Strep throat is a common bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. Which belongs to a group of bacteria called Group A beta hemolytic Streptococci (GAS). Globally, Strep throat is responsible for approximately 600 million cases of sore throat infections every year.
The majority of these cases occur among school-aged children. It's estimated that every child is infected with Strep throat every one to two years. Strep is highly contagious, and when combined with a crowded school and kids sharing their personal items, it can spread quickly. Strep throat is also common in military facilities due to the same reasons.
Studies have shown that the peak of Strep throat infections occurs in late winter and early spring. Generally speaking, Strep throat is a mild infection that can resolve on its own without treatment. But in some cases, it can lead to fatal complications such as Rheumatic heart fever and kidney damage (glomerulonephritis).
Antibiotics are recommended to both shorten the period of illness, and avoid life-threatening complications due to an untreated infection. According to guidelines, penicillin is the preferred antibiotic used to treat Strep throat. In case of resistance or allergies to penicillin, macrolides such as erythromycin are a suitable option.
Even though penicillin is still effective against Strep throat bacteria, there are rising concerns regarding antibiotic resistance and treatment failure due to the evolutionary mechanisms of Streptococcus pyogenes. Some bacteria are evolving to be resistant to antibiotics like penicillin. Additionally, the high costs of treatment are an issue of concern, which is why there is an urgent need to find alternative/complementary therapies to antibiotics.
One complementary therapy for Strep throat is throat lozenges. These throat-soothing lozenges contain antiseptic and numbing ingredients to help ease the discomfort of Strep throat. These Lozenges are widely available as over-the-counter (OTC) remedies without prescription. And although they are effective in alleviating the symptoms of Strep throat, their side effects and whether or not they decrease the rate of Strep throat complications is still relatively unknown.
Humans have been using plants and herbs as remedies for centuries. Since ancient times, we have relied on plant byproducts to heal and soothe. Thanks to modern science, we’ve been able to extract the active compounds from certain plants and incorporate them into conventional chemical therapies.
In recent years, a group of plant-derived active compounds called phytochemicals showed promising anti-Streptococcal activity against Strep throat bacteria. Recently, a study showed that these agents can kill Streptococcus pyogenes by many mechanisms including preventing the Streptococcus bacteria from adhering to the throat, and altering their chemical stability.
A Canadian study tested 20 different plant-derived active molecules from different plants against Streptococcus pyogenes. They found that of these 20 active agents, 1,2-naphthoquinone, and 5-hydroxy-1,4-naphthoquinone inhibit the growth of Strep throat bacteria. Although this study has been conducted in a lab, these compounds showed clinical potential. Meaning that they could be added to existing medications to aid pain relief and decrease the length of Strep throat infection.
It’s exciting to look toward the future of medicine as we continue to meld nature and science to heal and treat illness.