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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Comparison of the antibacterial activity of essential oils and extracts of medicinal and culinary herbs to investigate potential new treatments for irritable bowel syndrome

Aiysha Thompson1, Dilruba Meah1, Nadia Ahmed1, Rebecca Conniff-Jenkins1, Emma Chileshe1, Chris O Phillips2, Tim C Claypole2, Dan W Forman3 and Paula E Row1*

Author Affiliations

1 Biochemistry Group, College of Medicine, Care of Grove Reception, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK

2 Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating, College of Engineering, The Talbot Building, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK

3 College of Science, The Wallace Building, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013, 13:338  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-338

Published: 28 November 2013

Abstract

Background

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder, which may result from alteration of the gastrointestinal microbiota following gastrointestinal infection, or with intestinal dysbiosis or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. This may be treated with antibiotics, but there is concern that widespread antibiotic use might lead to antibiotic resistance. Some herbal medicines have been shown to be beneficial, but their mechanism(s) of action remain incompletely understood. To try to understand whether antibacterial properties might be involved in the efficacy of these herbal medicines, and to investigate potential new treatments for IBS, we have conducted a preliminary study in vitro to compare the antibacterial activity of the essential oils of culinary and medicinal herbs against the bacterium, Esherichia coli.

Methods

Essential oils were tested for their ability to inhibit E. coli growth in disc diffusion assays and in liquid culture, and to kill E. coli in a zone of clearance assay. Extracts of coriander, lemon balm and spearmint leaves were tested for their antibacterial activity in the disc diffusion assay. Disc diffusion and zone of clearance assays were analysed by two-tailed t tests whereas ANOVA was performed for the turbidometric assays.

Results

Most of the oils exhibited antibacterial activity in all three assays, however peppermint, lemon balm and coriander seed oils were most potent, with peppermint and coriander seed oils being more potent than the antibiotic rifaximin in the disc diffusion assay. The compounds present in these oils were identified by gas chromatography mass spectrometry. Finally, extracts were made of spearmint, lemon balm and coriander leaves with various solvents and these were tested for their antibacterial activity against E. coli in the disc diffusion assay. In each case, extracts made with ethanol and methanol exhibited potent antibacterial activity.

Conclusions

Many of the essential oils had antibacterial activity in the three assays, suggesting that they would be good candidates for testing in clinical trials. The observed antibacterial activity of ethanolic extracts of coriander, lemon balm and spearmint leaves suggests a mechanistic explanation for the efficacy of a mixture of coriander, lemon balm and mint extracts against IBS in a published clinical trial.

Keywords:
Irritable bowel syndrome; IBS; Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth; SIBO; Herbal medicine; Antibacterial; Antimicrobial; Essential oil