Chestnuts Can Fight Off Dangerous Bacterial Infections

Did You Know…new research shows chestnuts can fight off dangerous bacterial infections, including MRSA?

A pioneering study just published in the journal PLOS ONE proved that the leaves of chestnuts can be used to disarm dangerous bacteria.  Better yet, this all-natural approach does not boost drug resistance!

The study was lead by Cassandra Quave.  Dr. Quave is on the faculty of Emory University’s Center for the Study of Human Health and Emory School of Medicine’s Department of Dermatology.  Quave specializes in ethnobotany, the study of the interactions between people and plants.  Traditional folk remedies inspired Quave and her colleagues to research chestnut leaves.


Plants Killing Pathogens
“I felt strongly that people who dismissed traditional healing plants as medicine because the plants don’t kill a pathogen were not asking the right questions,” said Quave.  “What if these plants play some other role in fighting a disease?” 

Eventually, Quave turned her attention toward the European chestnut tree, Castanea sativa.  Over the course of hundreds of field interviews, she heard again and again how a tea made from the leaves could be used as a skin wash to treat infections and inflammations.

Skin Infections: A Deadly Serious Health Concern 

Though initially superficial, skin infections can quickly become serious,an d even deadly.  One of the worst varieties is known as MRSA—methicillin-resistant S. aureus.  Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including MRSA, cause at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The outcome of MRSA infections ranges in severity from mild skin irritation to death.

When Quave teamed up with Alexander Horswill, a microbiologist at the University of Iowa, they discovered a family of compounds in the chestnut leaves that have a fascinating medicinal mechanism.  Their findings offer new ways to treat—and prevent—MRSA infections.


Defanging Dangerous Bacteria 

Rather than killing staph (which is the bacteria responsible for MRSA infections), the compounds in chestnut leaves shut off the bacteria’s ability to create toxins that cause tissue damage.  “In other words,” Quave said, “it takes the teeth out of the bacteria’s bite.”
Chestnut leaves do this by blocking quorum sensing (inter-bacteria communication).  When the quorum sensing system is disabled, the bacteria cannot manufacture the toxins necessary to attack the human body.

Quave and her colleagues found an extract of chestnut leaves could be used to “disarm” even the most aggressive strains of MRSA, which can cause life-threatening infections in otherwise-healthy athletes.  “At the same time, the extract doesn’t disturb the normal, health bacteria on human skin,” said Quave.  “It’s all about restoring balance.”

Tracking Down Sweet Chestnuts 

Quave and her cohort are currently working to refine the extract into a compound that could be eligible for FDA consideration as a therapeutic agent.  At present, there are few reputable sources of chestnut leaf extract.  If you do wish to try to track one down, keep in mind that the extract used for the study was made from European chestnuts (also called sweet chestnuts), not horse chestnuts.

The best option for those interested in using chestnut leaves for therapeutic purposes may be to make your own chestnut leaf infusion.  Internet research can lead you to expert instructions on how to do so.  In addition to treating skin infections, sweet chestnut leaves can alleviate…

  • Poor circulation
  • Muscle aches
  • Sclerosis
  • Stiff joints
  • Lower back pain

“It’s easy to dismiss traditional remedies as old wives’ tales, just because they don’t attack and kill pathogens,” Quave says.  “But there are many more ways to help.”