Antibiotic Alternatives

garlic-goldensealLivestock and poultry live in such proximity to each other that they share more than food. They stand in it, they wallow in it, and they breathe it.  How does the farmer in the dell protect his animals from catching each other’s sicknesses and diseases?  From cattle to chickens, and probably even to farmed fish, antibiotics have been necessary evils, having resulted in tremendous increases in animal production and protection of human health.  (Hume. 2011)  It’s been a rare case when these drugs weren’t used.  Some factory farms that swore they were antibiotic free were later found to be in violation of the truth.  Primary care physicians prescribe antibiotics to satisfy their patients’ false beliefs that this class of drug will cure their common cold and remove symptoms of influenza.  (Smucny. 2000)  What’s wrong with this?  Antibiotic resistance is the concern, an issue that develops almost too quickly for science to keep ahead of the pathogens. (Hall. 2004)

Enter the alternatives—the natural antibiotics.

For a reason not yet identified, bacteria have a tough time becoming resistant to natural substances.  Maybe we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.  Because they are natural, these alternative antibiotics / antivirals cannot be patented.  They are dose-dependent, as well, meaning that you might need more of a substance than your twin brother or sister.  The bacteria we face today are the same ones we faced in past decades, but they don’t die at the hands of the miracle drugs that worked sixty years ago.  These potential killers have been found to fall at the hands of some pretty innocuous characters.  Here are a few.

Goldenseal, the most active compound of which is called berberine, is a supplement that reduces the ability of some streptococcus bacteria to adhere to epithelial cells, the covering of organs that compares to skin.  Berberine is bactericidal and bacteriostatic, killing and preventing bacterial multiplication.  (Sun. 1988)  (Amin. 1969)  In tests at California’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center at San Diego, staff discovered that goldenseal was able to increase antigen-specific immunoglobin (Ig) production, namely IgM, the immunoglobin that responds first to intrusion by pathogens in the bloodstream.  In combination with echinacea (angustifolia), an augmentation of IgG response was noted, thus making invaders subject to destruction by macrophages.  (Rehman. 1999)

Essential oils and extracts from plants have been recognized as being antimicrobial for many years.  They haven’t been studied extensively because there is little profit in substances that can’t be patented.  Pharmaceutical companies have major dollars available for research, but not for anything that grows in your yard.  In 1999, the University of Western Australia pulled out all the stops and investigated more than fifty plant oils and extracts for their efficacy as antimicrobial agents.  No less than ten common bacteria strains fell prey to oils lemongrass, oregano, and bay, including E. coli, Candida albicans, Staphylococcus aureus, and two pneumonia bacteria.  The remaining oils and extracts showed variable activity, but the notion of using plant oils as pharmaceutical agents was supported.  (Hammer. 1999)  A year later, in the UK, Scots found that “volatile oils exhibited considerable inhibitory effects against all the organisms under test…” (Dorman. 2000)

A perpetual favorite, garlic is one of the better-known and more frequently enlisted of the antiviral compounds.  One of the neatest stories about this plant is that the crooks who wandered Europe during the Black Death rampage of the 14th century survived the plague only because garlic was a mainstay of their diets.  At the end of the last century it was ascertained effective against E.coli in work conducted at Hirosaki University in Japan.  (Sasaki. 1999)   Fresh garlic was used in those tests and in earlier American studies at Brigham Young University, where garlic thiosulfates demonstrated virucidal properties against every strain of virus tested. (Weber. 1992)  Even MRSA is controllable with garlic given at twelve-hour intervals.  (Tsao.  2007)  This seems too simple.

Staphylococcus aureus, the villain of MRSA fame, succumbed to just the vapors exuded by a combined grapefruit seed extract and geranium oil extract in experiments done with burn dressings at a British hospital in 2004. (Edwards-Jones. 2004)  Studies on echinacea are fraught with controversy because of inconsistencies in methodology.  The plant responds to variations in cultivation factors that include weather, soil type, irrigation, fertilizers, and more.  The species and the parts of the plant used, and processing measures, make a difference in outcomes.  Generally, echinacea is better at prevention than cure, although it may relieve the common cold a few days sooner. (Schulten. 2001)  Used for respiratory infections, it may have no benefit at all. (Barrett. 1999)  Maybe a positive expectation makes a difference.  Whatever message you take home from this, don’t ask your doctor for an antibiotic to treat your runny nose, sore throat and fever.

References

MAIN ABSTRACTS
Hume ME.
Historic perspective: Prebiotics, probiotics, and other alternatives to antibiotics.
Poult Sci. 2011 Nov;90(11):2663-9.

Smucny J, Fahey T, Becker L, Glazier R, McIsaac W.
Antibiotics for acute bronchitis.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(4):CD000245.

Barry G. Hall
Predicting the evolution of antibiotic resistance genes
Nature Reviews Microbiology 2, 430-435 (May 2004)

SUPPORTING ABSTRACTS
Sun D, Courtney HS, Beachey EH.
Berberine sulfate blocks adherence of Streptococcus pyogenes to epithelial cells, fibronectin, and hexadecane.
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Amin AH, Subbaiah TV, Abbasi KM.
Berberine sulfate: antimicrobial activity, bioassay, and mode of action.
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Rehman J, Dillow JM, Carter SM, Chou J, Le B, Maisel AS.
Increased production of antigen-specific immunoglobulins G and M following in vivo treatment with the medicinal plants Echinacea angustifolia and Hydrastis canadensis
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Hammer KA, Carson CF, Riley TV.
Antimicrobial activity of essential oils and other plant extracts.
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Dorman HJ, Deans SG.
Antimicrobial agents from plants: antibacterial activity of plant volatile oils.
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Sasaki J, Kita T, Ishita K, Uchisawa H, Matsue H.
Antibacterial activity of garlic powder against Escherichia coli O-157.
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Tsao SM, Liu WH, Yin MC.
Two diallyl sulphides derived from garlic inhibit meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection in diabetic mice.
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Weber ND, Andersen DO, North JA, Murray BK, Lawson LD, Hughes BG.
In vitro virucidal effects of Allium sativum (garlic) extract and compounds
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Edwards-Jones V, Buck R, Shawcross SG, Dawson MM, Dunn K.
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Barrett BP, Brown RL, Locken K, Maberry R, Bobula JA, D’Alessio D.
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Schulten B, Bulitta M, Ballering-Brühl B, Köster U, Schäfer M.
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Barrett B, Vohmann M, Calabrese C.
Echinacea for upper respiratory infection.
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Blaser M.
Antibiotic overuse: Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria.
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Arnold SR, Straus SE.
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Zenner D, Shetty N.
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Linder JA, Huang ES, Steinman MA, Gonzales R, Stafford RS.
Fluoroquinolone prescribing in the United States: 1995 to 2002.
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Smucny J, Fahey T, Becker L, Glazier R, McIsaac W.
Antibiotics for acute bronchitis.
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Hueston WJ.
Antibiotics: neither cost effective nor ‘cough’ effective
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Neuhauser MM, Weinstein RA, Rydman R, Danziger LH, Karam G, Quinn JP.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

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