Lavender oil could be used to combat the increasing incidence of antifungal-resistant infections, according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology. The essential oil shows a potent antifungal effect against strains of fungi responsible for common skin and nail infections.
Scientists from the University of Coimbra in Portugal distilled lavender oil from the Lavandula viridis L'Hér shrub that grows in southern Portugal. The oil was tested against a range of pathogenic fungi and was found to be lethal to a range of skin-pathogenic strains, known as dermatophytes, as well as various species of Candida.
Dermatophytes cause infections of the skin, hair and nails as they use the keratin within these tissues to obtain nutrients. They are responsible for conditions such as Athletes' foot, ringworm and can also lead to scalp and nail infections. Candida species coexist with most healthy individuals without causing problems but may cause mucocutaneous candidosis - or thrush - in some people. In immunocompromised patients, Candida species are able to cause serious infection if the fungal cells escape into the blood stream.
Currently, there are relatively few types of antifungal drugs to treat infections and those that are available often have side effects. Professor Lígia Salgueiro and Professor Eugénia Pinto who led this study explained why novel fungicides are urgently needed. "In the last few years there has been an increase in the incidence of fungal diseases, particularly among immunocompromised patients," they said. "Unfortunately there is also increasing resistance to antifungal drugs. Research by our group and others has shown that essential oils may be cheap, efficient alternatives that have minimal side effects."
Essential oils distilled from the Lavandula genus of lavender plants are already used widely, particularly in the food, perfume and cosmetic industries. Studies of the biological activities of these oils suggest Lavandula oils have sedative and antispasmodic properties as well being potent antimicrobials and antioxidants.
This group has demonstrated that these oils work by destroying fungal cells by damaging the cell membrane. They believe that further research into the mechanisms by which this essential oil works could have significant clinical benefits. "Lavandula oil shows wide-spectrum antifungal activity and is highly potent. This is a good starting point for developing this oil for clinical use to manage fungal infections. What is now required is clinical trials to evaluate how our in vitro work translates in vivo," said Professor Salgueiro.
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