Up to half the pathogens that cause surgery-related infections and a quarter of those that cause infections after cancer chemotherapy are resistant to antibiotics.
These drug-resistant bacteria kill 700,000 people annually across the globe. This number is expected to skyrocket in the years ahead, creating a death toll of 10 million by the year 2050.
This disturbing forecast led some researchers in the United Kingdom to investigate the efficacy of treatments used long ago, which they dubbed “ancientbiotics.”
One such remedy turned out to be highly effective.
In view of the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, researchers at the University of Warwick in England formed a multi-disciplinary group to investigate ancient remedies.
In a 10th century medical book researchers found a remedy called Bald’sLeechbrook, which was described as a salve for eye infections.
The team reconstructed this thousand-year-old remedy, which required garlic (allium sativum) and an equal amount of another allium species known in Old English as cropleac. Since the team didn’t know what this term referred to, they used both onion and leek separately in the recipe, testing both of these allium family plants.
Researchers crushed these plants together and mixed them with equal volumes of wine and ox gall– bovine bile– just as the recipe instructed. Then, the real tests began.
How Do Superbugs Become so “Super?”
Bacteria are all different, but how they grow is almost always the same. They can live as either single free-floating cells described as planktonic or in a multicellular form called biofilm. The latter produces a strong protective coating which blocks antibiotics from penetrating the bacteria. Since we’re inspired by the Middle Ages here, think of it as a moat around each tiny bacterium!
Biofilms of bacteria are very difficult to treat, requiring up to a thousand times higher concentration of antibiotic to clear the infection compared to bacteria that grow planktonically. Sometimes, biofilms of bacteria may be impossible to treat with antibiotics, whatever the dose.
Bald’sLeechbrook Beats Superbugs
The scientists first tested Bald’sLeechbrook in planktonic cultures, on a range of dangerous bacteria that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics. These bacterial species cause infections in the lungs, skin, throat, wounds in combat troops, surgical wounds, and infections linked to devices such as catheters and artificial joints.
The remedy successfully eradicated almost all of them.
Now for the bigger test — using the same pathogens but this time grown as antibiotic resistant biofilms. Many of these species are found as biofilms in untreatable diabetic foot and leg ulcers which result in over 80,000 amputations in the United States each year.
To make the test realistic, the ancientbiotics research team created a model of a soft-tissue biofilm wound and treated it with the same batches of Bald’sLeechbrook used for the planktonic killing experiments.
The researchers discovered that the remedy was able to “completely eradicate” three of the species and significantly reduce viable cell counts in two others, including the superbug MRSA.
A member of the research team, Dr. Freya Harrison, explained, “We have shown that a medieval remedy made from onion, garlic, wine, and bile can kill a range of problematic bacteria grown both planktonically and as biofilms.
“Because the mixture did not cause much damage to human cells in the lab, or to mice, we could potentially develop a safe and effective antibacterial treatment from the remedy.”
Dr. Harrison went on to say that, in this study, the whole plant turned out to be stronger than its isolated parts.
Synergy is the Key
When the ancientbiotics team of scientists tested each ingredient in the Bald’sLeechbrook recipe, no single ingredient worked as well as all four together. Their work proved the importance of synergy.
They wrote that it “requires the combination of all ingredients for potent activity [and that] viewing natural products in this way has the potential to open a vast new source of antimicrobials…”
Dr. Harrison added, “In this first instance, we think this combination could suggest new treatments for infected wounds, such as diabetic foot and leg ulcers.”
Natural healers understand the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; the ingredients work together on different aspects of biology to create a better outcome for the patient. That’s why in the practice of natural medicine, combinations of whole plants, herbs, or nutrients are usually prescribed.
Conventional medicine, on the other hand, seeks to isolate a single “active” compound from a plant to make a drug and then patent it to make a mint. This is why, in many cases, natural remedies are more effective than prescription drugs at healing what ails you.
This new research just piles on more proof that conventional medicine can learn a thing or two from ancient healers and their “ancientbiotics.”