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Antibiotics have saved untold millions of lives, but they do have a cost. Along with killing healthy cells together with the bacteria that cause infections, antibiotics used in high amounts for extended periods spur the creation of “superbugs” that become immune to antibiotics.

Now, Canadian researchers have found that the sweet syrup you pour over waffles may hold the key to eliminating the creation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

“Native populations in Canada have long used maple syrup to fight infections,” says Nathalie Tufenkji, Ph.D.

Tufenkji became interested in the disease-fighting properties of maple syrup when she found that phenols in the syrup had antiseptic properties.

Phenols are toxic compounds in the syrup that are both antiseptic, which kills infections on living tissues, and disinfectant, which destroys bacteria on nonliving objects.

Tufenkji’s team at McGill University separated the sugar and water from the syrup’s phenolic compounds. When they exposed several disease-causing bacterial strains to the extract, they didn’t see much of an effect.

They then decided to check whether the extract could enhance the antimicrobial potency of the commonly used antibiotics ciprofloxacin and carbenicillin.

When the team mixed the phenolic extract with either of these medicines, they indeed found a synergistic effect, allowing them to get the same antimicrobial effect with upwards of 90 percent less antibiotic.

The method worked on a variety of bacterial strains, including E. coli, which can cause gastrointestinal problems; Proteus mirabilis, responsible for many urinary tract infections; and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause infections often acquired by patients in hospitals.

They found that the extract increased the permeability of the bacteria, suggesting that it helps antibiotics gain access to the interior of bacterial cells. 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.

While it will probably be years before the extract will be available as a medicine, it may have an edge over other medications that may be developed in the future. “There are other products out there that boost antibiotic strength, but this may be the only one that comes from nature,” Tufenkji said.

A British folk medicinal recipe has also been found to be effective against superbugs. Scientists at the University of Nottingham found that an ancient eye salve kills the deadly antibiotic resistant superbug Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Experts recreated the salve, which was described in the 9th Century Anglo-Saxon manuscript Bald’s Leechbook, using onion, garlic, and wine, all long-known for their antibacterial properties, as well as cow bile. Results of tests, both in vitro and on mice, were “astonishing,” and killed up to 90 percent of the MRSA.

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