6 Essential Oils Research Shows Effective for MRSA Staph Infections

A paradigm shift in the treatment of infectious diseases is underway. New designer drugs and natural plant based pharmaceuticals are being developed. This development has been necessary to prevent antibiotics from becoming completely obsolete.

Medicine has now entered the post modern age; what is being called the Anthropocene epoch. The Anthropocene age is the period of time during which human activity has become the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

Under the current environmental pressures the discovery of appropriate alternatives to antibiotics has become of paramount importance. Traditional allopathic medicine is already incorporating several non-antibiotic approaches to the treatment and prevention of infection. Some of the non-antibiotic alternatives include:

  • Probiotics - live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you, especially your digestive system. Your body is full of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria. Probiotics are often referred to as "good" or "helpful" kind of bacteria because they help your gut stay balanced and healthy.
  • Phage therapy - the use of bacterial viruses to combat populations of nuisance or pathogenic bacteria.
  • Phytomedicines - herbal or plant based medicines, including essential oils.

Alternative therapies are viewed favorably by many patients often because they are not being helped by conventional treatments. There is also a perception that alternative natural therapies have fewer harmful side effects. Many patients report significant improvement when taking complementary and alternative medicines. Unfortunately, until very recent years, the conventional established medical profession has been slow to adopt alternative ‘nature based’ therapies.

We’ve entered the ‘post antibiotic era’ when alternative solutions to treat infections has become absolutely crucial for our survival as a species. In 2013 the Alliance for Aging Research released results of studies showing that 1.7 million Americans develop hospital-acquired infections (HAI) each year, and 99,000 die of HAIs annually. Three-fourths of the infections start in nursing homes and doctors' offices. The economic burden to the U.S. is estimated as high as $45 billion per year.

A 2018 study estimated that about 33000 people die annually as a direct consequence of an infection due to bacteria resistant to antibiotics and that the burden of these infections is comparable to that of influenza, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined. 

Why antibiotics are fast becoming obsolete?

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria adapt and evolve to withstand the threat of death by an antibiotic. The problem is that bacteria are able to grow and change faster than new antibiotics can be developed to eliminate them. Consequently the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections becomes rapidly obsolete. 

News at Medical Life Sciences puts it simply, “The problem with current treatments is that they are made of single compounds which MRSA relatively quickly becomes resistant to, so treatment is only successful in around 50% of cases.” The report also tells us, “The reason essential oils are so effective is because they are made up of a complex mixture of chemical compounds which the MRSA and other super bug bacteria finds difficult to resist.”

However, the researchers are having a problem finding funding to support their research as, “Essential oils cannot be patented as they are naturally occurring, so few drug companies are interested in our work as they do not see it as commercially viable.” The scientists heading this crucial research found this situation to be, “Very frustrating as we believe our findings could help to stamp out MRSA and save lives.”

Scientists attribute, ‘Non-essential use’ of antibiotics as greatly contributing to the evolution of bacterial resistance.

  • Use of antibiotic to treat animal and plant diseases.
  • Antibiotic use to increase food-animal growth rates.
  • Excessive and improper use of antibiotics to treat human diseases.

What is MRSA?

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (aka 
MRSA) is a bacterium that can cause infections throughout the body. It is much tougher to treat than other strains of staphylococcus aureus, or staph for short, because  it has become resistant to the most commonly used antibiotics.

Why is MRSA so dangerous?

Left untreated a MRSA infection can become severe enough to cause sepsis which is your body’s extreme response to an infection. Sepsis can result in death. Recently, my Aunt Jane contracted MRSA when hospitalized for back surgery. She developed sepsis and died suddenly and unexpectedly.

Find out how the Center for Disease Control is currently engaged in surveillance of MRSA. 

6 Essential Oils Research Shows Effective for Treating MRSA

1 - CINNAMON LEAF (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
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FDA Approved: Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) Status

Cinnamon Leaf pure essential oil is a powerful antiseptic oil with a warm, strong pungent and spicy aroma and reddish brown color. It is not as sweet or tenacious as cinnamon bark. It has a long tradition of use, having been produced in Sri Lanka for more than 2,000 years.

Clove and cinnamon share many common characteristics which is not surprising as eugenol is the main constituent in both oils. This component also tends to make them "heavier" oils. 

Studies showed the chemical content, (E)-cinnamaldehyde (an aldehyde), contained in Cinnamon oil inhibits growth of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. In addition, they inhibit the formation of biofilms, which are directly related to infections. The most susceptible biofilms were P. aeruginosa and E. coli microorganisms. The study concluded, "Essential oils containing cinnamaldehyde may be considered as possible sources for the development of new antimicrobial agents and may be used in synergy with currently available synthetic antibiotics or antimicrobials.” 

Another study evaluated the antibacterial activity of Cinnamon essential oil, alone and in combination with some classical antibiotics, against three multidrug-resistant bacteria, Escherichia coliStaphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, to search a possible synergy. The present study reported that the combinations between cinnamon oil and some classical antibiotics had synergistic and additive interactions against multidrug-resistant bacteria. The study concluded, "These combinations can be used as an alternative therapeutic application, which could decrease the minimum effective dose of the drugs, thus reducing their possible adverse effects and the costs of treatment.” 

2 - MANUKA (Leptospermum scoparium)
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The aroma of Manuka oil is in a class all of its very own. Its warm, rich, honey-scented and full bodied aroma is unlike any other essential oil you have ever experienced. Although related to the common tea tree with similar properties, its character and scent are completely unlike the common Tea Tree oil.

Manuka’s chemical content is almost 30 percent ketones, making it suitable for controlling and inhibiting viral and fungal infections.

The Manuka tree is indigenous to New Zealand, and its essential oil has been used as a traditional medicine to treat wounds, fever, and pain. 

A study was conducted on using Manuka against infectious and inflammatory microorganisms, including nosocomial infections, those that have been caught in a hospital and potentially caused by organisms that are resistant to antibiotics, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Developing effective agents for treating these types of illnesses is critical and has fueled the recent explosion in essential oil research. Manuka essential oil was evaluated for use in treating diseases and inflammation caused by these microorganism infections. Studies reported in the Journal of Microbiology concluded that a gargle or mouthwash containing Manuka essential oil could delay development of mucositis (inflammation of the body's intestinal mucous membranes) and reduce associated health problems.

3 - MYRRH (Commiphora myrrha)
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Strong, sweet and woody, Myrrh oil has a full bodied aroma that’s rich deep and mellow.

Unlike antibiotics, anti-virulence approaches (like essential oils) target bacterial virulence without affecting a cell’s viability. This may make the microbe less prone to develop resistance to treatment as noted by researchers and reported in News at Medical Life Sciences. Staphylococcus aureus is a major human pathogen that produces diverse virulence factors, such as α-toxin, which is hemolytic (destroys red blood cells). Also, biofilm formation of S. aureus is one of the mechanisms of its drug resistance.

In this study, anti-biofilm screening of 83 essential oils showed that myrrh oil markedly inhibited S. aureus biofilm formation. Furthermore, a concentration below 0.005 % almost completely abolished the hemolytic activity of S. aureus. In other words, Myrrh oil stopped S. aureus from destroying red blood cells. This study is one of the most extensive on anti-virulence screening done to date using diverse essential oils and provides comprehensive data on the subject. This finding implies other beneficial effects of essential oils and suggests that myrrh, as well as the other essential oils studied, have potential use as anti-virulence strategies against persistent S. aureus infections.

4 - SWEET ORANGE (Citrus sinensis)
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FDA Approved: Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) Status

Cold pressed from the fresh peel, sweet orange oil smells wonderfully sweet and citrusy. It is the most highly produced essential oil on the world market today, relatively inexpensive to produce and seldom adulterated.

Application of orange essential oil as an antistaphylococcal agent in a dressing model was conducted. The study looked at the effect of orange essential oil on strains of Staphylococcus aureus that are resistant to antibiotics. The study found that when added to infected human cells in culture, low concentrations of orange essential oil killed the bacteria without harming the cultured cells.

Staphylococcus aureus is the pathogen most often and prevalently involved in skin and soft tissue infections. Outbreaks of methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) have created major problems for skin therapy in burn and wound care units. Topical antimicrobials for wound dressing are an important part of wound infection therapy. Essential oils are one alternative therapy that’s being studied for treatment of MRSA.

MRSA accounts for more than half of all soft-tissue and skin infections. In the U.S. alone, MRSA prevalence is reported to have continuously increased. From 1999 to 2006 the percentage of S. aureus infections resistant to methicillin increased more than 90% in outpatients admitted to U.S. hospitals.

This study demonstrated the anti-staphylococcal effects of sweet orange oil, i.e. inhibition and bactericidal effects on MRSA.

5 - OREGANO (Origanum vulgare)
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FDA Approved: Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) Status

Oregano oil has a spicy, pungent and herbaceous aroma that’s warm and radiant to the senses. It is one of the most effective antibacterial oils in aromatherapy.

Preliminary research into the oil found that even tiny doses of the oil are capable of wiping out fungi and bacterial infections, including MRSA. Researchers found that the oil still works even at boiling temperature, which would make it useful for disinfecting hospital sheets. Its vapor was shown to be equally as effective as an antibacterial spray.

One researcher at Biolaya Organics reported that, ”Himalayan oregano oil kills MRSA at dilution's of less than 1 to 1000 and the antimicrobial properties, unlike most conventional antibacterial agents, are not affected by heat treatment."

Scientists already knew that Mediterranean oregano oil was a powerful antimicrobial because of an essential compound it contains called carvacrol. Further tests showed that the Himalayan oregano oil was more effective at killing MRSA than 18 antibiotics. 

6 - TEA TREE (Melaleuca alternifolia)
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Well tolerated by most individuals, tea tree oil has a strongly medicinal and antiseptic smell. 

Laboratory studies published in the Journal of Infection Control reported that melaleuca alternifolia oil (tea tree oil) showed promising results in treating MRSA infections. The study cited that, “Staphylococcus aureus, both methicillin-resistant and -sensitive, are of great and growing concern in their ability to cause difficult skin and underlying tissue infections.”

READ next article in series, Essential Oils for Boosting Immunity & Soothing Support for Cold & Flu Symptoms.

READ first article in series, Essential Oils for Boosting Immunity & Soothing Support for Cold & Flu Symptoms.

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†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All statements on this website are intended for informational purposes only.

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