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Essential Oils Might Be the New Antibiotics

Faced with increasing bacterial resistance, plant extracts may be the key to keeping people and animals healthy.

Essential oils are ultimately just concentrated plant extracts but do have powerful antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.  Their potency isn’t surprising when you consider that the plant compounds that make up essential oils exist in the first place to help plants protect themselves from infection, endure temperature variations, heal from damage, and repel pests.

Scientists are producing exciting results in countering the growing antibiotic-resistance crisis in livestock. While the drugs are, of course, sometimes necessary to treat infections in livestock, the real reason they’re overused is to speed up growth ….“an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society” (World Health Organisation).

Some key findings;

  • Chickens who consumed feed with added oregano oil had a 59 percent lower mortality rate
  • A combination of plant extracts (oregano, cinnamon, & chilli peppers) actually changed the gene expression of treated chickens, resulting in weight gain as well as protection against intestinal infection
  • A longitudinal  study is currently underway at US Department of Agriculture that includes investigations into the use of citrus peels and essential oils as drug alternatives
  • Rosemary and oregano oils resulted in the same amount of growth in chickens as the antibiotic avilamycin, & reduced bacterial infections
  • Essential oils help reduce salmonella infection in chickens


There is also of course, need for alternatives to antibiotics for the direct treatment of infections in humans. 

There have been a number of studies with thyme oil, lemongrass, & tea tree used as hand sanitisers killing antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus (which causes staph infection), and MRSA.

Results consistently show that combining essential oils and antibiotics significantly lowers the amount of antibiotic required to do the job. For example, two recent studies showed that lavender and cinnamon essential oils killed E. coli, and when combined with the antibiotic piperacillin, the oils reversed the resistance of the E. coli bacteria to the antibiotic. Another recent study found that basil oil and rosemary oil were both effective in inhibiting the growth of 60 strains of E. coli retrieved from hospital patients.  Researchers believe that one mechanism by which the oils work is by weakening the cell wall of resistant bacteria, thereby damaging or killing the cells while also allowing the antibiotic to do it's job more effectively. 

Back on the farms, some are already putting essential oils into practice. One farmer who has talked publicly about using essential oils is Scott Sechler, owner of Bell & Evans Farms, a high-end producer of antibiotic-free poultry. His use of oregano oil and cinnamon to fight infection on his farms, worked better than all other options he had tried, he still told the Times, “I have been worried a bit about how I’m going to sound talking about this,” adding, “but I really do think we’re on to something here.” “With our chicken breed, housing environment, and feeding program, we’re able to promote healthy gut bacteria—we use oregano oil to kill the bad bacteria and cinnamon oil to support the good bacteria.” 


The full article and references can be found here: 

Full article by Lori Rodriguez

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