Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Essential Oils Have Shown Effective Antibacterial Properties

"According to C. Norman Shealy, a Duke-educated neurosurgeon and author of The Healing Remedies Sourcebook: Over 1000 Natural Remedies to Prevent and Cure Common Ailments, it is possible for bacteria to become resistant to essential oils, but it’s unlikely because the oils contain hundreds more chemical compounds than antibiotic medications, making it difficult for bacteria to adapt to the oils."
Business Insider:
Essential oils are ultimately just plant extracts — and those are used in countless cleaning and personal-careproducts, and are the main ingredient in some pest-control products and some over-the-counter medications, like Vick’s VapoRub and some lice sprays.

They’re used in the food industry because of their preservative potency against food-borne pathogens — thanks to their antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.

Various oils have also been shown to effectively treat a wide range of common health issues such as nausea and migraines, and a rapidly growing body of research is finding that they are powerful enough to kill human cancer cells of the breast, colon, mouth, skin, and more.

A handful of promising, real-life studies have been conducted with humans and other animals, though most of the research in that realm thus far has been conducted in the lab. More controlled trials will be required before some of these applications will be available to the public, but meanwhile, scientists have turned up exciting results in another area of use: countering the growing antibiotic-resistance crisis.

Whether farmers choose to use it or not, there is a strong alternative on the horizon. Numerous recent studies — including several done by the USDA — have shown great promise in using essential oils as an alternative to antibiotics in livestock.

One of their studies, from a 2011 issue of BMC Proceedings, showed that adding a combination of plant extracts — from oregano, cinnamon, and chili peppers—actually changed the gene expression of treated chickens, resulting in weight gain as well as protection against an injected intestinal infection.

A 2010 study from Poultry Science produced similar findings with the use of extracts from turmeric, chili pepper, and shiitake mushrooms. A multi-year study is currently underway at the USDA that includes investigations into the use of citrus peels and essential oils as drug alternatives.

Researchers have also directly compared the effects of commonly used antibiotics with those of various essential oils. One such study, from the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Animal Science, found that rosemary and oregano oils resulted in the same amount of growth in chickens as the antibiotic avilamycin, and that the oils killed bacteria, too.

Additional findings have shown that essential oils help reduce salmonella in chickens, and another study found that a blend of several oils can limit the spread of salmonella among animals. One of the co-authors of that study, Dr. Charles Hofacre, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says it’s such a new area of research that they don’t yet know exactly how the essential oils work, but “there is some strong evidence that they are functioning by both an antibacterial action in the intestine and also some have an effect to stimulate the intestinal cells ability to recover from disease more quickly — either by local immunity or helping keep the intestinal cells themselves healthier.”

Of course, there is also a dire need for alternatives to antibiotics for the direct treatment of infections in humans and animals, not only for illness prevention and growth-boosting in livestock. Research investigating the use of essential oils in humans has produced encouraging results, but such studies have been small and surprisingly rare, especially given the demonstrated success of their use in livestock.

An Italian study found that a combination of thyme and clove essential oils was just as effective in treating bacterial vaginosis as the usual antibiotic treatment, and results of a study by U.S. researchers show that staph-infected wounds healed faster when they were treated with vapors of tea-tree oil than with conventional methods.

Research published in December 2013 reported that a hand gel made with lemongrass oil was effective in reducing MRSA on the skin of human volunteers, and previous research has shown that a cleanser made with tea-tree oil clears MRSA from the skin as effectively as the standard treatments to which bacteria appear to be developing resistance. This type of simple, inexpensive fix — an essential-oil-based hand sanitizer — could be a major boost to hospitals, in particular, since MRSA infections are so common in healthcare settings.

In the lab, scientists have been testing all kinds of combinations of essential oils and antibiotics, and they’re repeatedly finding that the oils — used on their own and in combination with some common antibiotics — can fight numerous pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus (which causes staph infection), and other common types of bacteria.

Results consistently show that combining essential oils and antibiotics significantly lowers the amount of antibiotic required to do the job. For example, two recent studies showed that lavender and cinnamon essential oils killed E. coli, and when combined with the antibiotic piperacillin, the oils reversed the resistance of the E. coli bacteria to the antibiotic.

Another recent study found that basil oil and rosemary oil were both effective in inhibiting the growth of 60 strains of E. coli retrieved from hospital patients. Other research has produced similar results for many other essential oils, both alone and in combination with antibiotics. Researchers believe that one mechanism by which the oils work is by weakening the cell wall of resistant bacteria, thereby damaging or killing the cells while also allowing the antibiotic in.

“Such investment is not likely to come from the mainstream pharmaceutical industry, which has not placed much emphasis on antibiotic development for a number of reasons, including the excessive cost in bringing a single drug to market without a commensurate return,” says Dr. Nicole M. Parrish, associate professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and associate director of medical mycobacteriology at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, who co-authored a recent review on the potential use of essential oils as alternatives or supplements to antibiotics.

She says the situation is urgent: When she and her colleagues perform testing to determine the appropriate medication for a patient, they often find that there are no longer any effective antibiotics in existence to treat the bacteria in question.

“We feel helpless in the face of this growing threat, and the answer as to why we have not made more progress on this front is simple: economics. Unfortunately, the 'specter' of monetary gain overshadows the perspective from 'the trenches.'”

She says that essential oils contain some of the most potent antimicrobial compounds available, and that furthering our understanding of them may lead to the development of entirely new classes of drugs. “Let us all hope the prevailing wind changes to move this field of research forward,” she says.

Gay explains that “phytonutrients” or “phytochemicals” are chemical compounds derived from plants that have a range of health benefits, “including promoting tumor killing and increased resistance to infectious diseases, and they have been used as health-promoting agents by many cultures for several millennia.”

Their potency isn’t surprising when you consider that the plant compounds that make up essential oils exist in the first place to help plants protect themselves from infection, endure temperature variations, heal from damage, and repel pests.

Still, skepticism is likely in a culture like ours that is used to lab-created synthetic medicines (not to mention the bad reputation essential oils may have gained from being frequently touted as miracle cures for everything), even though some of our most important and common pharmaceuticals originated from plants.

For example, aspirin is derived from willow bark, though the key compound is now synthesized by manufacturers; the treatment for malaria (still used today) is derived from fever-tree bark; morphine is derived from the poppy plant; the cancer-fighting drug paclitaxel was initially derived from the bark of the Pacific yew tree; and many cold and cough medicines and muscle-relief creams have mint extract as the main ingredient. Even a newly developed Ebola treatment hinges on the use of tobacco plants.


Other USDA research, published in October 2014 in the journal Poultry Science, found that chickens who consumed feed with added oregano oil had a 59 percent lower mortality rate due to ascites, a common infection in poultry, than untreated chickens.

Back on the farms, some are already putting essential oils into practice. “There are a number of companies that are currently selling plant extracts as feed additive, and large integrated producers are also adding feed additives to their rations to enhance the health of animals, especially their intestinal health, during their production cycle,” Gay says.

No one seems willing to readily offer that information, though — and they don’t have to. One farmer who has talked publicly about using essential oils is Scott Sechler, owner of Bell & Evans Farms, a high-end producer of antibiotic-free poultry.

Back in 2012, he told the New York Times about his use of oregano oil and cinnamon to fight infection on his farms, which now number about 140 with a total of 9 million chickens at any given time. Though he says the approach worked better than all other options he had tried, he still told the Times, “I have worried a bit about how I’m going to sound talking about this,” adding, “But I really do think we’re on to something here.”

“We started with a breed of chicken that wasn’t raised to be stressed and overfed and to live in sanitary conditions,” he says. They also feed the chickens high-quality grains enhanced with essential oils, and they avoid the use of toxic chemicals like hexane, which is commonly used by other farmers in processing their feed. “With our chicken breed, housing environment, and feeding program, we’re able to promote healthy gut bacteria — we use oregano oil to kill the bad bacteria and cinnamon oil to support the good bacteria.”

He says his model works for him because he’s not trying to correct a problem that’s already out of control. Some farmers need more powerful weapons because they’re trying to compensate for ongoing problems caused by improper cleaning practices and unsanitary living conditions.

They might put baby chickens on the remnants of manure from previous flocks because they don’t properly clean out the barn first, and then they may use chlorine to wash the processed chickens. Whatever bacteria (and antibiotics) that aren’t left at the chicken plant end up on plates. On Sechler’s farms, he says he doesn’t allow these problems to get out of hand in the first place. People warned him that the bacteria would become resistant to the essential oils, too, but they haven’t yet, and his farms processed over 50 million chickens last year.

Adopting healthier practices may cost a penny or nickel more per pound, which could affect stock prices of the big poultry producers. Sechler, whose company is not publicly traded, says he has been fortunate to have a loyal and ever-growing customer base that is willing to pay a bit more for better quality.

More information:
» BBC: "What does rosemary do to your brain?"
» Mercola: "How Essential Oils Can Help Improve Your Life"

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