Pomegranate Fights MRSA and Other Superbugs

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The rind of pomegranate appears to deliver a powerful punch against the highly resistant staph infection called MRSA, along with other superbugs that haunt hospital and nursing home patients. Researchers from Kingston University in Surrey report that pomegranate can be used in a topical medication to fight such serious and deadly infections.

MRSA, which stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a strain of staph that is resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics used to treat it. MRSA infections can be acquired in the community or in a healthcare facility and is transmitted primarily through skin-to-skin contact or contact with shared surfaces that have been contaminated with the organism. A report in the AAOS Now notes that the number of hospital admissions for MRSA in 2005 were triple those in 2000 and ten times higher than in 1995. An October 2007 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that of the 94,360 US patients who developed MRSA in 2005, nearly 20 percent (18,650) died.

Currently, 85 percent of MRSA infections are healthcare related. The death rate, length of hospital stay, and the cost of treating patients who have MRSA are more than twice that of other hospital admissions. While older adults and people who have a compromised immune system are most at risk of hospital-acquired MRSA, otherwise healthy, younger people can acquire community associated MRSA, which is responsible for serious skin infections and pneumonia.

The researchers from Kingston University conducted a series of tests over three years and found that when they mixed pomegranate rind with two other natural substances—metal salts and vitamin C—the ability of the rind to fight infections greatly increased. They hope their discovery can lead to the development of a topical medication to treat drug-resistant infections and perhaps even lead to a new antibiotic. A new effective antibiotic would be a significant breakthrough given the rise of infections that are resistant to the antibiotics currently on the market.

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While the pharmaceutical industry typically focuses on one specific active molecule when developing a drug, the Kingston University researchers found that when they combined three natural ingredients, they achieved a much more potent product that could kill or inhibit drug-resistant microbes from growing. Declan Naughton, professor of biomolecular sciences at Kingston, noted that “there was synergy, where the combined effects were much greater than those exhibited by individual components.”

The research team found that while pomegranate rind mixed with metal salts was most effective against MRSA, the addition of vitamin C helped fight other common hospital infections. Unlike antibiotics and other medications, which are associated with significant side effects, Naughton said that using foods as the basis for treatment meant that patients would be much more likely to tolerate its use.

Pomegranate is being investigated for a wide variety of health-related uses, ranging from fighting prostate cancer to obesity, heart disease, and impotence. Preliminary studies in humans suggest that tannins found in pomegranate can reduce oxidative stress, while metabolites called ellagitannins may be helpful in combating prostate cancer.

The fact that a combination of pomegranate, metal salts, and vitamin C has been effective against MRSA and other superbug infections is “potentially significant,” says Anthony Coates, professor of medical microbiology at St. George’s in London. “The need for new antibiotics is acute,” he said. Although more research is needed, Coates noted that “Most antibiotics come from nature, so it is very valid to look at natural sources.”

SOURCES:
Evans RP. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons May 2008
Gould SW et al. British Journal of Biomedical Science 2009; 66(3): 129-32
Gould SW et al. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine 2009 Jul 27; 9:23
McCarrell EM et al. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine 2008 Dec 15; 8:64

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