Berberine (Goldenseal)GingerHerbalsOnionRosemary

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in herbal products

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of a microorganism to withstand the effects of antibiotics.

You’re exposed to these bacteria when you swallow the herbal medicine.

First, the details.

  • 29 herbal supplements (18 traditional and 11 organic products) were purchased from stores and analyzed microbiologically.
  • Total bacterial counts were determined.

And, the results.

  • Bacteria resistant to ceftriaxone (Rocephin) or tetracycline were identified in ground garlic samples.
  • Traditional and organic onion powder samples also contained tetracycline- and ceftriaxone-resistant bacteria.
  • Ginger, rosemary, mustard, and goldenseal contained low levels of resistant bacteria.
  • Tests of 52 bacteria against 9 antibiotics identified antibiotic resistance to the following drugs: ampicillin, nalidixic acid (NegGram), trimethoprim (Bactrim, Septra), ceftriaxone (Rocephin), and streptomycin.
  • Resistant bacteria included Bacillus spp., Erwinia spp., and Ewingella americana. Staphylococcus spp., Enterobacter cloacae, and Stenotrophomonas maltophilia.

The bottom line?
Is anybody getting sick from these resistant bacteria in herbal products?

It’s not possible to know, because of other factors (eg, antibiotic prescribing patterns of doctors) that also contribute to the development of resistance.

However, Dr. Chip Chambers at San Francisco General Hospital warns, “We are on the verge of losing control of the situation, particularly in the hospitals.”

The strategy when it comes to managing the growth of resistant bacteria is to control and minimize the negative effects of each contributing factor. When it comes to herbals, current manufacturing techniques appear to be contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. This suggests that production, distribution, and (gasp) access by the public should be re-evaluated.

9/3/08 20:33 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.