The Weed that Beats Superbugs
Looking out my office window, I see a beautiful natural setting and a small lawn covered in bright yellow flowers and I wonder: “Why do so many people despise dandelions?” While they think up new and toxic ways to eradicate these “weeds,” I celebrate their powerful medicinal qualities based on their high levels of vitamins, minerals, and other medicinal compounds. Recently researchers have added superbug killer to the dandelion’s impressive health-boosting resume. Scientists from the Huaihai Institute of Technology in Lianyungang, China found that the yield of polysaccharides from dandelion showed high antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli (E. coli), Bacillus subtilis, and Staphylococcus aureus.
People can contract E. coli when they come into contact with the feces of both people or animals. While this sounds unlikely, the frequency with which food or water is contaminated by the bacteria may alarm you. Meat is the most common culprit in the United States. E. coli can get into meat during processing and remain active if the meat is not cooked to an internal temperature of 160° F.
Other food that has come in contact with infected meat can also pick up the bacteria. Raw milk and dairy products can also pick up E. coli from cows’ udders and even fruits and vegetables that come in contact with infected animal feces can be contaminated with E. coli. The bacteria can also be found in pools, lakes and water supplies and on people who do not properly wash their hands after having bowel movements.
E. coli has always been with us but experts now estimate that 30 percent of all E. coli urinary tract infections are resistant to treatment. As I researched my upcoming book, The Probiotic Miracle, I found that only five percent were resistant a mere decade ago. Scientists have discovered that E. coli has developed the ability to secrete a substance called beta-lactamase which deactivates antibiotics. The mechanism known as “extended-spectrum beta lactamase” is also showing up in other bacteria, further disabling the effectiveness of antibiotic drugs.
Bacillus subtilis is ever-present in the air, water and soil. The bacteria rarely colonize the human body but can cause allergic reactions when people are exposed to it in high amounts. It produces a toxin called subtilisin which, oddly enough, is used in some laundry detergents. Its composition is very similar to E. coli so it is often used in laboratory research.
Staphylococcus aureus is not so benign. When you read news stories about the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs in hospitals, chances are you are reading about MSRA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the bacteria are a leading cause of food poisoning. Infection can also be obtained through animal bites, and contact with another person, particularly if he or she has infected lesions. MSRA rates are increasing in crowded environments like hospitals and nursing homes, and symptoms can vary from a brief period of nausea and vomiting to toxic shock or death.
The Chinese researchers concluded that the dandelion, that despised weed, contains compounds that may be a viable option for use as a food preservative, thereby reducing the risk of these deadly bacteria. Further study is needed to explore a wider variety of bacteria-fighting applications for this powerful little flower.
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