Bioterrorism: A Rational Approach to Protection.
This article appeared in The Willner Window Sale Flier, January 2001, and was an editorial opinion by Don Goldberg, R.Ph.
In the aftermath of the anthrax scare, there was some controversy over claims that certain natural products were effective treatments for anthrax, and could be used as alternatives to prescription antibiotics. Some felt that people making such claims was irresponsible, but others supported their contention.
There are some interesting observations that can be made regarding this argument. I will offer some insights and conclusions, as well.
First, the observations. Situations of this sort can bring out the best and the worst of the natural products industry. On the downside, we have people making claims that are exaggerated and potentially hazardous.
Why do I say exaggerated? Let’s take a look at some comments recently made in support of oil of oregano, a supplement that some have implied might be a treatment for anthrax. The sales manager of a company that markets this product was recently quoted as saying their oregano oil is “as powerful as the strongest antibiotic in existence.” He is reported to have said that a recent test done at Georgetown University showed that oil of oregano ranked 21 times more powerful than carbolic acid (phenol) in killing penicillin-resistant staphylococcus bacteria. Another study, from Cornell University, was referenced as well.
Well, this certainly sounds impressive. How can we fault anyone who, armed with data such as this, suggests that we are missing the boat by not embracing products such as oregano oil in the fight against anthrax?
The problem is that these test results were not performed on humans or animals. They were performed in a test tube, or petri dish. If there is anybody reading this who does not appreciate how big a difference that is, please contact me–I have some shares in a soon-to-be-built golf resort and gaming-casino in Afghanistan I can sell you.
Plenty of things exhibit “germicidal” activity in a test tube. Alcohol is a powerful germicidal agent in a test tube, or petri dish. Does that mean that two beers, three times a day will effectively treat anthrax? Of course not. Fire is a good germicide as well, as is sulfuric acid. Obviously, we are not going to set a patient on fire as an alternative to Cipro. Nor are we going to ask them to drink a glass of sulfuric acid.
If not sulfuric acid, what about phenol? Phenol (also known as Carbolic Acid) is a powerful disinfectant agent as well. At one time, Phenol was widely used as a germicide, and it is still the standard against which other antiseptics are compared. But phenol is also caustic. It’s germicidal action was primarily limited to external applications.
But that does not deter some of the proponents of “cure-all” natural products. “He noted that anthrax was more common in the late 1800s and early 1900s than it is today and that phenols were commonly used to treat infections. ‘Phenol is the active ingredient in all spices,’ he said. ‘I think it should be mandatory that natural products like oil of oregano be studied as germicides.”
Now, am I saying that oil of oregano, or similar products, have no antimicrobial activity? No, not at all. They do. We know for sure that oil of oregano, tea tree oil, and similar volatile oil preparations exhibit powerful antifungal action when used externally. We know that these oils exhibit significant germicidal action in test tubes. We can speculate, assume and infer that an appropriate preparations of these same items when taken internally might to some degree exert a similar action. But this is a far cry from the claim that it is “as powerful as the strongest antibiotic in existence.”
So use a little common se