Goodbye to Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
Mastic Plus New Phytonutrients
for Improved Gastrointestinal Health
by Will Block
oodborne illnesses affect tens of millions of Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The consequences are grim, with as many as 5000 deaths, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 76 million cases of gastrointestinal illness reported each year in the United States.1 In what officials call a new picture of the devastation of foodborne disease, the CDC has found fewer deaths than previously estimated, but far more illnesses. Each year, approximately one out of every four Americans falls prey to a foodborne illness.
Foodborne illnesses are not new to the world. In fact, they have been the rule rather than the exception throughout history. There are many variables contributing to food contamination, including the safety of the water supply, waste disposal, and personal hygiene. The overriding problem is the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria that are immune to medicine's best antibiotics. More virulent populations of bacteria make infections more difficult to treat, requiring newer, stronger antibiotics - and so the cycle keeps repeating.
Antibiotic resistance is growing, warn medical experts who have seen the writing on the wall.1 Alarm is growing at hospitals across the nation, where the potency of even the antibiotic of last choice, vancomycin, has been greatly diminished (see Figure 1). Many antibiotics commonly prescribed for respiratory tract infections are losing their effectiveness, according to researchers who have been tracking the medical statistics. Dr. Ronald Jones, a leading investigator in a program called Sentry, at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, is alarmed that antibiotic resistance of the organism Pneumococcus, a common cause of respiratory tract infections, has jumped from 4% to nearly 40% in less than 20 years.
Figure 1.Overwhelming all defenses. Percentage of hospital-acquired enterococcal bacteria reported as resistant to vancomycin (the antibiotic of last resort). Enterococcus faecium is the third leading cause of bloodstream infections that are now running rampant in hospitals, owing to antibiotic resistance.
Jones is urging caution in the use of antibiotics, for patients as well as doctors. Many patients insist on antibiotics when they aren't needed or would not even be effective, such as for a viral infection, and too many doctors go along, even though they should know better. It is estimated that up to 50% of all antibiotics prescribed are for conditions for which they have no value. About 2/3 of all complaints in a doctor's office relate to the respiratory tract, and this, according to Jones, is where resistance is growing most rapidly. He has appealed for an emergency approach that focuses on education, surveillance, and new research. Just 11 years ago, e.g., ciprofloxacin was effective against most major pathogens. Now more than 10% of organisms are resistant. One of the problems with some of the older antibiotics is that they promote mutations in microorganisms, making them stronger, so resistance develops quickly.
It is interesting, but predictable, that in countries where antibiotics are available over the counter, resistance is even higher than in the United States. In Mexico, for example, bacterial resistance to penicillin is 60%, vs. only 35% north of the border.
REGIONAL SOLUTIONS TO BACTERIALLY SPREAD DISEASE
One possible solution to the problem is to use more spices, for their antibacterial properties. Throughout history, spices have been used in food preparation worldwide, although their use has differed considerably among cultures and countries. Two researchers, Billing and Sherman, analyzed the data on the frequency of use of 43 spices in the meat-based cuisines of the 36 countries for which they could locate traditional cookbooks.3 They also looked at the temperature and precipitation statistics in each country, the range of available spice plants, and the antibacterial properties of each spice.
The researchers found that many spices do inhibit or kill microorganisms that cause food spoilage and that there was a positive correlation between the use of spices in food preparation and average annual temperature. The traditional view - that spices provide no medical benefits, but are used only to provide macronutrients, to disguise the taste and smell of spoiled foods, or increase perspiration and thus evaporative cooling - was not supported by the evidence. Billing and Sherman believed that the ultimate reason for spice use was, in fact, to help cleanse foods of pathogens and thereby to contribute to the health, longevity, and reproductive success of people who find their flavors enjoyable. When they tallied the amount of spices used in the typical recipe, 0.25 to 3 grams per kilogram of food, they found that it tended to fall within a range "sufficient to yield useful antibacterial effects."
SPICES MAKE FOOD SAFER
The food-poisoning rates in Japan and Korea are different. In Japan, there were 30 incidents of food poisoning for every 100,000 diners between 1971 and 1990. In Korea during the same period, the incidence was only 3 out of 100,000, or 10% of Japan's rate. Although the two countries have similar climates, Koreans eat their food spicier. In fact, for every two potent antimicrobial spices in Japanese recipes, there are three in Korean recipes, or 50% more. These data seem to bear out the argument made by Billing and Sherman, who state, "The estimated proportion of foodborne bacteria inhibited by an average recipe is significantly higher in Korean (51%) than Japanese cuisine (12%)."
THE NEW WORLD OF SPICES
The discovery of America was the accidental result of the search for spices. Christopher Columbus was quite knowledgeable about medicines, since he supplemented his readings with trips to famous regional pharmacies.4 Having visited the Greek archipelago, including the Isle of Chios, he knew that the concept of disease-preventing spices encompassed more than just the flowers and seeds of small plants. It could also entail the roots, leaves, bark, and even the sap, of trees. One tree, in particular, had been cultivated to produce a highly antibacterial sap that was believed to be more curative and thus more valuable than all the other "spices," and that was the mastic tree, Pistacia lentiscus.
As proof of his belief in mastic sap, Columbus wrote several letters upon his return from his first voyage to America, one to Luis De Sant Angel, Treasurer of Aragon, announcing his discovery of mastic in the New World:
To speak, in conclusion, only of what has been done during this hurried voyage, their Highnesses [Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain] will see that I can give them as much gold as they desire, if they will give me a little assistance, spices, cotton, as much as their Highnesses may command to be shipped, and mastic as much as their Highnesses choose to send for, which until now has only been found in Greece, in the isle of Chios, and the Signoria can get her own price for it.5
THE POWER OF MASTIC
Columbus thought, as presumably many botanical pharmacists did, that mastic could cure cholera, and other ailments as well. So to encourage sightings after landing in the New World, he offered a reward to the sailor who first located mastic. What Columbus found, however, was not mastic - to this day it is cultivated successfully only on Chios - but gumbo-limbo, or turpentine tree (Bursera simaruba). Columbus was told (in sign language) by the natives that gumbo-limbo - which exudes a resin that bears a striking resemblance to the real mastic sap and, like it, has a turpentine-like taste - was "good for a stomach ache." Since mastic was beneficial for the gastrointestinal tract, it is no wonder that in his rush to identify "mastic," he mistook gumbo-limbo for the real thing.
In the centuries before and after Columbus, so powerful was the mystique of mastic (also know as mastiche) that some believed it could even cure the plague (see Discovering Antibacterial Mastic - Page 1 - April 1999, Explorer Columbus - April 1999, and Goodbye Pylori - March 1999). In an article in the journal Lloydia, J. L. Hartwell cites hundreds of historical references, including materia medicas, natural histories, medical treatises, medieval pharmacopoeias, clinical reports, and Egyptian medical papyri, on the wide usage of mastic over the ages for gastrointestinal ulcers, diarrhea, and a wide variety of other medical problems.7
In retrospect, many pharmacognosists have concluded that the claims about mastic were fabrications, representing a search for the Holy Grail of medications. Yet such is our current understanding of the science underlying mastic that it now appears that the "exaggerations" about mastic's miraculous qualities were probably closer to the mark. Their error was only about the diseases that it could cure, not about its power.
GOODBYE, H. PYLORI
A gastrointestinal support product containing mastic is revolutionary, because mastic is the first identified natural product that can deliver a serious blow to the armor of what is undoubtedly one of the most feared gastrointestinal bacteria in the world, Helicobacter pylori. It has been estimated that about 40% of the entire population of the planet is infected with H. pylori. This means that about 2.4 billion people on earth would probably lead healthier lives if H. pylori were eradicated from their stomachs.
Because H. pylori has been intimately connected with peptic, gastric, and even duodenal ulcers, as well as carcinomas of the stomach, the widespread use of a mastic-containing product would be a boon to human health worldwide.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 38 human subjects with duodenal ulcers, 1 gram of mastic powder was given once per day before breakfast to 20 subjects for a period of two weeks, while a 1-gram lactose placebo was given to the other 18 subjects.7 A high level of symptomatic relief was reported in 80% (16 subjects) in the mastic group, and when their stomachs were examined with a viewing scope, 70% (14 subjects) were proven to have significant healing. The site of the original ulcer had been completely replaced by epithelial tissue (the cells that normally line the gastrointestinal tract), without any appearance of new ulcers. According to the authors, the differences attributed to mastic were highly significant. There were no side effects reported in this study.
In another study, five male patients and one female patient with benign gastric ulcers who had not been treated for ulcers within two months received 2 grams per day of mastic powder, 1 gram in the morning before breakfast and 1 gram at bedtime, for four weeks.8 Complete symptomatic relief was found in all six subjects, including one man with a double gastric ulcer. When the sites of the ulcers were viewed, five of the six subjects, including the double-ulcer man, had completely new epithelial cell growth over the ulcer at the end of the four weeks. No side effects were reported. The authors noted that they had previously documented another 14 cases of gastric ulcers treated successfully with mastic, as confirmed by upper gastrointestinal viewing during a one-year period of treatment and follow-up.9 The amount of mastic used in this study did not exceed the quantities used by the general public chewing mastic gum.
NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTATION FOR HEALTHY GASTROINTESTINAL FUNCTION
With the enormous success of their original mastic supplement, Life Enhancement wanted to create an even more advanced formulation, to provide a natural alternative for individuals dealing with difficult or intractable gastrointestinal problems. So they looked at the data for a wide variety of plants that possess antibacterial properties.
THYME AND CINNAMON EFFECTIVE AGAINST H. PYLORI
When the extracts of several plants were examined for their effect on H. pylori, cinnamon and thyme were found to be effective.10 Both extracts, but particularly thyme, had a significant ability to inhibit H. pylori growth and limit its urease activity. Urease, an enzyme that breaks urea down into carbon dioxide and ammonia, is an important virulence factor for H. pylori and is critical for bacterial colonization of the human gastric mucosa. The amount of thyme needed to inhibit H. pylori completely was readily achievable with either powdered thyme or a liquid extract.
HYPERFORIN IS EFFECTIVE AGAINST ANTIBIOTIC-RESISTANT BACTERIA
St. John's wort, an herb used for antidepressant purposes,* contains an ingredient, hyperforin, that has been found to possess antibacterial properties. This was shown as far back as 1959 and 1971 by Russian researchers.11,12 A study performed in Romania in 1988 demonstrated a specific antibacterial role for an extract from St. John's wort, a gastrointestinal effect. When the extract was given to rats with aspirin-induced ulcers, a protective, anti-ulcer effect was displayed.13
* Curiously, hyperforin seems to invoke conditions necessary for Hebb's rule (see The Genetic Leap to Greater Memory - November 1999 and Kaehler ST, Sinner C, Chatterjee SS, Philippu A. Hyperforin enhances the extracellular concentrations of catecholamines, serotonin and glutamate in the rat locus coeruleus. Neurosci Lett 1999 Mar 12;262(3):199-202). Thus, it may be regarded as a "speed association" phytonutrient, in addition to its antibiotic role. A supplement containing hyperforin "speaks" to the brain, as well as the stomach.
The chemical structure of hyperforin is unlike that of any other known antibiotic. Even in low concentrations in laboratory studies, hyperforin is effective against a wide range of bacteria, including E. coli and other Gram-positive bacteria, and multiresistant bacteria.14 It is capable of inhibiting penicillin-resistant and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Toxicity levels are low.
A bioavailability study showed that a 300-mg oral administration of St. John's wort containing 5% hyperforin was well tolerated and resulted in serum levels sufficient to support the systemic antibiotic use of hyperforin.16
OVERWHELMING THE OFFENSE
You need only open the pages of your newspaper, turn on the tube, or click onto the Web to hear about virulent bacteria breaking through the best defense lines thrown up by conventional medicine. Not that antibiotics are not of great value - that's not in question. The real question is, are we diminishing their value by overusing them and allowing bacteria to mutate, reprogramming themselves to do us severe harm and even threaten our lives?
A good defense is a good offense, and a supplement including hyperforin, thyme, and cinnamon, along with the strength of classic mastic powder - is here. In these days of bacterial consciousness, these nutrients could provide the natural, healthy alternative you're looking for.
- Mead PS, Slutsker L, Dietz V, McCaig LF, Bresee JS, Shapiro C, Griffin PM, Tauxe RV. Food-related illness and death in the United States. Emerg Infect Dis 1999 Sep-Oct;5(5) (in press). http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol5no5/mead.htm#5
- Zoeller J. Antibiotic Resistance Is Growing, Researchers Report 1999 Sept 17. Tribune Medical Web: http://www.medtrib.com
- Billing J, Sherman PW. Antimicrobial functions of spices: why some like it hot. Q Rev Biol 1998 Mar;73(1):3-49.
- Griffenhagen G. Materia medica of Columbus. Int Pharm J 1990;4:271-2.
- Hart and Channing. American History Leaflets CD Sourcebook of American History 1995 Compact University.
- Hartwell JL. Plants used against cancer. Lloydia 1967:30/4;379-436.
- Al-Habbal MJ, Al-Habbal Z, Huwez FU. A double-blind controlled clinical trial of mastic and placebo in the treatment of duodenal ulcer. J Clin Exp Pharm Physiol 1984;11:541-4.
- Huwez FU, Al-Habbal MJ. Mastic in treatment of benign gastric ulcers. Gastroenterol Japon 1986;21:273-4.
- Al Habbal MJ, et al. Upper G.I.T. endoscopy in Arbil. Iraq Med J 1982;29:25.
- Tabak M, Armon R, Potasman I, Neeman I. In vitro inhibition of Helicobacter pylori by extracts of thyme. J Appl Bacteriol 1996 Jun;80(6):667-72.
- Derbentseva NA, Rabinovych AS, Aizenman BIu, Zelepukha SI, Mandryk TP, Shvaiger MO. Antimicrobial substances from Hypericum perforatum. Mikrobiol Zh (Kiev) 1959;21(5):52-7.
- Gurevich AI, Dobrynin VN, Kolosov MN, Popravko SA, Riabova ID. Antibiotic hyperforin from Hypericum perforatum L. Antibiotiki 1971 Jun;16(6):510-3.
- Hriscu A, Stanescu U, Ionescu A, Verbuta A, Gusetoaia F. Study of gastro-protective effects of extractive fractions from Hyperici herba in experimental ulcers of rats. Farmacia (Bucharest); 1988;6:43-50.
- Schempp CM, Pelz K, Wittmer A, Schopf E, Simon JC. Antibacterial activity of hyperforin from St. John's wort, against multiresistant Staphylococcus aureus and gram-positive bacteria. Lancet 1999 Jun 19;353(9170):2129.
- Biber A, Fischer H, Romer A, Chatterjee SS. Oral bioavailability of hyperforin from Hypericum extracts in rats and human volunteers. Pharmacopsychiatry 1998 Jun;31 Suppl 1:36-43.