Research Roundup 7 - natural answers for antibiotic resistant infections

The danger of MRSA and the promise of effective natural treatments.
Nancy Scanlan, DVM

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is increasingly in the news. One cause has been over-use of antibiotics, especially of sub-clinical doses that do not completely kill the infection. Because of that, low levels of antibiotics are being phased out of animal feed. But people who do not take the proper amount of antibiotics contribute to the problem, and bacteria can trade resistant genes with each other, which causes even more problems.

A number of natural treatments have been explored for possible use in MRSA infections. Most of them have been studied for use in wounds, although some have been studied for internal use. Much of the study has used extracts of various herbs or oils, testing them the same way that bacteria are tested with various antibiotics to see which antibiotic is the best one to give. (This is known as a culture and sensitivity test.) With antibiotics, the amount has been correlated with the proper dose by mouth and so the test is valid for medication taken by mouth as well as for skin infections. Unfortunately, this information is less common for natural medicines, and so this type of study is not as helpful for internal infections. However there are several studies that showed effectiveness of some natural substances in MRSA infections in humans, and one in mice.

First of all, there is a definite advantage to giving both a prebiotic and a probiotic if your pet has an intestinal infection (even if it isn’t MRSA). While a probiotic worked pretty well, a combination of prebiotic and probiotic was the only thing that completely protected against intestinal MRSA infections.

For a middle ear infection that was resistant to regular antibiotics, a bacteriophage treatment was tried. (Bacteriophages are parasites on bacteria.) That helped a little bit but it wasn’t until lactoferrin was added (taken by mouth) that the infection cleared up. Lactoferrin comes from milk.

Grapefruit seeds (not their extract) were used to help people with urinary tract infections that were resistant to bacteria. Not only did they decrease the number of bacteria, they also reversed the resistance of the bacteria, so that antibiotics started working again.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy improved the action of antibiotics in MRSA infections in the mediastinum (a membrane present in the chest).

Curcumin was shown to be effective against MRSA. So were some other herbs, including Areca catechu L., Oryza sativa L., and Garcinia mangostana L. These tests were the “culture and sensitivity” type, so while they definitely have application for wounds, it is not yet clear if they can work as well taken internally. Tea tree oil as the oil, a cream, and a body wash, has also shown anti-MRSA effect. Most people are also aware of the power of manuka honey to help heal wounds, and part of the reason is its anti-MRSA effect.

The essential oils Eucalyptus, Tea tree, Thyme white, Lavender, Lemon, Lemongrass, Cinnamon, Grapefruit, Clove Bud, Sandalwood, Peppermint, Kunzea and Sage oils have all shown antibacterial effect against MRSA and other hospital-acquired infections. In one study, the best effects were shown by Thyme white, Lemon, Lemongrass and Cinnamon oil.

Finally, in humans, patients with MRSA infections were more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency than people with other types of infection.

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