One of the most serious and intractible medical problems facing doctors today is that of antibiotic-resistant infectious microorganisms, the so-called “superbugs.” One example is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), now a common source of blood poisoning and infection in hospitals (see sidebar below). Other exampless of antibiotic-resistant infectious agents include Bacillus anthracis Sterne, virulent Escherichia coli, Klebsiela pneumoniae, Helicobacter pylori, and Mycobacterium terrae, viruses with lipid membranes, and a number of invasive fungi.
This problem has led to interest in researching the use of natural products to enhance the treatment of infectious disease, such as coconut oil and other oils rich in lauric acid as well as herbal remedies like originum oil, substances traditionally recognized for decades for their healing properties. While there have been many testimonies–so-called “anecdotes”–about the effectiveness of such natural treatments, until recently no published studies were available to doctors that would allow them to justify their use of these protocols.
Fortunately coconut oil and other lauric oils, as well as oregano oil, have recently been the object of study in the Georgetown University laboratory of Dr. Harry Preuss in the United States and this research has resulted in several published peer reviewed papers appearing in toxicology journals in 2005.
The antimicrobial properties of both volatile aromatic oils such as originum (oregano) oil and medium chain fatty acids such as lauric acid and its derivative monolaurin from coconut oil have shown promise in these studies. As noted by these researchers, origanum oil, used as a food-flavoring agent, possesses a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity due, at least in part, to its high content of phenolic derivatives such as carvacrol and thymol. Also, lauric acid, which is present in heavy concentrations in coconut oil, forms monolaurin in the animal body and this derivative of lauric acid can inhibit the growth of many pathogenic microorganisms.
Part of the research focused on Staphylococcus aureus. In vitro studies were performed on two strains of Staphylococcus aureus and this was followed by in vivo studies in mice. The effects of monolaurin and originum when used in combination were better than the most potent antibiotic and this research showed that these safe antimicrobial agents could be useful for prevention and therapy of Staphylococcus aureus and numerous other infections.
It is now clear and scientifically validated that the inclusion of coconut oil in the diet could and should be utilized for its preventive and healing properties.
Staphylococcus aureus (colloquially known as “Staph aureus”) is one of the major resistant pathogens. Found on the mucous membranes and the skin of around a third of the population, it is extremely adaptable to antibiotic pressure. It was the first bacterium in which penicillin resistance was found–in 1947, just four years after the drug started being mass-produced. Methicillin was then the antibiotic of choice. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) was first detected in Britain in 1961 and is now “quite common” in hospitals. MRSA was responsible for 37 percent of fatal cases of blood poisoning in the UK in 1999, up from 4 percent in 1991. Half of all S. aureus infections in the US are resistant to penicillin, methicillin, tetracycline and erythromycin.
This left vancomycin as the only effective agent available at the time. However, VRSA (Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) was first identified in Japan in 1997, and has since been found in hospitals in England, France and the US. VRSA is also termed GISA (glycopeptide intermediate Staphylococcus aureus) or VISA (vancomycin insensitive Staphylococcus aureus), indicating resistance to all glycopeptide antibiotics.
A new class of antibiotics, oxazolidinones, became available in the 1990s, and the first commercially available oxazolidinone, linezolid, is comparable to vancomycin in effectiveness against MRSA. Linezolid-resistance in Staphylococcus aureus was reported in 2003.
Enterococcus faecium is another superbug found in hospitals. Penicillin-Resistant Enterococcus was seen in 1983, Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus (VRE) in 1987, and Linezolid-Resistant Enterococcus (LRE) in the late 1990s.
Penicillin-resistant pneumonia (or pneumococcus, caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae) was first detected in 1967, as was penicillin-resistant gonorrhea. Resistance to penicillin substitutes is also known beyond S. aureus. By 1993 Escherichia coli was resistant to five fluoroquinolone variants. Mycobacterium tuberculosis is commonly resistant to isoniazid and rifampin and sometimes universally resistant to the common treatments. Other pathogens showing some resistance include Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Streptococci.
In November, 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an increasing number of Acinetobacter baumannii bloodstream infections in patients at military medical facilities in which service members injured in the Iraq/Kuwait region during military operations in Iraq and Afghanastan were treated. Most of these showed multidrug resistance (MRAB), with a few isolates resistant to all drugs tested (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antibiotic_resistance).
- Preuss HG, Echard B, Enig M, Brook I, Elliott TB. Minimum inhibitory concentrations of herbal essential oils and monolaurin for gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Molecular Cell Biochemistry. 2005;272:29-34.
- Preuss HG, Echard B, Dadgar A, Talpur N, Manohar V, Enig M, Bagchi D, Ingram C. Effects of Essential Oils and Monolaurin on Staphylococcus aureus: In Vitro and in Vivo Studies. Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods 2005;15:279-285.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2006.