Antibiotics and anti-bacterial drugs are valuable tools in combating infections, both in topical forms and when taken internally. The antimicrobial effects of these powerful medications can be used to treat a wide range of bacterial infections, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, meningitis, strep throat and many other diseases. Over 100 different compounds are classed as antibiotics, such as penicillin, erythromycin, tetracycline and many other major types of anti-bacterial agents. Some antibiotics are more effective against certain bacteria, while others can be used to treat a wider range of bacterial infections. These are sometimes referred to as broad-spectrum antibiotics.
The ancient Greeks and Egyptians used various types of mold to treat certain ailments. These primitive antibiotics provided some protection against the growth of bacteria within wounds or systemic infections. The Ayurvedic folk medicine tradition of India also incorporated the seeds of the Moringa oleifera plant into ointments and poultices to treat infections. It is now known that these seeds contain a natural antibiotic substance known as pterygospermin.
Modern antibiotic medicine has its roots in the 1870s, however, when the effects of antibiotics were first observed and recorded by Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch and others. Alexander Fleming’s experiments with bread mold led to the identification of penicillin, a powerful antibiotic that can be used to combat a wide range of bacteria types. Physicians and health care professionals utilize synthetic, semi-synthetic and naturally-occurring antibiotics, depending on the specific illness to be treated and the needs of the individual patient.
Modern antibiotics are typically divided into two separate classes. Bacteriostatic antibiotics prevent the division and replication of bacteria, thus stalling the infection’s growth and spread. Bactericidal antibiotics, by contrast, work to destroy the bacteria directly and work more quickly as a result. Antibiotics can be further subdivided into various families, including:
- Cephalosporins – These antibiotics retard and prevent the formation of cell walls in most bacteria, preventing the spread of infection.
- Glycopeptides – By attacking the cell walls and preventing them from forming or reforming properly, glycopeptides slow the progress of bacteria.
- Quinolones – The antibiotic action of quinolones prevents the proper genetic replication of bacteria affected by these drugs.
- Macrolides – While not recommended for use by individuals with liver problems, the macrolide line of antibiotics is typically used to treat tuberculosis, Lyme disease and leprosy.
- Tetracyclines – One of the most popular families of antibiotics, these medications are used as broad-spectrum anti-bacterial drugs to fight a wide range of infections and diseases.
Additionally, natural antibiotics are available that can provide anti-bacterial benefits to patients suffering from infections.
In some cases, certain classes or families of antibiotics cannot be ingested by patients due to serious allergies. Penicillin allergies are the most common type of antibiotic allergy, with approximately ten percent of all people reporting some degree of allergic response when treated with the drug. The most common reaction is rash or discomfort, but serious allergic reactions are also possible, including anaphylactic shock and even death.
The seeds of the moringa plant include a natural antibiotic that can be used to treat or control infection. Pterygospermin can be used to counter the effects of a number of bacteria responsible for causing infections and also offers an anti-fungal effect for even more utility. Because pterygospermin occurs naturally in moringa seeds, it typically does not carry the same high risk of allergic response as more highly processed antibiotics. Additionally, a study conducted in 1981 and published in Planta Medica identified the presence of benzyl isothiocyanate within the seeds. This compound is also a highly effective antibiotic and can be used to treat bacterial infection, making moringa a valuable medicinal supplement in cases where bacteria may pose a threat to health or human life.