1,000-Year-Old Medical Remedy Shows Promise Against MRSA


A page from Bald’s Leechbook, where the MRSA-fighting recipe was found. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England)

The superbug MRSA, which causes hard-to-treat infections and kills more people in the U.S. each year than AIDS, may have met its match — in a more-than-1,000-year-old medical remedy that is made of wine and a dried form of ox bile.

Yes, ox bile.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham presented research showing that the recipe, from the ninth-century Anglo-Saxon medical text Bald’s Leechbook, demonstrates “strong antibacterial activity” against chronic MRSA wounds. (MRSA stands for “methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus”.)

The remedy includes just five ingredients: two Allium species (garlic), copper, wine, and oxgall (a dried form of ox bile). It was originally used to treat sties, infections of the eyelash follicles that are usually caused by S. aureus bacteria.

While none of the ingredients when used on their own seemed to work in killing S. aureus in biofilms (a group of bacteria that are stuck together on a surface), they did work when used together in the recipe, researchers found.

They also tested the remedy on mouse skin infected with MRSA, and found that it killed 90 percent of the bacteria, the New Scientist reported.

“Our results highlight the untapped potential of pre-modern antibacterial remedies for yielding novel therapeutics,” the researchers wrote in the abstract of the study, which they presented at the annual conference of the Society for General Microbiology. Because the findings have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be regarded as preliminary. 

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