Longtime reader and botanical-medicine expert Robyn spotted this new story and study this morning and pointed it out in the comments to a previous post. It's about a product, but it's a product with science to back it, so under my rules regarding commercial products, I am moving it up to post status. (Robyn didn't say, but given the internals of her post I assume, that she has no commercial interest in this. Right, Robyn?)
The product under investigation is an over-the-counter cream called StaphASeptic that contains the natural antimicrobials tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil and white thyme (Thymus vulgaris — the "white" refers to the preparation not the species) oil, along with the commercial antiseptic benzethonium chloride. That product's effect on isolates of CA-MRSA was compared against two common OTC first aid creams, one containing the topical antibiotic polymyxin B and the other containing both polymyxin B and the topical antibiotic neomycin.
The authors found that the botanical-containing cream did a better job of killing CA-MRSA in a time-kill analysis, finding specifically that it went on killing longer — up to 24 hours — than the other two creams. The assumption obviously is that this non-antibiotic cream would do a better job of protecting superficial wounds and scrapes from MRSA infection than the antibiotic-containing ones, while presumably not promoting resistance.
But the important question, which Robyn raises, is whether the essential oils are not in fact acting as natural antibiotics, possibly synergistically. Let's remember that the majority of antibiotics — including, for instance MRSA drug-of-last-resort vancomycin, and its replacement daptomycin — were initially isolated from natural substances (fungi, in both those cases). Overall, however, botanical products receive much less research attention that pharmaceuticals, so their action and their therapeutic potential remain unexplored.
The cite is: Bearden, DT, Allen GP and Christensen JM. Comparative in vitro activities of topical wound care products against community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (2008) 62, 769–772. NB: The research was supported by an unrestricted grant from StaphASeptic 's manufacturers, Tec Laboratories Inc., and JM Christensen, of the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy, disclosed a consultant relationship with Tec.