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Antibiotic Resistant Bugs Clobbered By Essential Oils

February 4, 2015

It’s such a new field of study that scientists say they “don’t know how it works…” It’s also such an alternative field of study that scientists aren’t sure how this works, but essential oils, herbal oils, help kill bacteria in a manner that approaches the effectiveness of antibiotics. It’s a well-known fact that farm animals in the US consume about 80% of the antibiotics used in this country. That means that only 20% of the antibiotics consumed are used by humans to treat infections. Bacteria are very very old organisms and have been found to be capable of becoming resistant to antibiotics, causing humans to suffer when our treatment options in hospitals run out. People still die from bacterial infections, as do animals.

These bacteria that are resistant to current antibiotics are called “superbugs,” and they have an ability to spread rapidly. Some advocates urge that antibiotics not be used on animals at all, to save antibiotics for human use. This isn’t a rational approach as sick animals can spread bacteria to people to make them sick; however, it’s the use of antibiotics to cause weight gains for meat markets, bypassing the need to feed an animal more, thereby saving on feed costs, that causes the most problems. The animals grown in feed lots are given antibiotics instead of food so that farmers won’t have to pay for feed and thereby make more money when selling animals by the pound for meat. It’s a gross idea that we are eating more antibiotics rather than feedstuff when consuming these animals, but that’s the idea behind it.

There is also the idea that these animals grown in feed lots are sicker, much sicker than pastured animals and therefore need antibiotics instead of food. Gross idea as well, any concept of trading animal feed for antibiotics; however, there is a way to treat infections in livestock without resorting to antibiotics: give the animals herbs or essential oils. In an article published in Business Insider, it makes more sense to give animals herbal extracts than it does antibiotics, and even though scientists aren’t sure how it works, it does work:

One of their studies, 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.

Other research, 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.”

It’s a promising finding, and it’s one that seems to be largely ignored so far by the pharmaceutical industry, which would most likely protest such findings. How much money does the pharmaceutical industry make from farm producers if farmers use 80% of the products big pharma manufactures? Big money is at stake here, and while flying under the radar keeps these studies from being retracted, it also prevents small family farmers from making use of what science has to offer, namely herbal medicine helping the small farmer more than big pharma does. It’s not a surprise, really, that giving birds plant extracts helps them recover from illness faster than feeding them antibiotics continuously; birds, after all, do consume a large number of plants naturally. If given the choice, chickens prefer fresh grass and greens to pelleted feed.

Use of herbal extracts formed the first type of medicine humans utilized. Cave men have been found to carry herbal remedies in their bags when their skeletons have been unearthed. Why would something so old, the use of herbal medicines, not be further investigated? Turns out other countries are way ahead of the US in investigating herbal medicines and have found essential oils to be extremely helpful to humans:

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. coliStaphylococcus aureus (which causes staph infection), and other common types of bacteria.

Perhaps it’s time to look beyond big pharma and pay attention to some of the elements of nature that kept the human race alive for thousands of years. These kinds of studies haven’t been paid for by big pharma, but they are necessary to helping to preserve human life, as doctors can attest.

“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.

One farmer who has successfully used an antibiotic-free approach says that the antibiotics are often used to compensate for a dirty environment. Again, antibiotics as compensation for failing to provide adequate feed and clean housing. But, here’s the kicker, the antibiotic-free regimen works:

“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.

“You can’t just introduce essential oils into a bad environment and expect magic — they don’t fix a screw-up,” he says. “But if you meet them halfway by doing things right, they will carry you across the finish line.” 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.

Fifty million chickens, sounds like enough to demonstrate that essential oils work. Finally, some hope in the fight against antibiotic resistant superbugs. Herbal extracts, the oldest form of medicine…no school like the old school.

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