Medical researchers in India studied a range of herbs for their antibiotic properties in challenging clinical situations. They chose a research population of patients undergoing treatment for oral cancers. The cancer treatment results in impairment of the immune system (not exactly an ideal outcome for anyone, much less for cancer patients, but that is another matter), making patients highly susceptible to infections which are difficult to treat.

Infections in immunosuppressed patients can result in life-threatening secondary infections from bacteria and fungi, especially since bacteria, like Staphylococcus aureus for example, are becoming multi-drug resistant (the so termed MRSA infections). Thus, researchers from Rohtak, India, tested extracts from several plants used in traditional or folk medicine against microbials found in the mouths of oral cancer patients.

Of the 40 patients involved in the study, 35 had compromised immune systems with severely reduced white cell counts. Eight of the plants tested were able to significantly affect the growth of organisms collected by oral swab, and pure cultures of bacteria and fungi grown in the lab. This included wild asparagus, desert date, false daisy, curry tree, caster oil plant and fenugreek.

Dr Jaya Parkash Yadav said, “Natural medicines are increasingly important in treating disease and traditional knowledge provides a starting point in the search for plant-based medicines. Importantly we found that the extraction process had a huge effect on both the specificity and efficacy of the plant extracts against microbes. Nevertheless several of the plants tested were broad spectrum antibiotics able to combat bacteria including E. coli, S. aureus and the fungi Candida and Aspergillus. Both desert date and caster oil plant were especially able to target bacteria, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which are known to be difficult to treat with conventional antibiotics.”

Dr Yadav also stated that, “Although the plants tested had a lower potency than conventional antibiotics they offer hope against resistant species. These results are a starting point for further testing in the lab and clinic.”

The research will be published as follows:

Manju Panghal, Vivek Kaushal and Jaya Parkash Yadav, In vitro antimicrobial activity of ten medicinal plants against clinical isolates of oral cancer cases, Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials (in press).

Readers may also be interested in an earlier article: Natural Antibiotics


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