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Mud: The Secret Weapon Against Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria?

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Drug-resistant bacteria have been deemed an immediate crisis by both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Could the answer lie in ancient medicine? One group of researchers is finding modern answers in the dirt once prized by past civilizations. Yes, dirt.

The invention of antibiotics, starting with penicillin in 1928, revolutionized medicine and saved untold numbers of lives. But now, as bacteria adapt to modern drugs faster than we can create new ones, people are starting to die of infections that used to be easily treated just a decade or two ago. The CDC estimates that last year over 2 million Americans acquired drug-resistant infections with at least 23,000 deaths.

The worst offenders are the "ESKAPE" pathogens: Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumanii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterobacter species account for the majority of U.S. hospital infections and can "escape" the effects of all known antibacterial drugs (hence the catchy acronym). These are the bad guys that cause flesh-eating bacteria, fast-moving pneumonia, meningitis, septic shock, and other big headline killers. (In other words, nothing like this friendly bacteria.)

"Infections caused by ESKAPE bacteria are essentially untreatable and contribute to increasing mortality in hospitals," says Julian Davies, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia and co-author of the paper published in the American Society for Microbiology's mBio journal. "After 50 years of overusing and misusing antibiotics, ancient medicinals and other natural mineral-based agents may provide new weapons in the battle against multidrug-resistant pathogens."

One of these ancient remedies appears to be a particular type of clay found in Canada that has antibacterial properties, according to the study. Researchers found that a mixture of just the clay and water killed 16 strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a lab test with no sign of adaptation from the bugs. But perhaps the best part is that there are no toxic side effects to the clay, making it ideal for human use.

While we wait for this clay to get tested and developed for human medications, there are other ways to use the down-to-earth ingredient to boost your health. An International Geology Review study found that French Green clay and Bentonite clay also have antibiotic properties. Researchers say the clays can be used to heal some skin problems. Anecdotally people swear that the clay strengthens their hair and nixes acne. Want to try it yourself? You can purchase both Green Clay and Bentonite masks, and try the best face masks for every skin condition.

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