Infections: how to prevent and cure – first improve the defences

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Please see My book The Infection Game - life is an arms race

How "The Infection Game" came about

October 2016 - Every cloud has a silver lining and, having broken my neck on a horse for the second time, I had 4 days to read Stephen Buhner's fabulous books on the herbal approach to treating infections. Please see Author Page for Stephen Buhner. Sadly, Stephen Buhner died on 8th December 2022, and was buried in his beloved forest. You can read an obituary here - Stephen Buhner Obit. Buhner was clearly a kindred spirit – like me he wanted to supply the necessary information to empower people to treat themselves effectively. His books have an excellent scientific basis. The programmes he recommends are biologically plausible, but even more importantly they are of proven efficacy. What follows is a precis of his advice just to get you started. However, with serious chronic infections I recommend you purchase his books and read them. The reason for this is that everyone will have to become their own physician. This is for two good reasons:

  • We can no longer trust Big Pharma hand in glove with the Establishment medical profession to offer any solutions that do not make big money
  • If I have learned anything as a doctor it is that every patient is astonishingly unique and the one size fits all approach will do it for some but not all. The fine tailoring is best done by learning about the disease, understanding the mechanism of such and fashioning treatment to suit one’s own very particular circumstances.

So, I wrote My book The Infection Game - life is an arms race


Herbalism is ancient, dating even to pre-History. It often overlaps with food history, in so far as many of the herbs historically used by humans to season food also protect against the threat of food-borne pathogens, either by “supporting the immune system” (see below for more on this!) or by direct anti-microbial effect. But the Ancients also used herbs as a ‘stand-alone’ medicine.

For example, medicinal herbs were found in the personal effects of Ötzi the Iceman, whose body was frozen in the Ötztal Alps for more than 5,000 years. Furthermore, an analysis of Ötzi's very well preserved intestinal contents revealed that he had recently eaten (as recently as 8 hours before his death!) meals consisting of red deer and herb bread. Ötzi is fascinating – for a brief, but well informed, overview, please do see Wikipedia’s entry - Ötzi_the_Iceman

Ötzi is Europe's oldest known natural human mummy but there are other older records and evidence for herbalism. In Mesopotamia, written clay tablet records, dating back well over 5,000 years, list hundreds of medicinal herbs. We have the Sumerians to thank for this. But there is evidence going back even further. For instance, there is a 60,000-year-old burial site, "Shanidar IV" in northern Iraq which has been extensively studied; significant amounts of pollen from 8 plant species, 7 of which are used now as herbal remedies, have been isolated. This supports the suggestion that the use of herbs as medicine dates as far back as 60,000 years ago. Please see “Shanidar IV, a Neanderthal Flower Burial in Northern Iraq” Science 28 Nov 1975: Vol. 190, Issue 4217, pp. 880-881 “Shanidar IV, a Neanderthal Flower Burial in Northern Iraq”

There is now (an increasing) body of evidence for the efficacy of herbs (and spices) for their anti-microbial properties. Please see our (soon to be released) book “The PK Diet” for more on this too. A definitive guide for those who wish to study this in greater detail is “Herbal Medicine” - 2nd edition, Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, Oxidative Stress and Disease, Editors: Iris F. F. Benzie and Sissi Wachtel-Galor. You can access the full book online at this address: “Herbal Medicine” - 2nd edition, Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects

The Arms Race

See also Chronic infection – Life is an arms race – how to tackle with natural remedies

We know that life is an arms race. You and I are a free lunch; indeed, we are a nutritious Petri dish, on which microbes can and do flourish! There is a battle, the arms race, going on inside our bodies every second of the day. This is a race we can never hope to "win". We can only hope to stay sufficiently ahead of the game for as long as possible so that we stay feeling well. This arms race is a "numbers game" – our body must use its ‘’resources’’ to keep the numbers of the bad guys (the harmful microbes) down to a sufficiently low level so that we do indeed stay feeling well. That this constant battle is going on is clear – within minutes of death, when our bodies cease fighting this arms race, we rapidly decompose – the bad guys win and they win quickly. The business of fighting back against the microbes uses a great deal of energy – we know this too because if you give a normal person influenza, they immediately develop fatigue as the body diverts its reserves and "resources" into fighting infection.

We have many natural defences against infection and these are laid out in detail in My book Ecological Medicine - The Antidote to Big Pharma and Fast Foods. It is clear that many patients with chronic fatigue syndrome carry an infectious load. This, as I call it, kicks an immunological hole in the energy bucket as well as driving inflammatory processes (which can cause very nasty symptoms), auto-immunity and indeed cancer.

All of us have to do all we can to help our bodies in this battle against chronic infection – the infectious load. But this is especially important for CFS sufferers because the high energy demands on the body of fighting chronic infection can be disastrous – the resulting immunological hole can cause relapse and delay recovery. It can be the “tipping point” for many CFS sufferers.

How to tackle chronic infection

Treating chronic infection is like siege warfare – we need to fight these microbes in as many different ways as possible to winkle them out of their well defended castle! Just like siege warfare there are fundamental principles:

We know that antibiotics are highly effective in killing many microbes. They would be much more effective if the above principles were also observed! Indeed, failure to observe such principles has greatly contributed to antibiotic resistant strains emerging. However it is clear that many herbal preparations are highly effective. Indeed, all herbals have antimicrobial properties. Without such, no plant would last more than a few hours in Nature because this arms race applies throughout such – all living things are under attack by others.

The key point is that the more we can 'hit' the microbes with the better! This is siege warfare. So, amongst our arsenal for dealing with chronic infections, we have:

  • Immune support herbs - as here
  • Specific anti-microbial herbs - as on linked infection-specific webpages as above
  • Recognised effective prescription anti-biotics, anti-virals and anti-fungals

In Nature, all plants and herbs contain effective anti-microbials - evolution has seen to that! The closer we can get to the whole, raw plant or herb, the more effective it is likely to be. All herbs will have some anti-microbial activity against viruses, bacteria and yeast – that is why you will see many herbs multitasking. This is very helpful - only too often we do not know which infection is present because tests are not available or imperfect. By making an educated guess from the patient’s history, together with some trial and error, one has a very good chance of safely stumbling upon an effective treatment. Indeed, you may be horrified to find out that much of modern medicine has proceeded in a similar way—the only difference is that doctors stumble around with unsafe methods and treatments!

Doctor: “Therein the patient, Must minister to himself.”
Macbeth: “Throw physic to the door. I’ll none of it.”

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 3, Shakespeare, 26 April 1564 (baptised) – 23 April 1616

Many herbals are prescribed as tinctures (tinctures are made by dissolving the herb – from the Latin “tinctura” --“act of dyeing or tingeing”) because these are well absorbed and so get around any issues with the raw, whole plant (root, stem, leaf, flower and/or berry). The PK diet and all the above should take care of issues of poor digestion and absorption.

Principles of using herbal medicines

All herbs and spices are effective against infection and should form part of your PK diet (see My book - Paleo-Ketogenic: The Why and The How for some suggestions). These include green and black tea, olive oil, garlic, ginger, bone broth and fermented foods. These are an important part of the armamentarium.

The herbal textbooks seem to use herbs in two ways - those which are directly toxic to microbes and those which offer “Immune Support”. I do not know what is meant by this phrase – it is possible these herbs address some of the other issues of siege warfare as detailed above – so I think of these as improving the defences.

NOTE - All herbals may interact with prescription medication. Do "google" the herb to see whether there is anything you need to be aware of. Remember many “interactions” result in a potentiation of effect and this could be desirable – so just because an interaction is listed does not necessarily imply that you should not take the herb. Web MD is comprehensive on drug interactions - please see Web MD - for checking drug interactions and here is another very useful resource - Medscape Prescription, Over the Counter and Herbal Medicines Interactions checker. Also the University of Maryland have their own drug interaction checker - University of Maryland drug interaction checker

Improve the defences - “immune support”

These herbs all have "immune support" action and additionally may help with sleep.

"Action" Herb Dose The doses for tinctures and extracts will be less - check each preparation!
Improve the defences Ashwaganda Root powder - up to 1 gram twice daily I am delighted to read that ashwaganda means “the smell of the horse”!!!
Ditto Rhodiola Root powder up - to 1 gram twice daily
Ditto Ginseng Root powder 500mgs – 3 grams daily
Ditto Schisandra Air dried fruits 1.5-6 grams daily; Seed powder 0.5-1.5 grams daily
May additionally improve sleep - sleep is vital to good health - see Sleep is vital for good health - especially in CFS Astragalus Root powder 2-6 grams daily These top five are available as a preparation from Swanson (rhodiola ashwaganda ginseng complex - see My Online shop link for Rhodiola Ashwagandha Ginseng Complex ). Each capsule contains 75mgs of each herb. It also contains dong quai, suma root and wolfberry. This seems a good starting place for treating all infections. Start off with one twice daily and build up perhaps to 8 daily. (note the UK Amazon cost is high! I shall bulk order from Swanson direct - so please look for this product in My Online Shop) NB - Astragalus can lower blood pressure. Please take care if you already suffer with low blood pressure.
Ditto Motherwort 400mgs twice daily

Many of the above also have direct anti-microbial properties - they may be all you need to take to see benefit.

Concluding Remarks

Nicholas Culpeper's 17th Century book, “Culpeper's Complete Herbal”, (see Link for “Culpeper's Complete Herbal”) is perhaps the most famous of the old herbalist texts. Some, however, may not know that Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear, and The Herbs television series, used quotes from Culpeper's great tome to find the herbs whose botanical traits he could best reflect in the individual characters.

I particularly love Culpepper because, like me, his view was:

"Three kinds of people mainly disease the people – priests, physicians and lawyers – priests disease matters belonging to their souls, physicians disease matters belonging to their bodies, and lawyers disease matters belonging to their estate."

Nicholas Culpeper, 18 October 1616 – 10 January 1654), English botanist, herbalist, physician

In conclusion, another quote from Nicholas Culpeper seems apposite:

“I consulted with my two brothers, Dr. Reason and Dr. Experience, and took a voyage to visit my mother Nature, by whose advice, together with the help of Dr. Diligence, I at last obtained my desire; and, being warned by Mr. Honesty, a stranger in our days, to publish it to the world, I have done it.”


Much of the information I have included here should be credited to Stephen Harrod Buhner. I have read many of his books, and other literature, in order to reach my conclusions. In addition, I thank my patients, as ever. I have learnt much from their experiences with herbs used as anti-microbials, both as recommended by me, and also as taken by them after their own individual research.

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I have developed general strategies for good health, and for dealing with both acute and chronic infections. Please see:

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