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Using Natural Substances to Tackle Infectious Diseases

Natural substances and their treatment potential


There is increased concern of antimicrobial resistance, especially when referring to bacteria with superbugs such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) as they impact lives globally, mainly through fatalities. Given this predicament, It seems that humanity is losing as a result of this pressing issue. However, it is possible for healthcare professionals to utilise more natural products, which are chemicals made by plants, animals and even microorganisms. This includes resources such as wood and cotton aside from food like milk and cacao. In the context of medicinal treatments, an important justification for using more natural products is because although synthetic or partially synthetic drugs are effective for treating countless diseases, an article found that 8% of hospital admissions in the United States and approximately 100,000 fatalities per year were due to people experiencing unfortunate side effects from these drugs. This article explores three specific natural products, where each have similar and unique health properties that can be harnessed to tackle infectious diseases and its subsequent consequences when left sufficiently unaddressed (i.e. antimicrobial resistance).


One of the most famous natural products that has been referenced in various areas of research and has been a food and remedial source for thousands of years is honey. It has properties ranging from antibacterial to antioxidant, suggesting that when honey is applied clinically, they have the potential to stop pathogenic bacteria. For example, honey can protect the gastrointestinal system against Helicobacter pylori, which causes stomach ulcers. In disc diffusion assays, the inhibitive properties of honey were shown when honey samples were evaluated holistically as opposed to its individual ingredients. This implies that the macromolecules in honey (carbohydrates, proteins and lipids) work in unison with other biomolecules, illustrating that honey is a distinctive remedy for preventing bacterial growth. For tackling infectious diseases, particularly against wound infections among others, honey’s medicinal properties provide a lot of applications and because it is a natural product, honey would not present any drastic side effects to a patient upon its administration.


Another natural product that can be effective against microorganisms is garlic because similar to honey, it has antimicrobial and antioxidative compounds. A study judged different garlic phenotypes originating from Greece and discovered that they were beneficial against Proteus mirabilis and Escherichia coli aside from inhibiting Candida albicans and C. kruzei. As for fresh garlic juice (FGJ), it increases the zone of inhibition in various pathogens at 10% and more along with it displaying minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) in the 4-16% range.

Therefore, garlic in solid or liquid form does show potential as a natural antimicrobial agent, especially against pathogenic bacteria and fungi. With this in mind, it too has multiple applications like honey and should be further studied to best isolate the chemical compounds that could be involved in fighting infectious diseases.


Curcuma longa (also known as turmeric) is one other natural product with unique properties like garlic and honey, making it a suitable candidate against various microbes. One specific pigment that is part of the ginger family and found in turmeric is curcumin, which can tackle diverse microbes through numerous mechanisms illustrated below in Figure 2. With this said, curcumin has drawbacks: it is highly hydrophobic, has low bioavailability and quickly breaks down. Although when paired with nanotechnology for delivery into the human body, its clinical applications can be advantageous and an additional observation about curcumin is that it can work collaboratively with other plant derived chemicals to stop antibiotic resistant bacteria.

One specific bacterial strain that turmeric can attack is Clostridium difficile, a superbug that causes diarrhoea. A study had 27 strains to measure the MICs of turmeric constituents, particularly curcuminoids and curcumin. The results showed reduced C. difficile growth in the concentration range 4-32 μg/mL. Moreover, they had no negative impacts on the gut microbiome and curcumin had more efficacy in stopping C. difficile toxin production compared to fidaxomicin. Thus, turmeric is efficacious as a natural antimicrobial chemical and with further experimentation (same as honey and garlic), it can be harnessed to prevent infectious diseases besides their impact on human lives.


Considering the above examples of natural products in this article and others not mentioned, it is clear that they can be powerful in the battle against infectious diseases and the problems associated with them, mainly antimicrobial resistance. They are readily available to purchase in markets and shops at low cost, making them convenient. Moreover, populations in Eastern countries like China and India traditionally have used, and are still using these materials for curing pain and illness. In turn, manufacturing medicines from natural products on a larger scale has the prospect of preventing infectious diseases and even alleviating those that patients currently have. 

Written by Sam Jarada

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