat has shown to be only moderately effective, shortening the duration of illness by about half with little difference made to the time taken off from school or work due to the illness. Further, most cases (99.5%) will self-resolve without any special treatment or adverse side effects. Even after symptoms disappear, the body continues to produce antibodies against the strep bacteria for some time to come as a protective measure against latent complications. Untreated strep infections typically resolve on their own in about seven days, and the infection can take longer to resolve if antibiotics are used. (2, 4, 5)
What About Scarlet Fever?
Scarlet fever is caused by a strep infection and is, essentially, the body’s reaction to the overabundant strep bacteria, similar to an allergic rash. While it looks quite striking and can cause alarm as a result, it is harmless and will dissipate once the infection resolves, either on its own or with treatment.
What About Rheumatic Fever?
Rheumatic fever is one of the most concerning complications from strep throat and the most frequent reason people are resistant to trying natural remedies for strep throat. In cases of strep that do not self-resolve, the bacterial infection can begin to attack other tissues, particularly the heart and/or kidneys. This may happen in approximately 0.5% of untreated cases of strep. While rheumatic fever is a very serious complication, it is exceptionally rare.
Of the five different sub-strains of Group A streptococcus bacteria that can cause strep throat infection, only one of those strains causes rheumatic fever – Group A beta hemolytic. The other four strains can still cause illness but cannot cause rheumatic fever. It is also important to note that choosing natural remedies for strep throat is NOT the same as leaving strep untreated. Natural remedies can be just as or more effective at treating strep throat and reducing the risk of rheumatic fever as prescription antibiotics. (2)
What About PANDAS?
PANDAS is a very recent phenomenon and has been controversially linked to strep infection. Essentially, the body mounts an autoimmune attack that causes inflammation of the brain that results in marked behavioural and neurological changes in the child. Sometimes this occurs following a strep infection, and sometimes it does not. The same sub-strain of strep that causes rheumatic fever is believed to be responsible for PANDAS, as well.
It is unclear why strep infection may now be prompting this autoimmune disorder when it has not for generations. I suspect it is likely along the same reasons we are experiencing an epidemic of other autoimmune disorders in general and the development of PANDAS has far more to do with the state of the child’s immune system and overall systemic inflammation and health than it does with the streptococcus bacteria itself. Further, antibiotic treatment of strep throat does not mean that PANDAS will not develop. (6)
An Alternate Approach
Every person and every case is unique and ultimately it is up to the individual whether or when they pursue antibiotic treatment for strep. In our house, we carefully monitor strep infections for signs of improvement. If a strep infection does not resolve on its own by seven days, then we take natural intervention steps with home remedies for strep throat. If a strep throat infection still did not resolve with home remedies, we would certainly consider conventional antibiotics at that time, but we’ve never had to go that far.
If you are going to rely on home remedies for strep throat to help your body resolve the infection, it is important to monitor symptoms to ensure that this approach is working, and the infection is not getting worse. If a strep infection does respond to home remedies, it is still wise to follow-up with a second throat culture to ensure the infection is truly resolved.
When To Seek Further Care
In some cases, a strep infection may not respond to home remedies. Some strep infections can become particularly entrenched or a person’s immune system too compromised for natural remedies alone to conquer. Additionally, a person does not have the resources or ability to dedicate to the frequency or consistency required for natural remedies for strep to work effectively. In these situations, it would be wise to consider the use of antibiotics.
In a child younger than three years of age, the blood-brain barrier can still be quite permeable and therefore more vulnerable to systemic infection. If a child of mine had a confirmed cast of strep throat, I would choose conventional antibiotics as the first approach and work on healing the side effects of the antibiotics after.
If you are going to undergo a course of conventional antibiotics for strep throat, it would be wise to ensure you have a confirmed case of strep before beginning antibiotics and that the particular strain of strep that is causing the infection is vulnerable to the antibiotics prescribed. Supporting the antibiotics with home remedies for strep can help the infection resolve faster and enhance the effects of the antibiotics than with antibiotics alone. Supplementing with probiotics and bone broth can help minimize the damage to the gut from the antibiotics. (7)
Home Remedies for Strep Throat
There are several home remedies for strep throat that can be very effective at supporting your body to fight the infection and relief the unpleasant symptoms associated with strep throat.
Homeopathy can effectively address the symptoms of strep throat. Using homeopathy is based on matching symptoms to the right remedy, which makes it easy, safe, and convenient to use at home even if you have not received a confirmed strep diagnosis yet. Mercurius sol is a common remedy to use when the pain from the throat goes up into the ears and when you see the white spots on the tonsils that is common with a strep infection. Belladonna is a good remedy for a variety of infections including strep throat where there is a great deal of pain, inflammation, and redness in the affected tissues. If you have a confirmed strep diagnosis or deal with recurrent strep infections, the nosode streptococcinum is worth considering. (10)
2. Oil of Oregano (Supplement, not Essential Oil)
Oregano long been known for its antimicrobial effects. Cooking with it won’t necessarily help you beat strep throat but using the oil extract certainly can. When Scott had strep, he used high dose oil of oregano as his treatment option of choice. Two weeks later, his labs were clear. Research has shown that oregano oil at effective concentrations can be a valuable treatment option for addressing a strep infection. (8)
And when I say oregano oil or oil of oregano, I am referring to the supplement, not the essential oil. Oregano essential oil is an extremely hot and potent oil, and while essential oils should never be consumed orally without the care of an aromatherapist, oregano essential oil should certainly not be consumed in this manner without professional care. Supplemental oregano oil has a very unpleasant taste but can be very effective. If you can’t get past the taste, there are capsules available to make it easier.
3. Colloidal Silver
Colloidal silver has long been known for its antimicrobial properties and has been used in Western medicine since before the invention of antibiotics. A small 2017 study found that colloidal silver is effective against the bacteria responsible for strep throat. This is good news since colloidal silver is affordable and relatively easy to come by. (9)
There are concerns about the further reaching systemic effects of consuming colloidal silver. It is a biocide and acts like an antibiotic in the body, which is good for treating strep throat but not so good for things like gut health. To use colloidal silver for strep while minimizing the risks to the rest of your system, it would be best to gargle with colloidal silver and then spit it out rather than swallowing it. This way, the silver gets on the back of the throat where it needs to be without going further to compromise gut health.
Herbs, especially in the form of herbal teas have long been popular for their therapeutic benefit, and now it seems that herbal tea can also help you beat strep throat. Recent research looked at herbs traditionally used by Canadian Indigenous healers for treating sore throat. The researchers found that licorice root tea, barberry tea, thyme tea, and oregano tea are all effective at inhibiting the growth and spread of a strep throat infection and can kill strep bacteria in 12-24 hours. These teas were also particularly effective against the biofilm activity that streptococcus uses as a defense mechanism and part of what can make it so difficult to eradicate. (11)
Downy Rose Myrtle or Ceylon Hill Gooseberry has been used in traditional Asian medicine for centuries. It is a beautiful plant with strong antimicrobial properties, particularly against gram positive bacteria, of which streptococcus is one. Research has found Downy Rose Myrtle extract to be particularly effective against strep throat infection. It is easy to grow in the right regions, though it is nearly impossible to come by the prepared herb in North America. (12)
5. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a tremendous support to optimal immune function, which helps strengthen your body to fight a strep throat infection. It also helps reduce inflammation and repair tissue damage. Vitamin C has proven impressively effective against upper respiratory infections, of which strep throat is one. Even if your illness turns out not to be strep throat, increasing your vitamin C intake can still help you get better faster by supporting optimal immune function. I prefer food-based sources of vitamin C, such as camu camu or acerola powders. If you’re going for short duration high doses in the face of a strep infection, I like a buffered vitamin C powder as it has greater bioavailability than ascorbic acid alone and allows for higher doses without gastric disturbance. (13, 14)
6. Vitamin D
Vitamin D has long been known as an important nutrient to healthy immune function, particularly against upper respiratory illnesses. Specifically, research has found a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and recurrent strep throat. As with influenza, if you are wanting to either avoid or recover from strep throat, having optimal vitamin D levels is crucial, especially since the majority of us are deficient to start with. My naturopathic doctor has prescribed up to 25,000IU per day for up to 4 days when I am actively fighting an infection before dropping back down to my regular 5,000IU per day. And be sure to get adequate intake of vitamin K2, a necessary cofactor of vitamin D that is ensures vitamin D is absorbed and used properly by the body. (15)
Salt makes for an inhospitable environment for pathogens. It temporarily increases the oral pH level, making it difficult for bacteria to thrive and multiply. Dissolved in warm-hot water and gargled in the throat, salt provides a soothing, anti-inflammatory effect which both relieves pain and helps remove pathogens from the mouth.
8. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been used since the time of Hippocrates for its medicinal properties and ability to help fight infection. Because it is high in acetic acid, apple cider vinegar is effective against pathogenic bacteria while promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria. When sipped or gargled, it can help kill a strep infection without compromising healthy oral flora. It can also provide anti-inflammatory effects that can help reduce the discomfort associated with strep throat. (16)
9. Manuka Honey
Like colloidal silver, honey has been used for millennia for its therapeutic properties and holds a prominent place in traditional cultures around the world. One common use for honey was to treat infections, but, also like colloidal silver, it fell out of favour with the advent of antibiotics in the 20th century. With the growing issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria, honey’s medicinal properties are once again becoming the subject of medical interest. With its high sugar content and low pH, honey is inherently antimicrobial. When the glucose oxidase enzyme in honey reacts with glucose and oxygen, honey produces hydrogen peroxide, which is effective at clearing infections.
Different honeys have different levels of antimicrobial activity and manuka honey is one of the most powerful known to date. Manuka honey is made from the nectar of the manuka trees native to Australia and New Zealand. This unique honey contains the compound methylglyoxal which adds potent additional antimicrobial properties above and beyond other honeys and has proven effective against pathogenic bacteria and bacterial biofilms, including those resistant to multiple conventional antibiotics and at the root of strep throat. (17)
Our Case Study
After Scott received his positive strep throat diagnosis, we set about healing it naturally without the antibiotics. With high dose oregano oil and colloidal silver throat spray, we were able to get his symptoms under control in just a few short days. We continued treatment for another two weeks the ensure that the infection was truly resolved. At that point, we followed up with a second throat culture to confirm that the infection was indeed cleared. After a lifetime of recurrent strep infections, despite having his tonsils removed at a young age, Scott’s body was finally able to holistically fight the infection and he has been strep-free ever since.
Of course, if Scott’s body had not responded to these natural remedies, we would have filled the prescription and done the antibiotics for the sake of his long-term health, but we had nothing to lose by giving natural remedies an opportunity and a lot to gain when they worked. To do it over, I would turn to homeopathy first and try to avoid the biocides if possible. You can read more about what I’ve learned and why I avoid biocides soon.
A strep throat infection can carry the risk of some serious side effects in rare cases. It is important to make informed decisions about how to treat this illness and to remember that not all strep cases carry the same risk of adverse side effects. Contrary to popular belief, there are a variety of natural remedies for strep throat that are both holistic and highly effective and may negate the need for prescription antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant strep is a serious and growing concern and can leave strep sufferers looking to natural remedies whether they want to or not, either on their own or in conjunction with conventional treatment. These are my top natural remedies for strep throat that I have used on my family with great success, successfully and safely avoiding the damaging side effects of antibiotics.