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USDA research: How thyme can help fight fungal infections

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
USDA researchers learn how to use thyme to boost anti-fungal medicines

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and colleagues were surprised to find the herb thyme could make prescription drugs used to treat fungus work better. They have also found out how thymol in thyme works to fight fungi.

Some fungal infections can be severe and difficult to cure. Examples include athlete’s foot, skin and nail infections and fungus infections of the lung brought about from inhaling mold and mildew spores.

Thymol in thyme boosts systemic anti-fungal drugs

In their studies, researchers were looking for ways to attack fungus that affects food crops.

The Aspergillus mold can infect corn, cotton, pistachios, almonds and other crops, and can produce aflatoxin, a natural carcinogen. Finding ways to stop Aspergillus has been a specific focus of Bruce C. Campbell, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) molecular biologist and Jong H. Kim, and their co-investigators since 2004.

The scientists have been building a portfolio of natural plant based compounds that can thwart Aspergillus. Removing aflatoxin contaminated crops is costly and so are agricultural fungicides. Kim says the hope is that growers of tomorrow can save money by using the compounds they’re developing.

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The researcher’s newest finding builds on studies. In 2010, scientists discovered that thymol, a derivative of thyme, inhibits the growth of fungus.

They found that thymol in thyme boosted the action of two systemic antifungal prescription drugs in lab tests.

Specifically, thymol in thyme boosted the action of drugs used to treat A. flavus and two related fungi, A. fumigatus and A. terreus, fungus that can infect people with low immune function that come from moldy homes.

Another new finding from the researchers is that thyme compounds thwart the ability of fungus to recover once antifungal medications have been started.

The notion that thyme can help fight fungal infections isn’t new, but the researchers have found out how thymol work when paired with other compounds the help fight disease by destroying the ability of fungi to recover from oxidative stress induced by prescription drugs.

October 5, 2012

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