Essential oils for staph and MRSA infections

written by Anthony Zappia | WELLBEING COMMUNITY BLOGGER


It was last year that I first raised the issue of superbugs, and of late I’ve been encountering a growing number of people who have staph or MRSA infections. Unfortunately it’s tending to be MRSA, the antibiotic resistant form of staph infection (MRSA stands for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). I would say pretty much all of the people I encountered contracted this infection from a hospital or clinic environment. And, in fact, hospitals are where this superbug emerged.

MRSA was first detected in hospitals in the 1960s. [1] What was a fairly common and benign bacteria — Staphylococcus aureus — has developed into a monster, largely through the development of antibiotics and antibacterial agents employed in hospital. It’s no longer confined to hospitals, so you’ll now hear of community-acquired MRSA as opposed to HA-MRSA (hospital-acquired MRSA). Once an individual acquires this bug it remains with them for life, as there is to date no effective pharmaceutical treatment for MRSA infections.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms will depend on where the infection appears. It typically appears as a skin infection such as a boil or abscess that just doesn’t seem to heal or go away. The bug can also enter via surgical cuts or wounds. It will often be red, swollen, pus-filled and painful. It’s often mistaken for a spider bite. An MRSA skin infection can lead to what is known as cellulitis. This is where the infection spreads to the deeper levels of skin tissue and fat. The skin around the infection will turn red, hot, swollen and painful.

An example of a MRSA infection (to the right of the credit card). Image by Calliopejen1, CC-BY-SA-3.0 license

If it infects the lungs it can lead to pneumonia. The symptoms will be shortness of breath, chills, a worsening fever and cough. Again, like a skin infection it doesn’t appear to go way. If after 3-4 days it hasn’t gotten any better, you should definitely be getting it checked out by a medical practitioner.

In time a MRSA infection can lead to more serious and even fatal conditions such as urinary tract infection, blood poisoning, osteomyelitis and even infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis). In very rare circumstances, MRSA can lead to necrotizing fasciitis — a rapidly spreading “flesh-eating” infection. [2]

Are essential oils the answer to MRSA?
By now most of you will be saying, “Please give me some good news.” Well the good news isn’t likely to be coming from medical science. If anything is now developed that’s stronger than Methicillin, it will most likely kill the patient before the bug. Anything researchers do develop is only likely to result in a more virulent superbug. I don’t think we want to see that. MRSA is a result of modern medicine, hence I think the answer has to come from outside the current medical paradigm.

Essential oils are the most likely way of fighting superbugs. For one thing they don’t have the side-effects that most antibiotics do. Second, they’re not capable of producing resistant strains of bacteria in the same way that pharmaceuticals do. And there are there reasons for the latter. First, essential oils are quite complex in their makeup (hundreds of compounds) as opposed to a couple of key ingredients in a medicine produced in a lab. Second, while every batch of a pharmaceutical drug is the same, no essential oil is ever twice the same. These two factors make it impossible for bacteria to mount an effective resistance to essential oils.

At one time hospitals used Onycha (see my post Ancient Medicine: Myrtle, Onycha, Cistus and Spikenard) essential oil dissolved in alcohol (also known as “Tincture of Benzoin”) as their most effective antiseptic and antibacterial agent to sanitise their wards. One wonders if such superbugs as MRSA would have emerged had they continued using Onycha. And you have to wonder why they stopped using it.

Which essential oils are the most effective?
A study carried out through Weber State University in Utah, the US, and published in 2008 found that of 91 essential oils tested, 78 showed inhibitory activity against the MRSA bacteria.[3] Of these, the most effective ( in descending order of effectiveness) were lemongrass, lemon myrtle, mountain savory, cinnamon bark and melissa. Lemongrass is a potent anti-inflammatory and is effective for dealing with damaged connective tissue (tendons and ligaments). It also has great insect repelling qualities.[4]

The best way to protect yourself from MRSA is to avoid getting it in the first place. MRSA is not an airborne pathogen — it spreads through physical contact. So if I were visiting or spending time in a hospital I would rub either some lemongrass or lemon myrtle on my hands and the soles of my feet. And if I did happen to get a MRSA infection, I would apply these oils topically at the site of the infection. In fact, this is what we did when my wife acquired a MRSA infection on her leg three years ago. Gavina, who works in a hospital, developed a sore on the back of her leg that just wouldn’t heal. We applied lemongrass oil and an oil blend to the spot. In time, the sore healed. I very much doubt that antibiotics would have had the same effect.

More research is needed in this area but at the moment essential oils seem to hold the greatest promise. Speaking of research, I did some “digging around” to see what organisations are out there promoting and/or conducting medical research in alternative therapies and modalities. If you are interested in supporting the health and wellbeing of humanity rather than just the bank balance sheets of pharmaceutical companies, you may wish to check out what I found in Supporting Research in Alternative and Complementary medicine.

Till next time!

Disclaimer: Please remember that anything discussed here does not
constitute medical advice and cannot substitute for appropriate medical care. Where essential oils are mentioned, it’s recommended you use only pure, unadulterated therapeutic grade essential oils and follow the safety directions of the manufacturer.

[1] MRSA history timeline 1959-2012, University of Chicago MRSA research center
[2] Understanding MRSA symptoms, WebMD
[3] Chao S, Young D.G., et al.  Inhibition of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) by essential oils, Flavour Frag. J. 2008 23:444-449
[4] Students invent award winning soap to tackle malaria, Teo Kermeliotis, CNN, 11th July 2013

Further Reading:

Aromatherapy oils ‘kill superbug’, BBC News, 21 December 2004
Essential oils ‘combat superbug’, BBC News, 20 March 2007
MRSA infection, Mayo Clinic
The MRSA Research Center, University of Chicago
Symptoms of MRSA infection, National Health Service, UK
Understanding MRSA symptoms, WebMD

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Anthony Zappia writes a regular blog about health and social issues, areas that he's passionate about. Twelve years ago he became especially interested in essential oils and their ability to enhance health and wellbeing. Anthony continues to follow the latest research and is himself a distributor of essential oils.