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What is the Future of Antibiotic Treatments?

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The use of antibiotic treatments in the 20th century represents a major turning point in the struggle against infectious diseases. This new tool seemed to be a definitive step forward, and it inspired a prevailing sense of confidence. The disillusionment that would soon follow was unimaginable… Yet there are also natural solutions: plants with antibiotic properties, which have been identified by traditional forms of medicine, exist in large numbers around the world. What remains to be done is to create effective treatments for the most serious of infectious diseases.

The prescription of antibiotics is in large part the result of the euphoria that surrounded the invention of penicillin, which won quick and easy victories. Small doses proved to wipe out infectious germs, but a troubling issue was soon discovered: in order to stay effective, doses must be increased over time.

It was soon recognized that, one after another, antibiotics were becoming less effective due to the fact that germs were developing resistances and multi-resistances. The most recent evolution in this situation is the development of nosocomial diseases that hospitals are unable to eradicate. Hospitals are seen as places where hygiene reigns but they are also home to a concentration of bacterial agents that mainstream medicine has been unable to neutralize.

Although they inspired great hopes, antibiotic treatments will have proved to be nothing but an ephemeral phenomenon that will be seen as having briefly led the way for Western medicine and the source of a devastated heritage in which the most virulent of germs remain in command.

An illusory celebration

In order to respond to these difficulties, pharmaceutical companies have taken the initiative of “sticking” molecules onto old products. We can cite aminopenicillin, carboxypenicillin, or ureidopenicillin as examples of this process. Yet these “updated” products fail to resolve the problems at hand, as resistance to them remains unavoidable. We remain faced with the same predicament, and mainstream medicine sees no glimmer of hope.

Is the situation desperate?

We are forced to respond affirmatively if we are to continue down the same path, which leads to a dead-end. A source of hope nonetheless lies in the virtues of nature and the possibilities offered by medicinal plants. Plants with antibiotic properties exist around the world in large numbers, and traditional practitioners in Asia and Africa have used them since ancient times in the treatment of infectious diseases.

These plants also exist in Europe but the knowledge surrounding their use has largely been lost. In addition to this, 20th century universities never incorporated this field of knowledge. Fortunately, phytotherapy and aromatherapy have gained attention in recent years, and they represent a promising debut, but we still must explore how they can be used in the treatment of serious infectious diseases.

This research must be carried out by teams of doctors and pharmacists who can offer new and effective treatments for the medicine of tomorrow by exploring these traditional forms of knowledge.

An inventory of plants with antibiotic properties found in Europe

A number of antibiotic plants are known in temperate and Mediterranean regions in Europe, but information about them is incomplete. It is also important to mention the undocumented species of plants in the Northern countries: the Baltic States, Norway, Sweden, as well as those of central and Eastern Europe. Such an inventory would open up many new possibilities.

French-language sources mention the following plants:

Alliaria petiolata, Angelica Root, Arctium,
Basil, Bearberry, Bellis perennis, Benedictus, Blueberry, Bramble, Broad Bean, Buxus,
Chamomile, Cnicus, Couch Grass,
Elecampane, Eucalyptus,
Garlic, Goldenrod,
Heather, Hop, Houseleek, Holm Oak,
Juglans, Juniper,
Laurel, Lavender,
Marigold, Melilotus, Myrtus,
Plum Tree, Poplar,
Sage, Satureja, Strawberry,
Teucrium, Thyme, Thymus serpyllum, Tropaeolum,
Water Germander, White Horehound, Wood Sage,

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Elecampane (Inula helenium)

The art of using plants

Identifying the entirety of antibiotic plants in Europe is an important first step. They could be beneficial if prescribed as herbal infusions, but that is not the primary goal here. These plants could instead be the ingredients in formulas of varying levels of complexity.

The next course of action concerns the art of combining these formulas according to the infectious diseases to be treated and determining the most effective means of preparing them, which is how practitioners of traditional forms of medicine work.

This would lead us to create powder-based blends, decoctions effective for various periods of time, alcohol extracts, medicinal oils, wines and vinegars, etc.

One can understand how this combination of treatments has a number of important advantages. Plants with antibiotic properties could combine forces, making use of the full range of their healing properties, and even represent a strategy to avoid resistance to germs, thereby ensuring a constant efficacy over long periods of time. Infectious agents can resist a lone treatment — be it penicillin-based or otherwise — but they are brought down when attacked by multiple forces.

Current activities

Research into the creation of a pharmaceutical art adapted to the medicine of tomorrow is already underway, but it remains unknown for the time being.

Phytotherapeutic formulas could do their part when the level of infectious diseases reaches urgent levels, which will render the return to nature absolutely imperative.

One can hope that research on this subject will soon take place on a broad scale across Europe in order to accelerate the resurgence of these of treatments in fighting pathogenic agents.

Ancient remedies

Alongside the development of new formulas, it is important not to loose sight of ancient remedies that have proved effective. We can cite Four Thieves Vinegar in particular, which was used during plague epidemics.

A catalog that would bring together the entirety of European pharmacopoeia should be created to identify these treatments that were once well known and respected across Europe.

Essential oils

Since the beginning of the 21st century, aromatherapy has become the subject of considerable interest. This form of treatment, which has been rediscovered in a way, can be traced back to ancient times.

The distillation of essential oils goes back 4000 years, when it was practiced in China, India, and Persia. Where did this traditional knowledge come from? The Egyptians also made large use of essential oils, and in 12th century Europe, Arab populations practiced in turn the extraction of these remarkable aromatic substances.

More than two hundred and sixty essential oils are known across the world. They have been the subject of vast studies, and more than ten thousand components have been identified.

Among the best known in Europe are: garlic, basil, bergamot, chamomile, lemon, eucalyptus, juniper, geranium, clove, lavender, mint, niaouli, onion, oregano, pine, rosemary, satureja, sage, thyme.

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Sage (Salvia officinalis)

The properties of essential oils

All essential oils are anti-infectious, yet some of them act more specifically on a particular sphere: be it lung, intestinal, or kidney conditions. They have a number of other remarkable properties, such as:
- Antiviral
- Antifungal
- Pest control
- Anti-inflammatory
- Anticatarrhal
- Antihistamine
- Anticoagulant
- Immunoregulatory
- Analgesic
- Anxiolytic
- Insect repellents and insecticides
- Deodorizing
- Disinfection (of hospitals, etc.)

By means of these broad-ranging capacities, essential oils are incomparable tools in the treatment of infectious diseases and their symptoms. We can assume that they will have an important role to play the in antibiotic treatments of the future.

Some thoughts

1- We are now living on borrowed time when it comes to 20th century treatments and medications, which are centered on chemical-based antibiotics. Europe must reconstruct a form of traditional medicine similar to those found on other continents.

2- Traditional forms of medicine are based on a broader vision of the universe and a holistic approach to treating patients. The medicine of the future must revive this characteristic.

3- Western medicine sees itself as “rational” and “Cartesian” by focusing on exterior symptoms, the numerical figures of laboratory analysis, and the imagery of advanced techniques. It has thus become dehumanized and a source of stress rather than comfort for patients. The foreseeable return to nature, either guided by wisdom or imposed by ecological imperatives, should allow us to distance ourselves from the defects of this excessive rationality.

4- Major transformations will precede the medicine of the future. These transformations will also reach the study of medicine and pharmaceutics in universities.

It is important to prepare the transitional phase in order to avoid a break with therapeutic treatments, which would harm patients. The return to nature should allow Western medicine to regain what it has lost and to better serve its patients.

Dr. Yvette Parès, September 9th, 2009

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