What is antibiotic resistance and how do herbs help?

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When I was last in London I went to a conference that addressed the issue of antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). So I thought I would share what I learnt with all of you.

First of all, lets look at what the word ‘antibiotics’ means to us these days. It is commonly used as a noun but, it is actually more of a verb. Anti- is rooted in the meaning against and -biotic refers to life. Therefore, its action is to wipe out/destroy/inhibit a broad spectrum of life (bacteria and fungi in this case) through various means. This is different to actions commonly given to herbs such as antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral, which are more specific.
Secondly, it is important to note that antimicrobial resistance is not a topic for “Alarmists” or “Quacks”. It is a topic addressed by the World Health Organisation. They currently predict that by 2050 there will be 10 million deaths per year due to antimicrobial resistance. They have also said that
“Without urgent, coordinated action the world is head for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill”. (WHO, 2014)
According to Michael McIntyre (the herbal practitioner, not the comedian!) AMR is caused by Natural Selection, Mutation, Horizontal gene transfer, Misuse of antibiotics, Hospital borne infections and Agricultural/Veterinary use. (You can find out more on each topic online… I didn’t want to bore non-nerdy readers to death.)
Many of these factors can be alleviated by a change in peoples actions and through the use of herbal medicine. According to Dr. Christopher Etheridge there are 8 main antibacterial mechanisms through which herbs act:

  • Inhibition of bacterial cell wall synthesis
  • Inhibition of translation (protein synthesis)
  • Alteration of cell membrane function
  • Inhibition of nucleic acid synthesis
  • Inhibition of type II topoisomerase
  • Anti-metabolic activity
  • Biofilm disruption
  • Adherence inhibiters (E.g. bacteria binding to the urethra in UTIs)

(Again, each of these topics will be online for further, personal research.) There’s no denying that herbs are less powerful than a blast of penicillin. However, with these antibacterial mechanisms doctors can combat common and non-life threatening infections through herbal remedies. People often ask what they might come to see me about…well this is an important starter. Laryngitis, tonsillitis, respiratory infections and mild UTIs can easily be treated without the use of antibiotics.

Not only do herbs have their own antimicrobial actions but they can also increase the efficacy of antibiotics, thus they combat AMR.
They do this by attacking the cell wall (E.g Carvacol from Cinnamomum zeylanicum) and allowing antibiotics to penetrate and destroy the bacteria. Herbs can also inhibit bacterial enzymes that deactivate antibiotics (E.g. epigallocatechin gallate from green tea). Bacteria contain an efflux pump on their cell walls that can pump antibiotics out of their cell. The flavonoid Baicalein present in Scutellaria baicalanensis can inhibit this pump and is already being given in combination with antibiotics in China. Herbs can stop quorum sensing (the mechanism by which bacteria signal to each other and create their defence mechanism in the form of a biofilm). These herbs include Andrographis paniculata, Gardenia and many more.

The flip side…
We focus so much on ways to kill bacteria that we have forgotten to focus on the root of the problem that lies within us. Namely, our immune system. Claude Bernard (1813-1878) said
“Diseases hover constantly around us, but they take root only when the terrain is primed against them.”
Max Josef von Pettenkofer (1818-1901) was a firm believer in this and took it one step further by drinking a vile of Cholera in front of an audience! He did not fall ill.
A healthy lifestyle is always the key, yet it is always neglected. Exercise is  also key to keep your blood properly moving around the body. With fresh blood comes healing and better function within every organ. Sleeping before 11pm is vital to keep your hormonal cycle and the release of Growth Hormone in balance. And, fruit and veg…need I say more? Herbal practitioners can also assist with poor immune systems through the use of herbs that have immune modulating or adaptogenic actions.
So, for some “in the kitchen” antimicrobials, I will leave you with this killer flu bomb recipe…
Garlic: 4 cloves crushed garlic
Ginger: a thumb of chopped ginger
Cayenne pepper: ¼ teaspoon
Lemon: the juice of 1/2 a lemon
Honey: 1 teaspoon of honey
Turmeric: ½ teaspoon
In half a glass of hot water and knock it back!

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