Essential oils could be a cheap and effective alternative to antibiotics and potentially used to combat drug-resistant hospital superbugs, according to research presented this week at the UK Society for General Microbiology’s recent meeting in Edinburgh.
Yiannis Samaras and Effimia Eriotou, from the Technological Educational Institute of the Ionian Islands, in Greece, who led the research, tested the antimicrobial activity of eight plant essential oils. They found that thyme essential oil was the most effective and was able to almost completely eliminate bacteria within 60 minutes.
The essential oils of thyme and cinnamon are particularly efficient against a range of Staphylococcus species. “Not only are essential oils a cheap and effective treatment option for antibiotic-resistant strains, but decreased use of antibiotics will help minimise the risk of new strains of antibiotic resistant micro-organisms emerging,” said Samaras.
While essential oils have been recognised for hundreds of years for their therapeutic properties, very little is still known about how they exert their antimicrobial effects in humans. Various scientific studies have demonstrated that essential oils are not only well tolerated, but are effective against a range of bacterial and fungal species. Their therapeutic value has been shown for the treatment of a variety of conditions, including acne, dandruff, head lice and oral infections.
The Greek researchers believe essential oils could have diverse medical and industrial applications. “The oils, or their active ingredients, could be easily incorporated into antimicrobial creams or gels for external application. In the food industry the impregnation of food packaging with essential oils has already been successfully trialled. They could also be included in foodstuffs to replace synthetic chemicals that act as preservatives,” they said.