Quirks & Quarks

The most Canadian scientific discovery ever

Maple syrup might be for more than just pancakes.
Maple syrup is magic on pancakes, but some of its phenolic compounds might be useful in treating infections, too. (Larry Crowe/AP)

A lot of people swear by folk remedies for their ailments. Chewing bark for headaches, single malt scotch to cure a cold, an onion poultice on the chest for a deep cough. Most of them don't have research to back them up. 

But maple syrup does. Native populations in Canada have long recognized the medicinal properties of this golden elixir. That prompted Dr. Nathalie Tufenkji, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at McGill University, to take a closer look at it. 

She discovered that an extract of maple syrup can enhance the potency of antibiotics. 

Her lab's research suggests that certain phenolic compounds in maple syrup help break through the bacterial cell walls, allowing the antibiotics to penetrate. 

She thinks the extract also disables "pumps" inside the cells that would normally push out the antibiotics. In two separate experiments, Tufenkji found that they could use up to 90 per cent less antibiotic to effectively kill infection.