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Fighting Infection ... Naturally

With more than 5,000 medical articles attesting to the effectiveness of garlic, the problem with garlic used as a medicine always has been the instability of its active ingredient. The solution to all these concerns is stabilized allicin.

By Tom Ballard, RN, ND

Patients often demand their symptoms be treated with the speed and effectiveness they've come to expect from antibiotics.

They don't want to take time off work or be miserable. In some cases, they might not realize their infection actually is caused by a virus or fungus. Naturopathic doctors want to use natural treatments, but often lack confidence when faced with what they feel is a serious infection. Even though we have a broad array of powerful tools at our disposal, in my opinion, NDs too often resort to prescription antibiotics.

The problem of drug antibiotics is not ours alone. The entire medical community is waking to the consequences of the overuse of antibiotics; a dramatic rise in antibiotic-resistant organisms. Initially, hospitals faced this problem. Now, military personnel, sports teams and schools are seeing skin infections and respiratory diseases that resist conventional antibiotics. "Superbugs" are a worldwide threat.1

Naturopathy does not have to contribute to this problem. Avoiding the use of drug antibiotics means sticking with our fundamentals - the same rules we use when treating any disease:

  • Find the cause.
  • Educate the patient.
  • Strengthen the patient.
  • Treat the whole person.
  • Utilize the healing power of nature.

NDs generally are good at identifying host weaknesses that contribute to infections. Such things as vitamin A deficiency, excessive sugar and allergies usually are addressed in a treatment plan. While the condition of the host's immune system is important, too many NDs might be overlooking the identification of the disease agent. Cultures, especially of suspicious or recurring discharges, should be part of our infection protocol.

Educate the Patient

Sadly, most patients don't understand much about how their immune systems work or the differences between bacterial, fungal and viral infections. A few minutes of education often can dissuade a patient from an unnecessary antibiotic. For instance, according to a study out of the Mayo Clinic, most sinus infections are not bacterial, but fungal.

Strengthen the Patient

This is naturopathic medicine's greatest strength. Every day, we see the advantage of working with the patient on general lifestyle issues, including sleep, diet, stress and exercise, as well as targeted therapies such as adrenal support, vitamin C and zinc. Two of my favorite areas to target are the often-neglected problems of inadequate protein and skipping breakfast. As we've all seen, basic changes can turn patients' lives around.2

Treat the Whole Person

This is another of our strengths. We're often the only doctor the patient has ever seen to point out the connection between their chronic eczema and recurrent respiratory infections. And wouldn't we all like to have a dollar for every time we discussed the connection between digestive health and the immune system?3

The Healing Power of Nature - Natural Antibiotics

Most NDs have a favorite antimicrobial or two they use for all the infections that walk in their door. Often, it's one they learned about in school. Sometimes, it's whatever the last sales rep was touting. Rarely is there much research to support their use. Fortunately, most patients recover anyway.

A Powerful New Natural Antibiotic

I've recently found a new form of an old friend that is working wonderfully on tough infections.4 Stabilized allicin is a powerful new antimicrobial that fits our criteria - it strengthens the host, treats the whole person and utilizes the healing power of nature. What's more, it has research to validate its effectiveness. First, don't confuse allicin with garlic. While allicin is extracted from garlic, most garlic and garlic products don't contain allicin. Yes, you read right: garlic and garlic products usually do not contain allicin.4-6

Garlic and Allicin

Garlic is the plant we all know as the universal medicine (and cooking) ingredient. It's mentioned in all ancient medical texts and, because it has a wide growing range, was used by all societies of the world. Garlic, and its cousin the onion, was eaten, imbibed, gargled, applied locally and used as a suppository. It was credited with saving people from the great plagues. In more modern times, it has been researched and found effective for dozens of conditions. In addition to being a superb antimicrobial, it lowers cholesterol, stabilizes blood sugar and kills cancer cells.4-6

What's not to love about garlic? Well, maybe "garlic breath." The problem with garlic used as a medicine always has been the instability of its active ingredient, allicin. Allicin is the product of an enzymatic process, one of those evolutionary miracles that helps the garlic plant survive, and humans as well.

Inside the garlic plant are tiny sacks, or vesicles. Some contain the protein alliin. Others contain the enzyme allinase. When garlic is tampered with, either by an invading bacterium, a worm or a kitchen knife, the two vesicles break open. The released allinase reacts with alliin and allicin is the result. Allicin's job is to kill instantly any invader. However, allicin is not contained in garlic; its precursor and enzyme catalyst are.4-6

While a powerful antimicrobial, allicin's half-life is milliseconds. No need for it to hang around in the environment. Allicin breaks down readily when subjected to heat, light, oxygen and stomach acid. Garlic found such broad use throughout history because it was readily available. People kept it in their kitchens woven into garlands. It was always fresh and available to be popped in the mouth, crushed and wrapped in a cloth or pressed into juice. But once the clove was pierced, speed was important because the potency of allicin diminished rapidly.

Garlic in Modern Life: Allicin

With more than 5,000 medical articles attesting to the effectiveness of garlic, why not just use the plant? Please, do. But in doing so, one must consider the weaknesses of garlic, garlic powder and other garlic products.4-6 The problems are:

  • allicin's inherent instability;
  • variation of alliin content among plants;
  • inconvenience of use - peeling, cutting, crushing, etc.;
  • sharp taste and odor that some find offensive.

The solution to all these concerns is stabilized allicin. The process for extracting and stabilizing allicin was developed and patented recently in England. It's actually a fairly easy, non-solvent process. The first step is the selection of high-quality garlic bulbs that have been tested for sufficient alliin content by HPLC and mass spectrometry. The garlic is then crushed. Extra alliin is added to increase the allicin production. The mixture is flooded with chilled water, frozen and then dried under low temperature. The allicin concentrate is then packaged in a number of ways: drops, cream, caps and as a spray. It travels easily with the patient and can be used discreetly without leaving a taste or odor. Most importantly, the potency of the allicin is assured.4,13

I'd like to discuss a number of questions and concerns common to allicin and its use as medicine. What happens to the taste and smell? Unlike deodorized garlic products, pure allicin is not "deodorized." The sulfur compounds that make the smell also are part of what kills unfriendly microorganisms. However, even though stabilized allicin is a sulfur compound, the odor is mild because other volatile sulfur compounds have been removed. What slight odor does remain disappears almost instantly because allicin is a small molecule that penetrates into cells. Even patients using the stabilized allicin cream are not bothered by odor.

Which organisms are sensitive to allicin? Allicin has a broad range of activity against bacteria, viruses and fungi. Both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, including escherichia, salmonella, staphylococcus, streptococcus, klebsiella, proteus, bacillus, clostridium and even Mycobacterium tuberulosis succumb to its charms. Allicin prevents staphylococcus enterotoxins A, B and C1 formation, and has tested effective against Helicobacter pylori.11 Amazingly, allicin has the unique ability to penetrate the biofilm layer that protects bacterial colonies from other antimicrobials.7-10,12,14-15 Allicin also kills toenail and skin fungal infections, as well as candida.4,12 Rhinovirus, herpes and cytomegalovirus have all shown sensitivity to garlic.12,14-15

Does allicin kill friendly gut flora? No. While some natural substances, such as cinnamon, are lethal in high concentrations to healthy gut flora, allicin is not. Do bacteria develop a resistance to allicin? No. In fact, the opposite is true. Stabilized allicin is being used to treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in England. When added to MRSA cultures, a zone of inhibition develops.13 What success are patients having with stabilized allicin? Prevention and treatment of flu and other viral infections with the capsules have been reported. Toenail fungi, otherwise resistant to treatment, have resolved. The spray has defeated sore throats. The cream works well as the topical component to eczema and psoriasis treatment. The drops are versatile, proving useful when directly instilled for rhinitis and sinusitis, and also for ear infections. A recent double-blind study confirmed stabilized allicin's ability to reduce symptoms and duration of the common cold.

Allicin is the active ingredient from the most widely used and researched herb in the world: garlic. Studies and testimonials support allicin as a convenient, secure way to deliver a potent anti-microbial to your patients. While prescription antibiotics sometimes are required, NDs can avoid their unnecessary use by remembering basic naturopathic principles - finding the cause, educating patients, strengthening the host, treating the whole person, and utilizing natural antimicrobials.

References

  1. Livermore, D.M. Antibiotic resistance in staph in. J of Antimicrob Agents. 2000;16:3-10.
  2. Farshchi, H. Deleterious effects of omitting breakfast on insulin sensitivity and fasting lipid profiles in healthy lean women. AJCN. 2005;81:388-396.
  3. Gill, S. et al. Metagenomic analysis of the human distal gut microbiome, Science. June 2006; 312(5778):1355-1359.
  4. Josling, P. Allicin: The Heart of Garlic. HRC Publishing: Chicago, Illinois, 2005.
  5. Cavalitto, C., Bailey, J.H. Allicin, the antibacterial principle of Allium sativum, physical properties and antibacterial properties. J AM Chem Soc. 1944;86.
  6. Elmore, GS., Feldberg, RS. Alliin lyses localization in bundle sheaths of garlic clove, Am J Bat. 1994;81:89-94.
  7. Gonzalez-Fandoz, FA. Streptoyoccocal growth and enterotoxins (A-D) and thermonuclease sytheses in the presence of dehydrated garlic. J Appl Bacterio. 1994;77:549-552.
  8. Huges, EG, et al. Antimicrobial effects of Allium sativum, Allium gmeelopratrum, and Allium cepa garlic compounds and commercial grade garlic supplements. Phytothet Res. 1991;5:154-158.
  9. Koch, HP., Lawson, LD. Garlic, the Science and Therapeutic Application of Allium Sativum and Related Species. Williams and Wilkins: Baltimore, 1996.
  10. Rabinkov, A, et al. The mode of action of allicin trapping of radicals and interaction with thiol containing proteins. Biochem Biiophy Acts. 1998;1379:233-234.
  11. Celini, GS, et al. Inhibition of Helicobacter pylori by garlic extract. FEM Immenol Med Micro. 1996;13: 273-277.
  12. Yamada, Y., Azuma, K. Evaluation of the in vitro antifungal activity of allicin. Antimicro Agents Chemol. 1997;1: 743-749.
  13. Cutler, R., Wilson, P. Antibacterial activity of a new stable aquous extract of allicin against MRSA. British J of Biomedical Science. 2004;2:61-63.
  14. Ankri, S., Mirelman, D. Antimicrobial properties of allicin from garlic. Microbes Infect. 1999;2:125-129.
  15. Block, E. The chemistry of garlic and onion. Scientific Am. 1985;252:94-99.

About the Author: Tom Ballard, RN, ND, graduated from Bastyr University in 1982. He practices family naturopathic medicine in Seattle, focusing on finding and treating the cause of disease, and will be opening a detoxification center later this year. His specialties are fatigue, allergies, skin and digestive problems, and chronic pain.



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Date Last Modified - Friday, 17-Oct-2008 12:10:23 PDT