A new study is the first to show that the ingredient in crushed garlic – known as allicin – could be an effective treatment against a group of infectious bacteria that is highly resistant to most antibiotics.
Allicin is produced by garlic bulbs to ward off plant pathogens from nearby soil and water habitats.
These pathogens, known as Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) have emerged as a cause of serious and transmissible lung infections in people with CF – sometimes fatal.
Current therapies to treat Bcc are limited and require the use of three or four antibiotics at a time.
Allicin is extracted from crushed raw garlic and inhibits the growth of these bacteria. At higher doses it can kill the plant pathogens.
The team believes allicin-containing remedies could be used in combination with existing antibiotics to treat Bcc infections.
However, the researchers say it is important to pinpoint the mechanisms by which allicin kills the bacteria before the chemical can be incorporated into new treatments.
Professor John Govan, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Infectious Diseases, 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.”
Dr Dominic Campopiano, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry, said: “The medicinal power of garlic has a rich history that dates back thousands of years but the chemical structure of allicin was only revealed in the 1940s.
“Our work suggests that modern methods should be used to further expand our knowledge of this enigmatic molecule and rejuvenate its potential applications.”
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, was funded by the University of Edinburgh and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.