Photo of garlic bulbs
Allicin-containing compounds in garlic have a powerful antibiotic effect on the bacteria that cause chronic lung disease in cystic fibrosis patients

Garlic extract could help treat chronic lung infection

6 March, 2015

Natural Health News — Allicin extracted from garlic may help fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria that cause lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis, according to researchers from the University of Edinburgh.

Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) was said to be a key cause of potentially fatal lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients, treatment for which currently required the combination of three or four different antibiotics.

The researchers said the study, published in the journal PlosOne, was to their knowledge the first evidence of allicin and allicin-containing garlic extracts’ ability to inhibit and kill Bcc. Allicin is a thiosulphinate present in crushed garlic bulbs.

The data pointed in particular to pure allicin and, more importantly, allicin in aqueous garlic extracts.

Professor John Govan, who co-led the study, said: At a time when novel antimicrobial agents are urgently required, chemical and microbiological research has the potential to unlock the rich reservoir of antimicrobial compounds present in plants such as garlic.

“Allicin-containing compounds merit further investigation as adjuncts to existing treatments for infections caused by Bcc.”

According to the researchers the therapeutic potential and complex chemistry of alliums like garlic (Allium sativum L) was well documented but remained “enigmatic”.

Powerful potential

Further research into the mechanisms behind this effect was now required, yet they pointed to previous research that suggested allicin reacted with amino acid cysteine to stop antimicrobial activity.

Responding to the findings, senior research manager at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Dr Anoushka de Almeida, said the Trust welcomed the progress these results made in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

“Antibacterial resistance is one of the biggest challenges facing modern medicine and people with cystic fibrosis are particularly susceptible to infections that require weeks of antibiotics, and action is needed by the scientist and medical community to tackle the issue of increasingly ineffective treatments.

“Even though research into how garlic compounds can be effective in killing certain bacteria is still at an early stage, this study opens the door to further investigations into allicin and its antimicrobial properties.”

Related research

The current study  confirms earlier evidence which gives some insight into have garlic extracts may work.

Bacteria can be present in two different forms either as independent cells or as a grouping of bacteria held together by a sticky film (known as biofilm). Biofilm infections, such as pneumonia in cystic fibrosis patients, chronic wounds, chronic otitis media and implant- and catheter-associated infections, affect millions of people in the developed world each year, are harder to treat and are often chronic, even fatal.

In a 2012 study researchers claimed to have pinpointed a constituent of garlic – ajoene – that attacks a key step in the development of biofilms, which they say may offer hope in particular for patients with cystic fibrosis. In an animal study  and laboratory it was found to significantly clear infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa and enhance the effect of antibiotics on biofilms.