As Both Patient and Scientist, I’m Putting Nature’s Medicine to the Test

By Ella Balasa

I peered into one of the incubators that stored my petri dishes for 24 hours, anxious to see whether I would discover discoloration and unevenness on the surface, which would have indicated that my experiment produced favorable results. I wanted to see a visual representation of whether manuka honey kills the stubborn Pseudomonas bacterium, which dwells in nearly half of the lungs affected by CF.

I’m a microbiology lab scientist, plus an inquisitive writer. I also consider myself an informed, self-advocating realist. Life experiences have taught me that I am solely responsible for my health. I strive to keep my health stable through prescribed medications, healthy diet, and some natural supplements.

During my college years, I focused on the environment, especially the living parts that we can’t see but that are essential to the cycle of life — bacteria. It just so happens that certain ones are, understatedly, little pests for people with CF. The lung bacteria of people with CF birth many symptoms and infections.

I continually fight Pseudomonas aeruginosa, my nemesis bacterium that spikes fevers within days of overwhelming my immune system and that has caused countless infections, leaving my lungs with pockets of dead tissue. I take antibiotics frequently, but I also believe that naturally derived compounds can have positive effects. So, despite my disdain and nausea, I sometimes supplement garlic, which contains the antibacterial compound ajoene. I’ve also consumed manuka honey; this I’ve done more religiously, as it tastes more like candy than any “medication.” Manuka honey contains the natural antibiotic methylglyoxal, a compound that fights relentless Pseudomonas by causing its cells to burst and die. I took a spoonful a day for a few years until recently. Maybe I stuck to this exorbitantly priced, palatable remedy merely because of its taste and the flawed logic that expensiveness is indicative of effectivity.

I had the idea to test the effectiveness of the honey on my sputum. My mucus grows many species of bacteria, but Pseudomonas is a primary component, so it’s easy to propagate in the lab setting.

Yes, I took a sputum cup of mucus into work. When inoculating the vials with the bacteria, I was slightly anxious that my lab mates might freak out at the sight of the hazardous and vile-looking green blobs. Then again, they work with wastewater from treatment plants, so it really shouldn’t phase them.

I tested a concentration of 15 percent weight per volume of manuka honey, a choice informed by published studies. I tested half of the petri dishes with honey mixed into the nutrients for the bacteria and the other half without the honey. The dishes with the honey should have less bacterial growth if the treatment works. (If you want more detail on the process, drop a comment below this column.)

The yellow dish has the honey added and the white dish doesn’t. (Photo by Ella Balasa)

After the 24-hour incubation period, I was excited to see the results of science that we as patients typically do not participate in. We provide our sputum samples during doctor’s appointments, then labs perform antibiotic resistance tests, and results are returned as values on a piece of paper indicating resistance or susceptibility. We don’t see the process. I was doing this same research on my own, and in a sense, taking the utmost control of my health.

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For Cystic Fibrosis Lung Infections, How Well Antibiotics Work May be Affected by pH, Oxygen

By Heather Buschman, PhD

People living with cystic fibrosis (CF) spend their entire lives battling chronic lung infections that are notoriously resistant to antibiotic therapy. Yet a one-size-fits all approach to wiping out the offending bacterium may not be the best approach for all patients with the disease, according to a new study by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Continue reading For Cystic Fibrosis Lung Infections, How Well Antibiotics Work May be Affected by pH, Oxygen