Maple syrup on a waffle

Maple Syrup Might Be Good for What Ails You

Building on First Nations traditions, researchers are investigating whether compounds in maple syrup could make antibiotics work better.

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Would a spoonful of maple syrup help the medicine go down? Although not yet tested in people, new evidence suggests that the phenolic compounds that give maple syrup its golden colour might actually enhance the effectiveness of antibiotics.

Nathalie Tufenkji, professor of chemical engineering at McGill University, inspired by a First Nations tradition of using maple syrup to fight infections, decided to take a closer look.

Tufenkji and her team took store-bought maple syrup and removed the water and sugar to isolate a concentrated extract of the phenolic compounds for testing.

Testing the extract alone against a variety of disease-causing bacteria, the team was unable to observe any effect. But an interesting thing happened when they tried testing the extract in combination with two common antibiotics, ciprofloxacin and carbenicillin: they were able to reduce the amount of antibiotic by up to 97% while maintaining the same levels of antibacterial power.

The extract-antibiotic combinations worked against a wide range of bacteria, including E. coli (which can cause gastrointestinal problems) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (which often cause infections in hospital patients with weakened immune systems).

Next, the team treated infected fruit flies and moth larvae by adding the treatment mixture to their food. Treated with antibiotic alone, the flies and moths died quickly, but the addition of the maple syrup extract allowed them to live for days longer. No harmful side effects were noted.

The results aren’t in yet, but the team is currently testing the treatment in mice.

Tufenkji believes the extract helps the antibiotics kill the bacteria in two ways. Firstly, it makes the bacteria take in more of the antibiotic by making the cell membrane, a skin that covers the bacteria, easier to penetrate. Secondly, it disables the biological pumps that would normally help the bacteria get rid of any antibiotic that manages to get in.

This is good news because this could help doctors fight superbugs, or fight infections with fewer side effects.

So it’s not quite so farfetched that one day, the prescribed way to take antibiotics with food could be treating yourself to a stack of pancakes, with extra maple syrup – doctor’s orders.

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Karyn Ho is a science animator and engineer who thrives at the interface between science, engineering, medicine, and art. She earned her MScBMC (biomedical communications) and PhD (chemical engineering and biomedical engineering) at the University of Toronto. Karyn is passionate about using cutting edge discoveries to create dynamic stories as a way of supporting innovation, collaboration, education, and informed decision making. By translating knowledge into narratives, her vision is to captivate people, spark their curiosity, and motivate them to share what they learned.