Peppermint and cinnamon have long been used as folk remedies for ailments ranging from indigestion to diabetes. These treatments aren't based on science, but now researchers are working on a highly scientific way to use peppermint and cinnamon to make us healthier.

By incorporating extracts of cinnamon and peppermint into tiny capsules made of silica nanoparticles, researchers were able to take advantage of the antimicrobial compounds found within these plants. The capsules proved to be highly effective at killing several different strains of harmful bacteria, including the problematically antibiotic-resistant MRSA, researchers report in a paper published in the journal ACS Nano.

"The immediate application for these capsules is as disinfectants for surfaces," lead study author Bradley Duncan told Tech Times. "From our initial findings, we believe that this system may provide an alternative strategy to combat our ongoing struggle with MRSA."

Duncan and his colleagues created the capsules by adding peppermint oil mixed with cinnamaldehyde – "think Big Red gum," he said – to a solution containing silica nanoparticles. When they run these substances through a device that Duncan describes as "a miniature version of a paint shaker you would find at a hardware store," the silica nanoparticles form a capsule around the peppermint and cinnamon mixture.

The antimicrobial properties of these substances have been known for some time, but Duncan explains that "many therapeutic substances have poor solubility and limited stability in water." This makes it difficult to get them through the protective layer that forms on top of films of microbes, known as biofilms. The silica nanoparticle capsules solve this problem.

"The capsules do all of the work by interacting with the biofilm due to the molecules present on the surface of the nanoparticles," Duncan said.

The capsules will have to be tested in animal models before they can be applied to real-world situations, but the researchers suggest that this advance could help us fight off harmful surface bacteria, including those of medical devices and even in chronic wounds. They are currently working with experts at the Mayo Clinic to determine the feasibility of using this strategy in a clinical setting.

"The ease with which this system can be assembled and applied to infected tissue makes this a promising method to treat bacterial infections," Duncan said.

Photo: Steven Depolo | Flickr

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