Food

Flavour saviour. Maple syrup could fight superbugs by boosting the effect of antibiotics

You now have one more reason to get to a sugar shack, and salute our flag
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Research now shows that a maple syrup extract could have boosting effects on antibiotics, making it an ally in the the fight against treatment resistant superbugs. An extract of the sweet syrupy stuff even lessens antibiotic side effects. Yes, succulent Canadian liquid gold could save us from the dangers of antibiotic fallout.

For years health care professionals have struggled with the doubtful advantage of antibiotics. While they're splendid for killing infection-causing bacteria, they also snuff out healthy bacteria making it tougher for us to fight off bugs on our own. Worse, they cultivate superbugs that pretty much laugh in the face of known antibiotics. "Ha!", they said, when reached for comment. Typical.

But they may have laughed their last with their arrogant little bug mouths. Dr Nathalie Tufenkji came up with idea of examining the antimicrobial power of maple syrup extract while studying similar effects in cranberries. But the maple syrup/health correlation is far from new. "Native populations in Canada have long used maple syrup to fight infections. I have always been interested in the science behind these folk medicines," says Tufenkji, who leads a team of researchers at McGill University in Quebec. An important, albeit awkward, tip of the colonial hat then to indigenous peoples who showed European settlers what's what with maple syrup production. We "borrowed" their sweet production process, as this whitewashed Heritage Minute shows us.

That said, the results of Tufenkji's study were impressive. It took 97 percent less antibiotic to achieve the same therapeutic effect when phenolic compounds from the syrup were included in treatment. And with a drastically small dose of antibiotics used, side effects were negligible. Phenols, along with having antiseptic and disinfectant properties, are what give syrup its golden colour. And the stuff really is liquid gold. In fact, the maple syrup industry brings in about $380 million a year with Quebec supplying 75% of the world's supply. And just like solid gold, it's prized by plunderers. Let's never forget the great Canadian maple syrup heist of 2012.

Aside from this new antibiotic-enhancing perk, maple syrup has always been nutrient rich. Key minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus sodium, potassium, zinc and healthy vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and B6 have been lurking in its golden depths this whole time, making it beneficial to immune system function, male reproductive health and even help guard against heart disease. Most of that though is from the zinc levels by the way. Adding superbug fighter to the list of benefits of something that is already crazy fun to put inside you is welcome.

For the treatment of any patients already dealing with suppressed immune systems it's an especially promising find and exciting for those who embrace plant based medicine. Tufenkji says, "there are other products out there that boost antibiotic strength, but this may be the only one that comes from nature". Maple trees for the win. While this may also seem like excellent news for carb apologists, allow me to throw some cold snow on you. Maple syrup, is still very high in sugar and the benefits of the phenols are achieved when they're separated from the sugar and water content.  So, get your healthy Canadiana in moderation. Or as Quebecers say, during l'temps des sucres. Or, "the time of the sugars". Which although sounds like an ancient carb war, is actually right now. Enjoy.