Around the globe, experts are sounding the alarms about antibiotic resistance—that is, when antibiotics that used to save lives are no longer effective against the bacteria they once killed with ease since their lifesaving introduction in 1929. Antibiotic resistance results mainly from overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock, and it is expected to reach crisis proportions in 2017.
We’ve reported previously on various natural foods and supplements that work against bacteria and the illnesses they cause. Now, an exciting new study suggests that an extract from maple syrup may actually boost the effectiveness of antibiotics—including against superbugs—while minimizing their side effects.
The Frightening Rise of the Superbugs
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2 million people in the United States are infected with antibiotic resistant superbugs each year—and more than 23,000 die from those infections or related complications.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also warn against the dangers of developing resilient forms of gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and staph infections as a result of over-prescribing or misusing antibiotics. The NIH caution that antibiotics kill a lot of the “good” bacteria that are responsible for keeping the human body healthy and immune to infections.
New Study Offers Promising Results
Because the threat of superbugs is worsening so steadily, this latest study from McGill University in Quebec, Canada is especially exciting. The study was conducted by a team researchers led by Nathalie Tufenkji, Ph.D., who set out to see how a natural extract from maple syrup would affect the potency of antibiotics.
Tufejkji explains that native populations in Canada have long used maple syrup to fight infections. “I have always been interested in the science behind these folk medicines,” Tufenkji says. His interest in examining maple syrup extract arose while he was probing similar hypotheses with cranberry extracts.
The research team ultimately found that maple syrup extract may drastically improve the effects of antibiotics without worsening side effects in any way. The team presented their results at the American Chemical Society’s 253rd National Meeting & Exposition in San Francisco, California.
Slashed the Required Dosage of Antibiotic by 90%
For the study, Tufenkji and his team separated the sugar and water are separated from the phenolic compounds of the syrup (a common extraction method). Interestingly, phenols are a considered a toxic compound that provide maple syrup with its golden color while acting as disinfectants.
Maple syrup extract was tested in combination with two common antibiotics: antibiotics ciprofloxacin and carbenicillin. They were especially interested in the combination treatment’s ability to destroy biofilms (biofilms are a thin layer of often resistant bacteria common in severe infections). The team observed that the two substances clearly worked together to create a synergistic, destructive effect on biofilms. How synergistic and destructive was the combo? Very! Using the drug and maple syrup extract together, researchers achieved the same antimicrobial effect with 97% less antibiotic.
These dramatic results were seen against several strains of bacteria:
- Escherichia coli (which can cause UTIs, gastrointestinal problems, or even respiratory illness)
- Proteus mirabilis (which is also responsible for many UTIs)
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa (which affects hospitalized patients and people with a weakened immune system)
The team says their findings indicate that maple syrup extract “can be used as an antibiotic synergizer/potentiator for treatment of different types of bacterial infections” and that the proposed synergism-based treatment “may expand the spectrum of existing antimicrobials, prevent the emergence of resistant strains, and minimize potential cytotoxicity due to high antibiotic doses.”
Imagining a Widely Available Plant-Based Medicine in the Future
The team also examined their combination treatment’s effects with fruit flies and moth larvae. Fruit flies that consumed meals soaked in maple syrup extract lived for several additional days compared with their syrup-free counterparts.
The scientists are now testing the effects of maple syrup extract on mice, and they hope that one day the extract will be turned into a widely available, plant-based medicine.