Thursday August 11, 2005
Â· OK, it’s me and Susan Clarke from the Sunday Times, on the floor, mano a mano. This week someone is asking for alternative therapy wisdom for her husband, who is going into hospital: “Is there any natural product or foodstuff he could take prior to surgery to boost his immune system enough to fight off any infection?” Clarke jumps in. “Brazilian scientists,” she says – picture their wholesome indigenous ways, “have investigated the potential of plant extracts in the battle against … MRSA, and they suggest that the herb pau d’arco could have a role to play in protecting hospital patients from these infections. They identified active agents known as naphthoquinones, which, in laboratory tests, demonstrated not only good antibacterial activity against three different strains of the superbugs, but also more potency than similar, semi-synthetic chemicals that were investigated against the same strains …You can order pau d’arco supplements from Rio Trading (01273 570987); 120 capsules cost Â£15.99. Take four a day.”
Â· First, we all enjoy the suggestion that nature’s version is more potent than the patriarchal evil scientist semi-synthetic one, although I’d have been more impressed if the comparison was with a proven anti-MRSA antibiotic, rather than an a few suck-it-and-see derivatives of this plant one.
Â· Now. Think about the pathology, and how bacteria become resistant to anti-microbial agents: they’re exposed to them, and develop resistance through mutation and natural selection. I can think of few suggestions more stupid than giving potentially valuable new anti-microbials to people exposed to wild strains of MRSA in subtherapeutic, mail-order healthfood shop doses such that the bacteria can almost certainly survive, yet still be exposed to the new agents, and so become resistant. How does Clarke think MRSA became invincible to so many drugs in the first place? Perhaps she thinks the bacteria sensed their energy fields, or picked up their electromagnetic signature homeopathically through the water supply?
Â· Even better, she is suggesting this bloke take it prior to surgery, before he has been exposed to the high-risk environment for MRSA, presumably so all the other bacteria in his body can develop resistance to the bactericidal action of pau d’arco, and then share their resistance genes with the MRSA bugs, when they arrive in the body. That’s right, Clarke: bacteria share genes with each other – just one of the wonders of science.