Medical researchers in the United Kingdom believe the primary catechin in green tea may help resist “drug-resistant” superbugs.
Combining antibiotics with epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in tea increased the drug’s effectiveness in killing harmful bacteria by as much as 31% compared to animals and insects who received the antibiotic alone.
Researchers at the University of Surrey published their work in the Journal of Medical Microbiology. The study focused on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a so-called “superbug” that leads to serious bloodstream, skin, urinary tract, and respiratory infections.
Doctors typically treat the bacteria with aztreonam, an antibiotic in wide use. Laboratory tests on human skin cells and on wax moth larvae demonstrated that EGCG softens up the bacteria, making it easier for the antibiotics to penetrate and kill. The combination reduced the numbers of clinical multidrug resistant strains of P. aeruginosa in laboratory cultures.
“The successful experiments have raised hopes that the agent could be developed for routine use on patients,” reports the Telegraph in London. The newspaper quoted Dr. Jonatan Betts, who led the research: “Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a serious threat to global health. We urgently need to develop novel antibiotics in the fight against AMR.”
Antimicrobial resistance when bacteria acquire DNA from each other, or when the existing DNA of bacteria mutates.
Globally, superbugs cause more than 2 million infections each year, killing 23,000 in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Resistance (CDC) with 5,000 in the U.K. Overuse in medicine and agriculture could result in as many as 10 million deaths globally, making minor infections such as a skin wound fatal, according to Professor Dame Sally Davies, citing government data. Davies is the U.K.’s chief medical officer.
“Since 2014, the UK has cut the amount of antibiotics it uses by more than 7% and sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals has dropped by 40%. But the number of drug-resistant bloodstream infections increased by 35% between 2013 and 2017,” said professor Davies.
“It is important to emphasize that it is not a person who becomes resistant, but the bacterium,” wrote Rich Haridy in New Atlas, “This means that cures for common infections are under threat.” The World Health Organization (WHO) warn that taking antibiotics when they are not needed — both by humans and livestock — speeds up multidrug resistance and puts everyone at risk.
Dr. Betts said researchers had not determined precisely how much EGCG is needed or whether it will be bioavailable since the compound often needs to be administered in high volumes to achieve positive effects.
“Natural products such as EGCG, used in combination with currently licenced antibiotics, may be a way of improving their effectiveness and clinically useful lifespan,” he wrote.
Prof. Roberto La Ragione, Head of the Department of Pathology and Infectious Diseases at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey, one of the researchers in the study notes that while WHO lists P. aeruginosa as a critical threat to human health, “We have shown that we can successfully eliminate such threats with the use of natural products, in combination with antibiotics already in use.”