Maple syrup could help fight bacterial infections, Canadian scientists find

Researchers from the University of McGill have found a new use for Canada's favourite condiment: Making disease-causing bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics.

An extract derived from your favourite pancake-topper could help cut the use of antibiotics, researchers say

Researchers from the University of McGill have found a new use for Canada's favourite condiment: Making disease-causing bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics. (Cindy Creighton / Shutterstock)

Maple syrup is once again making headlines for being the rockstar condiment that every Canadian knows it is, but it's not the culinary world that's buzzing this time — it's the medical world.

Newly released research from McGill University in Montreal suggests that concentrated maple syrup extract may actually help fight bacterial infections, potentially reducing the need for antibiotics around the world.

"Combining maple syrup extract with common antibiotics could increase the microbes' susceptibility, leading to lower antibiotic usage," reads a press release issued by the university Friday. "Overuse of antibiotics fuels the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, which has become a major public-health concern worldwide."

The release explains how scientists at the school's department of chemical engineering used maple syrup samples, purchased at local markets in Montreal, to prepare a "concentrated extract of maple syrup that consists mainly of phenolic compounds," a class of aromatic organic chemicals. 

Postdoctoral fellow Vimal Maisuria and Prof. Nathalie Tufenkji, researchers in McGill’s Department of Chemical Engineering, in the lab where they tested maple syrup extract on infection-causing strains of bacteria. (McGill University)
Researchers then tested this extract's effect on "infection-causing strains of certain bacteria, including E. coli and Proteus mirabilis (a common cause of urinary tract infection)."

While the team admits in their findings that the extract was only "mildly effective" in combating bacteria on its own, it was found to be quite effective when combined with antibiotics.

More specifically, the extract was observed acting "synergistically with antibiotics" to destroy the "resistant communities of bacteria" commonly present in difficult-to-treat infections (like those involving the urinary tract.)

These bacterial communities, known as "biofilms," are notoriously resistant to antibiotic treatment — a problem that costs the U.S. healthcare system more than $5 billion every year 
according to a 2008 paper by University of Washington bioengineering professor James Bryers.

Does maple syrup hold the key to beating drug-resistant bacteria?

"We would have to do in vivo tests, and eventually clinical trials, before we can say what the effect would be in humans," said lead researcher Nathalie Tufenkji in a statement. "But the findings suggest a potentially simple and effective approach for reducing antibiotic usage. I could see maple syrup extract being incorporated eventually, for example, into the capsules of antibiotics."

Prof. Tufenkji, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Biocolloids and Surfaces, co-authored the study with postdoctoral fellows Vimal Maisuria and Zeinab Hosseinidoust.

Funding for their research was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canada Research Chairs program.

The team's findings are set to be published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology this May.


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