Spinach and cabbage can reduce antibiotic resistance

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Cruciferous vegetables, including spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, are rich in nutrients and minerals and their consumption is beneficial in many other ways, including their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nature. They are crucial supplements to build immunity and are rich sources of Vitamin A. Now, a study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has shown that these plants also help in dealing with antimicrobial or antibiotic resistance that World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2021 listed under the top ten global public health threats facing humanity.

The new study investigated a compound, 3, 3,-diindolylmethane (DIM), a derivative of Indole-3-carbinol. It says that Indole-3-carbinol is formed from glucobrassicin and myrosinase when green vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, spinach and cauliflower, are cooked or chewed. In the acid environment of the human stomach, it is then broken down into DIM. The researchers investigated four gram-negative pathogenic bacteria — Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1, Acinetobacter baumannii, Serratia marcescens, and Providencia stuartii strains. Gram-negative bacteria have a high resistance to antibiotics. In all four bacteria, DIM reduced their protective biofilm formation by up to 80 per cent.

We spoke to Dr Kiran Dalal, dietician at Fortis Hospital, Faridabad, and Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, chief nutritionist, Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, to understand how viruses develop this antibiotic resistance and how cruciferous plants are capable of preventing their resistant nature.

According to Dr Dalal, pathogens or microbes develop a biofilm that inhibits the functioning of the antibiotic/antimicrobial substances. She says: “These cruciferous plants break down into 3, 3,-diindolylmethane (DIM), that helps dissolve this biofilm and thus prevents the pathogens from working against the antimicrobial drugs through the film.”

Dr Rohatgi says: “All human beings have an innate or acquired immunity that is stronger than the environment and exposure that one receives. If one is brought up in an open environment, where they are exposed to all kinds of infections and eat all kinds of foods, they will have a very strong immunity as the body will have a memory of infections. In addition to this, the diet that one has is very diverse providing the individual with essential nutrients to fight diseases.”

She explained how “individuals who are not exposed to environmental factors have poor immunity, since they are not exposed to infections and consume a limited diet”. It is these individuals who are the most vulnerable to catching infections of great intensity, she added.

Explaining antimicrobial resistance, Dr Rohatgi argued why we must be prudent about the use of antibiotics. “In a hospital set-up, if a mild antibiotic does not work for an individual, a stronger one is used and then the body develops immunity for it too. That is why for stronger antibiotics to work efficiently, it is important that they are taken in the prescribed dose for the right body condition. For instance, Azythromyicin did not work on patients suffering from Covid because it was so frivolously used even to treat a sore throat,” she added. According to her, this happens because the pathogen develops a memory of the antibiotic and becomes resistant to it.

Dr Rohatgi also talked about how it is easier for the body to heal using antibiotics but suffer adverse effects in the long run. “That’s why we advise that children eat vegetables early enough to keep infections at bay rather than have them fall ill and become accustomed to antibiotics. For mild infection, the body should be allowed to recuperate itself and we should discourage the use of antibiotics in preventable situations,” she suggests.

Dr Dalal elaborated on some crucial benefits of consuming cruciferous vegetables. “They are rich in antioxidants. They contain indole-3-carbinol and other immunity-boosting properties that would help the body build its own immunity and thus automatically discourage the use of antibiotics to treat mild infections. They are anti-inflammatory foods that also prevent oxidation, a condition where the body has more free radicals. This would eventually lead to oxide formation in the body that can precede inflammation in various parts.”

Besides getting DIM from leafy greens, people can also take DIM as a supplement. Popular uses of leafy greens, a source of DIM, include estrogen control, muscle building and fat loss. Dr Rohatgi talked about how it is important to provide the body with raw materials rather than consolidating the nutrients in a tablet that “will not only be difficult to digest for the body but will also lose its efficiency.”





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