Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Antimicrobials in Food and Herbs - Super Bugs Be Aware

This last May, a strain of E. coli was found in a Pennysylvaia woman that is antibiotic-resistant. It caused the CDC and others to go running around in a tizzy.

Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with various kinds of bacteria that are resistant to most antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die each year as a result of those infections, according to the CDC.


Bacteria  have various methods to resist antibiotics. The more contact they have with an antibiotic, the more likely they are to figure out a way to resist it. The learned behavior of resisting one antibiotic can spill over and lead to resistant to other types of similar antibiotics. The bacteria that survive an antibiotic may learn how to pump the antibiotic out of their body or they may learn to neutralize the antibiotic before it harms them, or they may learn to change part of their body that is involved in the antibiotics lethality against them.


The overuse of antibiotics has allowed more antibiotic resistant microbes to evolve. This overuse is not just by the medical establishment. Many people now know that antibiotics are not useful against a virus, but still people do use them for viral infections sometimes.  Besides antibiotics being overused in the medical community, there is an even bigger problem with antibiotics being added to animal feed. Antibiotics help make animals fatter. There is a 3-5% rate of gain in beef feed lots when antibiotics are added to their food. So, you will find many feeds with antibiotics added into their food rations. The antibiotics are supposed to be pulled from the animals feed prior to slaughter to ensure the antibiotics are not in the food chain. However, they can be detected sometimes according to research studies.

Additionally, many people do not realize that glyphosate which is now poured onto conventional crops at the rate 128,000 tons annually in the U.S. ( according to government data in 2015) is an antibiotic as well as a weed killer. Yes, the first patent ever taken out on glyphosate was for use as an antibiotic. However, its use as a weed killer has made much more money for Monsanto than it could ever have brought in as an antibiotic. Now consider that RoundUp Ready crops of corn and soy are the main foods that conventional farm animals are being fed. RoundUp Ready means that the crop has been genetically modified to allow the farmer to spray glyphosate containing herbicide directly on that plant without hurting the plant. The farmer is spraying for weeds but since the weeds grow next to their crop, they spray everything. They don't have to be careful about keeping the glyphosate off the crops which is the point of RoundUp Ready crops. This means glyphosate is sprayed directly on the food that animals and humans eat. The government gives subsidies for growing these GMO soy and corn crops (Your tax dollars at work.) which means they can be sold at a decreased price in relation to non-subsidized crops, so they end up being the majority of what is fed in the cattle feed lots. (Also provides a nice dose of hidden antibiotic that may add to the animals growth.) It is additionally in chicken food and other animal food. Yes, it is in the majority of pet foods.  If you are not eating organic meat, you are eating meat from animals fed food that has had a lot of glyphosate poured onto it.  The majority of corn and soy grown in the U.S. is doused with glyphosate. That glyphosate has been found to accumulate in the tissues of animals. It is no wonder that glyphosate has been found in human bodily fluids when tested. So if you are eating non-organic meat you are almost assured of getting glyphosate in your meal. 

Glyphosate has been shown to kill off most bacteria, including those inhabiting your digestive system except for some nasty bacteria like Salmonella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Additionally, it is absorbed into the body. In fact recent research has shown that glyphosate appears to be actively picked up by amino acid transporters and moved into the blood stream. This is probably because it is an analogue to the amino acid glycine. The body may think it is glycine and believe it is important to the body. (You can see a short article about this here.) Perhaps as a society we should begin a conversation about the fact that we have been pouring an antibiotic all over our food supply in larger and larger amounts since the 1990s. This is certainly discussed in the alternative medical community.

We can and have decreased our use of antibiotics in medicine and many in the medical community are better about using them only when necessary. Additionally, we have begun to take them out of our food supply to some extent.  The conversation about glyphosate in the feed is in it's beginning stages.  Even with all of this in motion, what about the fact that many microbes have and are already becoming resistant to antibiotics. We need some alternative answers to this predicament we have created. Perhaps, we should look at our friends the plants.

 The plants have not been taken seriously by main-stream medicine as agents to assist the body in resisting infectious disease. Past research on various plant antimicrobial constituents were shown to be weaker than the drug antibiotics in main-stream use today. This has lead to some people making the assumption that herbal medicines can't be used as a tool to protect the body from infectious organisms. However, the research has focused on individual constituents. Plants are not simply one constituent such as is usually found in an antimicrobial medication. Plant medicine consists of a kalidascopic mix of various supportive constituents that all work in harmony to bring about health. The plants antimicrobial properties rely upon a myriad of complementary constituents that all play a part in their ultimate antimicrobial symphonic activity. The researchers studying plants take out one constituent and look at the antimicrobial properties of that constituent by itself.  However, that is not how the plant works best as an antimicrobial. So, it is not a proper way to study what the whole plant does in the body.

In 2002 a researcher named Kim Lewis took a look at plant antimicrobials. He wondered why the 50,000 antimicrobial compounds that have been derived from plants have been found to be weak and have narrow specificity. He considered that over the millions of years of evolution the plants should have come up with something better to combat microbes. So, he began to look closer. The plant constituent extracts were able to invade the bacteria effectively but then they were rapidly excreted by the bacteria's multi-drug resistant pumps (MDRs). These are the same type of MDR pumps that bacteria use in humans to resist the antibiotics that we use in main-stream medicine. When a microbe like MRSA or pseudomonas aeruginosa is able to resist our antibiotics it is due to their MDR pumps pumping the medicine back out of their bodies. The bacteria build up a resistance through use of these pumps. The researcher thought there must be something the plant was doing to resist bacteria or they would not survive. But, what was it?

To understand the plants a little better and find out why they are able to defend themselves against bacteria we need to know that plants produce what are called secondary metabolites. It has long been thought that a significant part of secondary metabolites serve to protect plants against microbial pathogens. These plant substances are called  phytoanticipins, or phytoalexins. Phytoanticipins are normally in the plant at all times, while phytoalexin levels increase in response to microbial invasion. Plants with mutations that lack the phytoalexin that other similar plants have, may be prone to microbial invasion as has been shown in research. 


An example of how a plant uses one of these metabolites is shown in several of the Berberis  spp plants which contains the antimicrobial berberine. The metabolite is called 5
-methoxyhydnocarpin-D (5'-MHC). It is a natural plant inhibitor of MDR pumps.  Although 5'-MHC has no antimicrobial activity of its own, the constituent berberine is much more effective when given in conjunction with the substance. Researchers have found antimicrobial effectiveness of numerous plant extracts can increase several hundred-fold when studied in combination with the plant MDR pump inhibitor constituents at the same time. Yes, another case where using the whole plant makes perfect sense. 

So, the researchers proved what herbalists had been saying all along. The whole herb is important. You may not be able to get the desired effect from an herb if you take a single constituent out of the plant and try to use it. Now in some cases this does work. Drug companies have taken single constituents out of plants and sold them as drugs or have synthesized drugs that are very similar to certain single constituents in plants. However, nature has for the most part provided our medicine very well packaged, with the appropriate constituents that play well together.


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