• Pizza ingredient conquers powerful bacteria

Could a slice of pizza a day help keep the doctor away? If recent and promising research on the bacteria-fighting properties of oregano is any indicator, it just might help.

Pizza has received positive press in the last few years following extended research demonstrating the power of lycopene to ward off prostate cancer. Lycopene is a naturally occurring substance in tomatoes, and shows up in a concentrated form in pizza sauce.

Add that to new evidence that oil of oregano defeated the dangerous bacteria Staphylococcus aureus in a laboratory battle at the American College of Nutrition, and pizza's reputation starts to look more healthful.

Staphylococcus bacteria cause a wide variety of infections, including wound infections after surgery and life-threatening meningitis, pneumonia and inflammation of the heart lining.

In the test tube study, as reported by the news Web site HealthScout, oil of oregano inhibited the growth of Staphylococcus aureus about as well as penicillin and streptomycin, the standard drugs used to fight the bacteria, and the antibiotic of last-resort, vancomycin. Two years ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited increasing reports of staph bacteria resistant to even vancomycin.

Dr. Harry Preuss, professor of physiology and biophysics at Georgetown University, and his research team, conducted their research for North American Herb and Spice. Eighteen mice were infected with staph bacteria, and then researchers compared the benefits of oregano oil and carvacrol, considered to be the major antibacterial component of the oil. As a control, six mice received olive oil with no active ingredients; they all died within three days. Six other mice received carvacrol in olive oil; all died within 21 days. A third group of six mice received two to three drops of oregano oil per day, a relatively low dose; three survived the 30-day treatment.

Preuss says oil of oregano may have other antibacterial properties, in addition to the carvacrol, that should be studied.

"It's worth checking out. If someone were very, very ill, and you were running out of options, this could be a good possibility," Preuss told HealthScout.

But researchers caution pizza makers not to cheer just yet. While calling their results "incredibly interesting," they said their findings are merely preliminary, and that a minimum of another 10 years of study is needed before an oregano-oil "medicine" could be considered for government approval.

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