Many of us have been there at one point in our lives–you feel fine one day, but the next day you feel exhausted, your throat hurts, and you have trouble swallowing. Perhaps you researched your symptoms online and the results suggested a condition called streptococcal pharyngitis, commonly known as strep throat.
In many cases, we seek out medical treatment to alleviate symptoms and support the healing process. Keep reading to understand the mechanics of strep throat, including preventative measures and natural remedies for strep throat.
What is strep throat?
Strep throat is an infection caused by a bacteria called group A streptococcus. While many sore throats are a symptom of a viral infection, comparatively, this bacterial infection only accounts for a small number of sore throat cases. (2)
Typically, a diagnosis will be made using a simple throat swab, a review of your symptoms, and an examination of your tonsils.
Strep throat symptoms
Unfortunately, the uncomfortable symptoms of strep throat can last for a few days, depending on the course of treatment you seek out. It is most common between children and youth between the ages of 5-15 and is typically spread through sneezing and coughing. The onset of symptoms is quite abrupt and may include:
- Fever or rheumatic fever
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Swollen tonsils
- White pus at the back of the throat (2)
Typically, these symptoms may last three to seven days. (1)
Natural remedies for strep throat
Typically, strep throat treatment involves a course of antibiotics. While antibiotic use is not necessary to treat strep throat, they may be prescribed to target the bacterial infection, help minimize symptoms, and may reduce the duration of symptoms. (12) However, it is recommended to only seek out antibiotic use with a confirmed case of strep throat.
Many people will also opt for natural remedies to help to support their immune system for prevention, aid recovery or to supplement their antibiotic use. Some natural remedies for strep throat may include the supplement ingredients outlined below.
1. Elderberry (Sambucus)
Due to its antiviral and antibacterial effects, elderberry has been traditionally used to address the common cold and flu. While research on the use of elderberry extract for strep throat is limited, studies look promising. One study looking at individuals in air travel showed that those who supplemented with elderberry had fewer respiratory effects compared to the placebo group. (13) An additional study, looking at the effects of varying concentrations of elderberry on bacteria, minimizes growth, even at low concentrations, compared to no elderberry use. (8) Ask your integrative healthcare practitioner about adding elderberry supplements to your daily routine to increase your antioxidant intake, which can be found in capsule, syrup/liquid, and even cough-drop form.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that supports collagen production, prevents free radical damage, and promotes overall well-being. (3) While the role of vitamin C in strep throat is unclear, studies using high-dose vitamin C supplementation have shown that it can alleviate or prevent infections from bacteria, virus, and protozoa. (4) Try to consume an abundance of vitamin C-rich foods, such as bell peppers, spinach, and citrus fruit, and consider high-dose supplementation if recommended by your integrative healthcare practitioner.
3. Bee propolis
Bee propolis is the “glue” that holds a beehive together. It seals cracks and works to keep pathogens out of the hive. In addition to being a staple in the bee’s hive health, propolis has been shown to offer various benefits, including its antimicrobial, antioxidative, anti-ulcer, and anti-tumor activities. (10)
4. Apple cider vinegar
Consuming or gargling apple cider vinegar may be beneficial when you have strep throat. In strep throat, along with various other illnesses, we may produce something called biofilm, which is simply a group of any organism that grows on surfaces. In the case of strep throat, we see microbial communities where bacteria can persist and resist host communities. One study found that apple cider vinegar was 95% effective at eradicating biofilm associated with strep throat in those with recurrent tonsillitis. (7) This means that using apple cider vinegar may help to reduce the biofilm and minimize survival of bacteria.
Based on this encouraging in vitro data, it may be that gargling with a little dilute apple cider vinegar may be beneficial against strep throat biofilms. (7) While there is limited evidence to support specific dosing, the general consensus is to take approximately 1 tsp in a small amount of water two to three times daily.
While probiotics aren’t a remedy for strep throat, your practitioner may recommend them if you are prescribed antibiotic treatment. In vitro studies demonstrate that co-administration of antibiotics and probiotics can reduce the negative effects of antibiotics on the gut microbiome and reduce rates of dysbiosis (microbial imbalance). (11)
Tip: Eating soft foods that are easy to swallow are usually safe to eat when you have a sore throat. (2)
How to prevent strep throat
Supporting your immune health, minimizing your exposure to sick individuals, and washing your hands can help prevent you from coming into contact with strep bacteria and thus developing strep throat. (2)(5)(6)(9)
1. Focus on your immune health
Prevention is always key! There are a variety of ways that you can support your immune system every day in order to prevent strep infection, including:
2. Engage in regular physical activity
A variety of studies show that engaging in daily moderate exercise, like walking, can improve our overall immune health by improving our ability to fight off pathogens and reducing overall inflammation. (9)
3. Spend time outdoors
Being outdoors means you get natural vitamin D, which is important for your overall immune health. (5) One article that reviewed multiple studies, concluded that general exposure to greenspace has a positive link to our immune health. While the reasoning is not concrete, it’s theorized that it may have to do with increased physical activity, light exposure and diverse microorganisms in nature. (14)
4. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
We’ve all heard the saying “eat the rainbow”. It’s especially important for our overall immune health. A variety of studies, including clinical trials and observational studies, show that increased fruit and vegetable intake can reduce inflammation and enhance our immune system. (6)
5. Avoid individuals with strep throat
This one is easier said than done. Remember, strep throat is most common among children and youth, aged five to 15, and is spread mainly through coughing and sneezing. If you or a family member have strep throat, it’s best to stay home or limit contact to reduce transmission of strep bacteria.
6. Practice proper hygiene
Luckily, this practice has become more commonplace. A few key practices to remember include:
- Avoid sharing food or drinks with someone you suspect has strep throat.
- Stay home if you think you may have strep throat.
- Try to avoid touching your face.
- Use a tissue or cough/sneeze into your shirt or elbow.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to reduce the spread.
- Wipe down surfaces that are common areas (i.e., computer keyboards). (2)
The bottom line
Prevention is key to reducing your chances of catching strep throat. This means practicing proper hygiene, getting outside, exercising, and consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables. For additional support, you may consider supplements like Vitamin C and elderberry to keep your immune system strong and fight against potential pathogens that may cause strep throat.
- Anjos, L. M., Marcondes, M. B., Lima, M. F., Mondelli, A. L., & Okoshi, M. P. (2014). Streptococcal acute pharyngitis. Revista da Sociedade Brasileira de Medicina Tropical, 47(4), 409–413.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Group A Streptococcal (GAS) Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/strep-throat.html
- Deruelle, F., & Baron, B. (2009, January 5). Vitamin C: is supplementation necessary for optimal health? Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 14(10), 1291–1298.
- Hemilä H. (2017). Vitamin C and Infections. Nutrients, 9(4), 339.
- Hewison, M. (2011). Vitamin D and immune function: An overview. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 71(1), 50–61.
- Hosseini, B., Berthon, B. S., Saedisomeolia, A., Starkey, M. R., Collison, A., Wark, P. A. B., & Wood, L. G. (2018). Effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on inflammatory biomarkers and immune cell populations: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108(1), 136–155.
- Ismael, N. F. (2013). Vinegar as anti-bacterial biofilm formed by streptococcus pyogenes isolated from recurrent tonsillitis patients , in vitro. Jordan Journal of Biological Sciences, 6(3), 191–197.
- Krawitz, C., Mraheil, M. A., Stein, M., Imirzalioglu, C., Domann, E., Pleschka, S., & Hain, T. (2011). Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 11(1), 16.
- Nieman, D. C. (2011). Moderate exercise improves immunity and decreases illness rates. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 5(4), 338–345.
- Pasupuleti, V. R., Sammugam, L., Ramesh, N., & Gan, S. H. (2017). Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological Actions and Health Benefits. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2017, 1259510.
- Rehman, A., Heinsen, F.-A., Koenen, M. E., Venema, K., Knecht, H., Hellmig, S., Schreiber, S., & Ott, S. J. (2012, March 27). Effects of probiotics and antibiotics on the intestinal homeostasis in a computer controlled model of the large intestine. BMC Microbiology, 12(47).
- Spinks, A., Glasziou, P. P., & Del Mar, C. B. (2013). Antibiotics for sore throat. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2013(11), CD000023.
- Tiralongo, E., Wee, S. S., & Lea, R. A. (2016, March 24). Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
- Twohig-Bennett, C., & Jones, A. (2018). The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes. Environmental Research, 166, 628–637.