Maple Syrup Extract Enhances the Potency of Certain Antibiotics

Researchers from McGill University, Montreal, have found that maple syrup extracts can enhance the effectiveness of certain antibiotics used against pathogenic bacteria.

Research coming in from McGill University, Montreal, suggests that maple syrup can affect more than just the taste of your pancakes; it can also enhance the effectiveness of certain antibiotics.

At the 253rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), held in San Francisco, California, Nathalie Tufenkji, PhD, professor of chemical engineering at McGill University, Montreal, presented her team’s findings.

So, what inspired Dr. Tufenkji and her team to take a closer look at maple syrup?

Dr. Tufenkji shared in a press release, “Native populations in Canada have long used maple syrup to fight infections. I’ve always been interested in the science behind these folk medicines.” However, it was when Dr. Tufenkji was analyzing cranberry extracts to see if they had any effects on antibiotics that she learned that phenolic maple syrup extract possesses “anti-cancer properties.” Inspired, Dr. Tufenkji decided to take a closer look at it to gauge its “antimicrobial activity.”

By using the same strategies that they had used with the cranberry extract, the team set about removing the water and sugar from the syrup’s phenolic compounds. In her talk at the ACS’s 253rd National Meeting and Exposition, Dr. Tufenkji said, “Particularly, we were interested in the phenolic fraction” of the maple syrup extracts.

Initially, the researchers “exposed several disease-causing bacterial strains to the extract.” However, the extract did not have any notable effect; this did not deter the team. They then decided to test if the extract would impact the effectiveness or strength of ciprofloxacin and carbenicillin, two commonly used antibiotics. Mixing the antibiotics and the phenolic extract resulted in a “synergistic effect,” which meant that they were able to get the same “kill effect of bacteria,” using 90% less antibiotic, Dr. Tufenkji reported in her talk at the ACS’s 253rd National Meeting and Exposition. She added, “We did this with several different bacteria and essentially we had found that these phenolic compounds made it easier for antibiotics to get inside the bacteria, and get trapped inside the bacteria, so the antibiotics had more of an effect.” Some of the bacterial strains that this worked on included: Escherichia coli, Proteus mirabilis, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Now, more recently, the research team tested the maple syrup extract in fruit flies, or Drosophila melanogaster, as well as wax moth larvae. All flies were given food that had “pathogenic bacteria and antibiotic” in it, some were also given the phenolic extract. Their findings? Dr. Tufenkji shared in her talk, “We found that these phenolic extracts from maple syrup actually synergize with antibiotics to protect these insects from infection.” She added, “The insects actually lived significantly longer when they were given a dosage of a maple syrup extract with their antibiotics in comparison to the insects that had been only given antibiotics to protect them from infection.” When applying the same strategy to the moth larvae, the researchers found similar results.

To find out just how the extract was able to produce this effect, the researchers took a closer look at whether the extract was changing the permeability of the bacterial cells; it was. This finding suggests that the extract helped the antibiotics get into the bacterial cells. Furthermore, “another experiment suggested that the extract may work by a second mechanism as well, disabling the bacterial pump that normally removes antibiotics from these cells.”

Dr. Tufenkji also shared that, currently, her team is working on mice studies, which the team may “be able to report on in about a year.”

In the “Q & A” portion of her presentation, many attendees asked her what future research would entail. One attendee asked how Dr. Tufenkij envisions the extract might be taken. For example, would we take maple syrup with our antibiotics? She said, “That’s a very important question. I think it’s important to highlight that we wouldn’t necessarily take maple syrup with our antibiotics because the syrup itself of course has water and sugar, so these molecules are found in lower concentrations of the syrup.” She added, “We are actually isolating these molecules and using them in a concentrated fashion with the antibiotics. So, the way I envision it is, either these phenolic molecules will be combined with the antibiotic pill, or it will be a separate pill that you would take with your antibiotic pill.”

Although antibiotics can save lives, the overprescribing of them can result not only in killing off “healthy cells” in addition to harmful bacteria, but it also contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. This research may offer a natural way to cut back on antibiotic use without sacrificing the potency of the effects offered by antibiotics.

With this research just in its early stages, there is still much to learn, but the results look promising. “Everything that we have done to date has been really exploratory pilot-scale research. We definitely have a lot more we want to look at, certainly expanding the scope of the in vivo studies and the different types of bacteria and the different types of antibiotics that we could look at,” she said.