My mother often speaks of the father that she adored. A man that I never met. He died long before I was born, of tuberculosis (TB). Only a short time before the release of the antibiotics that his family believed could have cured his disease.
In fact, the discovery of antibiotics heralded an era in which people in the developed world lost their fear of bacterial infections. Indeed, when I was offered a TB vaccination at school, my mother said we should decline as TB was now curable. Yet, in this recently published expert review, researchers describe a new situation, where modern drugs are losing their ability to protect us from disease, and new solutions must be found. Herbal medicines are one area of intense research for potential remedies.
Though people have used herbal medicines for thousands of years, their popularity fell into decline when antibiotic use began. Most people believed that the use of antibiotics and vaccinations meant that life-threatening infections would soon be a thing of the past. They could forget about the traditional remedies their parents and grandparents had relied upon.
Yet, bacteria can quickly adapt to their environment. For instance, becoming resistant to medication. In fact, scientists found penicillin resistant strains soon after that first antibiotic was used. And, the pharmaceutical companies have been trying to stay one step ahead ever since.
Now scientists are struggling to find newer and stronger drugs to combat drug-resistant bacteria. In fact, antibiotic resistance is considered the most pressing global public health problem of our time.
What’s more, it is likely that any new antibiotic drug that is developed, is likely to be kept in reserve, rather than used. This, in the hope that bacterial resistance can be delayed. This potentially means less revenue for drug companies. In fact, in order to encourage continued research, experts predict that World governments may need to negotiate payments to drug manufacturers for not using these newer drugs.
On the other hand, science is once again looking at plant based medicines. These remedies have long been used to combat infections. Yet, researchers suggest that based on in vitro experiments, it is highly unlikely that microbes will become resistant to these medicinal plants. This is most likely because medicinal plants contain several therapeutic compounds. Each potentially acting in a different way. This makes it much more difficult for a microbe to adapt and create resistance.
Plants produce these phytochemicals to protect themselves from microbial infection, and humans learned to take advantage of their medicinal power. Though the review mentions just a few herbal medicines or herbal based products, there are many herbal medicines with antimicrobial activity.
The plant chemicals; terpenoids, phenolics and alkaloids, are examples of the biologically active constituents that help to provide effective protection against microbial infection. What’s more, their broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity means that these herbal medicines can often protect against bacteria, viruses, fungi and/or protozoa.
In addition to direct anti microbial activity, many herbal remedies also stimulate or regulate the body’s immune system, in effect boosting resistance to infections. In fact, considering the benefits the herbal medicines provide, the experts conclude that herbal medicines, or products derived from them could be the best weapon to win the war against multi-drug resistant microorganisms.
The modern world is entirely different to that of a hundred years ago. Global travel means infections can spread quickly across continents. On the other hand, it means that we have access to herbal medicines from around the globe. In Herbal Medicine Week 2018, let’s not forget that professional herbalists have years of training in the use of herbal medicines. And herbal medicines have a lot to offer in the treatment of microbial infections.
You might also like: