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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Antioxidant-Enriched Multivitamin May Decrease Respiratory Illnesses

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Scott D Sagel MD PhD
Professor of Pediatrics
University of Colorado School of Medicine
Aurora, Colorado

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Inflammation is an important feature of cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease and contributes to lung damage and lung function decline in CF. We need safe and effective anti-inflammatory treatments in CF. Anti-oxidant therapy has been an area of promise, but with mixed results in CF.

This clinical trial, conducted at 15 CF centers affiliated with the cystic fibrosis Foundation Therapeutics Development Network, enrolled 73 patients who were 10 years and older (average age 22 years), with pancreatic insufficiency, which causes malabsorption of antioxidants. Subjects were randomized to either a multivitamin containing multiple antioxidants including carotenoids such as beta(β)-carotene, tocopherols (vitamin E), coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), and selenium or to a control multivitamin without antioxidant enrichment. The antioxidants used in the study were delivered in a capsule specifically designed for individuals with difficulties absorbing fats and proteins, including those with cystic fibrosis.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: Antioxidant supplementation was safe and well-tolerated. Supplemental antioxidants increased antioxidant concentrations in the bloodstream in treated subjects and temporarily reduced inflammation in the blood at four weeks but not 16 weeks. Airway inflammation, as measured in sputum, did not change significantly with antioxidant treatment. Importantly, antioxidant treatment appeared to both prolong the time to the first respiratory illness requiring antibiotics and reduce the frequency of respiratory illnesses they experienced.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Taking a specially formulated antioxidant-enriched multivitamin, containing multiple dietary antioxidants, may decrease respiratory illnesses in people with cystic fibrosis. While more research needs to be done to find a treatment that delivers a sustained anti-inflammatory effect, we believe the prolonged time patients had before their first respiratory illness is clinically meaningful. Also, the cost of a dietary antioxidant-enriched multivitamin is relatively modest compared to other currently available therapies that have been proven to reduce pulmonary exacerbations in cystic fibrosis.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We still don’t know the optimal dosing of these various dietary antioxidants. We also don’t know the added benefit of antioxidant supplementation in the era of CFTR modulator therapy, emerging treatments that get at the basic protein defect in cystic fibrosis.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: This clinical trial, funded by a grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, was an investigator-initiated study led by Scott D. Sagel, MD, PhD, a Professor of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Colorado and Director of the University of Colorado Cystic Fibrosis Center. It was not an industry initiated or funded trial. Callion Pharma manufactured the antioxidant-enriched and control multivitamins and provided them at no charge for this study.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.

Citation:
Effects of an Antioxidant-enriched Multivitamin in Cystic Fibrosis: Randomized, Controlled, Multicenter Trial
Scott D Sagel , Umer Khan , Raksha Jain , Gavin Graff , Cori L Daines , Jordan M Dunitz , Drucy Borowitz , David M Orenstein , Ibrahim Abdulhamid , Julie Noe , John P Clancy , et al
https://doi.org/10.1164/rccm.201801-0105OC PubMed: 29688760
American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine

Published Online: April 24, 2018

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

Original interview article here.