By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE
Benifits of garlic go way beyond seasoning
Garlic lovers may soon have another reason to indulge in the pungent herb. New research shows that allicin, the active ingredient in garlic, may kill or inhibit the growth of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Bacteria are becoming resistant to conventional antibiotics at an alarming rate, and researchers across the world are scrambling to find new ways to treat and kill these dangerous microorganisms.
Two studies presented at the December 2001 Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) in Chicago suggest that medicines derived from natural garlic may provide a powerful new tool to combat these germs in the future.
Supporters of natural medicine have long hailed garlic as a health-promoting herb, with anecdotal reports and scattered studies suggesting that it may lower cholesterol, fight infections and have other healing benefits.
One problem with developing and testing garlic-based treatments, however, has been that allicin is naturally unstable and has a strong garlic odor.
Recent improvements in extraction and purification methods, however, have produced a natural form of allicin that is more stable and can be used in a variety of potential products, such as skin creams, soaps, and dietary supplements.
In the first study, British researchers tested the effects of allicin in both a liquid and a cream form against a common antibiotic-resistant strain of Staph bacteria called MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
The garlic preparations were tested in two strengths: a low concentration designed to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, and a high concentration thought to actually kill such bacteria.
More than 88 percent of the samples responded to both the high and low concentration garlic formulas.
The cream even showed higher levels of bacteria-fighting activity than some other commonly used antibiotic creams.
Another study presented at ICAAC found that an allicin solution was able to stop another powerful drug-resistant bacteria called VRE (vancomycin-resistant Entercoccus) from growing and spreading in laboratory tests.
It had a bacteriostatic (bacteria-inhibiting) effect. It did not reduce the number of germs enough to be called bactericidal (bacteria-killing). This is consistent with the findings that garlic has antibacterial properties against a wide variety of organisms.
Scientists are now investigating using garlic supplements to prevent the development of antibiotic-resistant infections.
Candidates might include people who have impaired immune systems or those entering the hospital, where antibiotic-resistant germs tend to congregate.
By giving these people garlic as a preventive, it might be possible to stop the infection from taking hold in the first place-rather than trying to use garlic to treat an infection that has already become out of control.
The first step is always colonization of the germs in the gut, so maybe this has the potential to prevent colonization.
These laboratory findings suggest there is great potential for garlic’s use as a microbe-fighting treatment, but human tests are needed before any recommendations can be made.
This article was originally published December 31, 2001 in The St. Tammany News.