Neem in the News — A Fungus Among Us
The fungus among us is a great rhyme but it’s not really very funny.
Fungus, even more than bacterial infections, are stubborn and difficult to treat because fungi are more closely related to humans than bacteria. That relationship limits effective treatments to the point where some of the most common antifungal medications – used to treat toenail fungus – are implicated in both liver disease and heart attacks.
And the really scary thing is that new research shows that fungi can evolve as quickly as bacteria. That means they can build resistance to known antifungal treatments just as bacteria have become MRSA.
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New Research Shows Neem Controls Dangerous Fungus
Like its antibacterial properties, neem is commonly noted as “anti-fungal” based on its traditional uses. Two new reports further explore those properties. They’re not looking at the fungal infections most often seen in humans and their pets, such as yeast infections, toenail fungus, athlete’s foot or ringworm. Instead, they’re focused on a fungus called Aspergillus that produces aflatoxin, among the most carcinogenic substances known. It’s not as much of an issue in the U.S. as it is in less developed countries where it can cause widespread damage among people, livestock and food crops.
The most recent study, published in the October 2019 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Toxins, showed that 0.1 and 0.3% concentrations of neem oil inhibited more than 95% of the Aspergillus growth in test tubes. Interestingly, higher concentrations were not as effective. For instance, 0.5% neem oil inhibited 40% of the fungal growth, and 1.0% inhibited 64% of the fungus.
An article published earlier this year in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences looked at the impact of neem and garcinia kola in stored grain samples in Nigeria that contained aflotoxin. They report that a 10% concentration of neem oil showed an 80% reduction of two Aspergillus species.
Building on Previous Work
Those 2019 articles build upon a trend that started more than 25 years ago. The iconic 1992 book “Neem: A Tree for Solving Global Problems,” detailed a pre-internet document showing that neem preparations were toxic to 14 common fungi, including members of the genera most likely to cause issues for human beings including:
- Candida, a yeast-like fungus that is typically found in humans that can grow out of control causing miserable itching of the mouth, vagina, skin, hands and lungs
- Trichophyton, which causes athlete’s foot but also can infect hair, skin, and nails;
- Epidermophyton and microsporum, ringworms that can infect both skin and toenails
- Trichosporon, typically found in soil, can also invade the intestinal tract;
- Geotrichum, a yeast-like fungus that causes infections of the bronchi, lungs, and mucous membranes.
Then, in 1994, the USDA’s Southern Research Center published a report in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology using fresh neem leaf “volatiles.” They were passed over the surface of cultured Aspergillus. After three days, the treated cultures had a 90% reduction in aflatoxin and 51% reduction in fungal biomass. Additional testing showed that the neem leaf contained 68 compounds including several that are toxic to Aspergillus.
Other highlights from the past 25 years include:
- A 2001 report published in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology looks at controlling both those fungi as well as four species of Aspergillus. They used various extracts of neem leaf, rather than the more-concentrated oil we would expect to see for a topical treatment, but found that a 20% aqueous extract had a toxic effect on 19 of the 22 tested fungi.
- Research published in Letters in Applied Microbiology compared neem cake and other biocontrols with captan, a fungicide proven to be lethal to frogs even at very low concentrations. Scientists concluded that neem and Captan both reduced the level of aflatoxin to “a great extent.”
- Another study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology also compared neem with Captan and other synthetic pesticides. Chilis, which are an important crop in India, were treated both in test tubes and under field conditions. A complete inhibition of Aspergillus was seen after treatment in test tubes. In the field test, chilis treated with neem only had a 1.6% incidence of fungal infections.
- Neem leaves stored with wheat, maize and rice fully inhibited aflatoxins for four months in wheat, three months in rice and two months in maize, according to a report published in Bioresource Technology.
We comply with FDA regulations that prohibit us from selling products labeled to prevent a disease like fungus, but you’ll find dozens of internet sites promoting neem as the best option for clearing up toenail fungus.
Let us know if you decide to try it!