Galangal: from the kitchen to the pharmacy

galangalA Basic Kitchen Herb… Extracted to create new antibiotics capable of battling drug-resistant bacteria

Galangal root. (“Kha” in Thai. Also called Thai Ginger, Blue Ginger, etc.) It has been an essential ingredient in the Thai kitchen since bygone times. It’s a key ingredient in the making of many various curry powders and pastes, can eliminate foul odors and is used to enhance the flavor of food. When crushed or powdered, it can be used as a top quality herbal medicine with many health benefits. Pharmaceutical research has found that the galangal root aids in digestion and can help eliminate painful gas and bloating. The waters and fragrant oils extracted from this root are naturally resistant to harmful germs, infectious bacterias and histamines. Apart from these many benefits, galangal also helps maintain and nourish the body by aiding the regulation of blood circulation and metabolism.

So it is that galangal has long held a solid place among beneficial medicinal herbs and, in the near future, this humble Thai herb may well “go international” as part of creating new antibiotics capable of battling drug-resistant bacterias. Once researchers from the Suranaree University of Technology successfully extract the flavonoids from the galangal root, a new type of antibiotic can be made. One which is capable of helping battle many various types of infectious bacterias, especially those that are resistant to beta-lactam antibiotics. It may well be the answer to a growing problem that hospitals all around the world are experiencing more and more frequently.

Presently, researchers are in the stages of toxicology research, the initial results of which discovered that the extracts of the galangal root have no toxic side effects on the lab animals tested. It is safe to assume that in the near future we may well be able to develop new strains antibiotics right here in Thailand. This will decrease the need to import many antibiotics from other countries which, presently, costs the country hundreds of millions of baht per year.

Doctor Kriangsak Eaumkep, pharmacist, assistant professor and lecturer in the department of biology, SUT, said that research has revealed the emergence of many types of infectious bacterias that are growing ever resistant to the effects of antibiotics. Formally, this was not the case and antibiotics were capable of battling with these bacterias. But the bacterias themselves have evolved at the genomic level, changing to become antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It’s become a widespread issue that common bacteria and germs are mutating to resist the drugs that formally had effect on them as well as resist whole groups of antibiotics which are of the same type or are developed from the same bacterial strains. Today, scientific researchers are hurrying to find new strains of antibiotics developed from other sources, which may have effect on the resistant germs.

galangal labUp until now, many antibiotic drugs have been discovered, tested, patented and distributed for widespread use. Some of the most commonly used antibiotics which we have today include; ampicillin, amoxicillin, erythromycin, clarithromycin, gentamicin, and tetracycline.

It’s estimated that within about 3-5 years after research and safety tests are completed, Thailand will be able to begin production of a new line of antibiotic drugs, manufactured within the country from local products.

However, the more advances are made in the development of antibiotic drugs, the more quickly and violently the resistant bacteria will evolve and mutate. Thus making some types of antibiotics have no effect on them whatsoever. The result of such an infection is the emergence of contaminated ulcers and pustules on the body which cannot be cured by the commonly used antibiotic drugs. This is mostly do to the fact that most antibacterial drugs that are in use today are all developed from the same kinds of bacterial strains. There aren’t any drugs made from this same common strain that can effectively battle the mutated germs.

In a study done at Maharat Nakhon Ratchasima Hospital, it was discovered that common beta-lactam antibiotics that have been in use for many years now, such as those developed from penicillin, do little or nothing to combat the outbreak of bacterial infections. The same penicillin drug which Thailand spends millions of baht a year importing from other countries.

An example of such a infection-causing bacteria is the Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA- a type of staph infection) which causes an outbreak of pustules on the surface of the skin and causes sores already on the body to become infected. This type of bacteria was found in more than 70% of infected cases within the hospital.

Apart from this, research has also found the existence of infections that are resistant to the injection of Ceftazidime, a rather new, high-quality, expensive infection treating drug. This bacteria, named Cefttazidime Resistant Enterobacter Cloacae (CREnC), causes infections within the blood system and in various internal organs of the body. This bacterial menace is now found in up to 100% of cases of infection in hospitals.

galangal capsuleMost alarming, is that these bacterial viruses can be transferred from patient to patient by mere contact with blood and other bodily fluids such as phlegm, mucus, saliva, urine and feces. Bacteria of this kind have not only caused a health issue for hospitals, but a financial one as well. The cost to treat these infections is high and, if the drugs used in hospitals have no effect, the patient is then faced with buying medicines and continuing treatment on his own. Thus spending even more money with little or no effect. The patient infected with bacteria such as this is also faced with increased chances for other various health complications throughout his lifetime.

“(Research and experimentation is being carried out) …for the purpose of finding biological compounds capable of being used as a substitute for the commonly used beta-lactam antibiotics, or to be used as supplement in unison with them, so as to effectively restrict the development of antibiotic resistant bacterias. We have experimented on the effectiveness of the use of flavonoids to be used in place of or together with antibiotic drugs currently in use today and their effectiveness (if any) in combating antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. Research has found that these infectious bacterias, the cause of pustules and infected sores on the body, which resisted treatment with antibiotics alone, and the infectious bacteria found in the blood stream were treatable if the antibiotics were used in unison with some flavonoids. Flavonoids such as Baicalein and Galangin, which can be extracted from the galangal root, had positive effect on the resistant bacteria making it susceptible to treatment again. When used in unison with antibiotics, these flavonoids cause the bacteria to cease resisting treatment, thus making the antibiotic effective once more.”

Even though these findings about the extracts from the galangal root family are promising, we are still in the research and test stages. Safety and effectiveness are currently being tested by doctors on lab animals and volunteer hospital patients. So far, no toxic or negative effects have been discovered in the lab rats that were treated with galangal extracts. This is easily believable as humans have been ingesting galangal as a flavoring agent in food for centuries now.

If all goes well, we can anticipate that in just 3-5 years after the safety testing stages are completed, the development and production of a new type of antibiotic drug can begin. The components of this new antibiotic and it’s production can both be carried out within Thailand itself. In the meantime, while still in this testing and research phase, patents are being sought after with the Department of Intellectual Property of the Ministry of Commerce. After that, registration must be filed with the Food and Drug Administration in order to begin national distribution. Patents must also be registered in accordance with the conditions and restrictions of foreign countries, in order to be distributed in other countries worldwide.