You have been on antibiotics for weeks, maybe months, with no sign of relief. In fact, you may be getting worse! You may also have an autoimmune condition. You do not know what is more distressing: that what you are doing is not working or that you have no idea what is going on. Fortunately, not only does the problem have a name, but there are holistic ways to address it: biofilms.
What Are Biofilms?
A biofilm consists of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, minerals, and a slimy combination of proteins and carbohydrates that act as protection for the pathogens in our bodies against hostile environments and the immune response. Changes in pH, temperature, oxygen level, and – most importantly in infections – the presence of antimicrobial substances, all trigger biofilm formation. One example of biofilms’ stubborn persistence is Lyme disease, as the Borrellia burgdorferi species of bacteria produce powerful biofilms. This is why many Lyme patients struggle for years to find the best treatment. They take antibiotics but in essence they are only making the bugs stronger.
It isn’t just about Lyme; a wide range of often serious health problems are caused by biofilms. They can promote antibiotic resistance and even attach to medical devices, contributing to dangerous hospital-acquired infections. These devices include urinary catheters, contact lenses, and even pacemakers! Biofilms have even been found in drinking pipes.
Dr. Tim Jackson, a functional medicine practitioner, has seen many cases of chronic infections and autoimmunity that involve biofilms. He states, “If you test positive for a number of various pathogens, such as Epstein-Barr Virus, Lyme, Candida spp., etc. there will be some level of biofilm development in the body.” Protomyxzoa rheumatica and Lyme tend to create significant amounts of harmful biofilm, but any infection can involve biofilms. Groups of microbes are more resilient to any form of stress. In addition, to make themselves more virulent, they exchange genes or portions of genes underneath the biofilm. This process has been labelled “Quorum Sensing.”
Many autoimmune diseases may be attributed to biofilms, such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and chronic fatigue syndrome. One reason why this can happen is that certain components of biofilms over-stimulate the immune system, which results in us attacking our own tissues. Western pharmaceutical medicine does not usually acknowledge the concept of biofilms or consider them to be a factor in illnesses like lupus or chronic fatigue syndrome.
As Dr. Jackson explains:
It’s not so much that the biofilms themselves cause autoimmunity. It’s more of a situation where the pathogens that created the biofilm ‘trick’ the immune system through a process known as molecular mimicry. Essentially, the immune system gets confused by what amounts to the microbes changing the proteins on their outer surface. A common example of this is the Epstein-Barr Virus triggering an immune attack on the thyroid, resulting in Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Can I Just Take Antibiotics?
Conventional treatment alone, or incorrect treatment, may make infections of biofilm-forming species worse. A study on Haemophilus influenzae, a common pathogen seen in ear infections, aimed to find out why patients are at a higher risk after antibiotic treatment. Researchers exposed the bacteria to lower than necessary levels of antibiotics, and found that it stimulated the survivors to produce tightly packed biofilms. They would stay dormant underneath until the antibiotic exposure was over, and became more resistant to lethal (to bacteria) doses of antibiotics later.
Research recently disproved that taking a full course prevents resistance. Research on Group A Streptococcus (GAS), a common pathogen, found that bacteria from all patients produced biofilms, and all had some degree of antibiotic resistance. Whether this was significant enough to cause treatment failure depended on a combination of factors, including a slower bacterial growth rate, presence and expression of certain genes, an optimal biofilm structure, and how often the patient has taken antibiotics in the past.
In a review of 30 studies, biofilms were shown to make antibiotics less effective against ear, nose and throat (ENT) infections. Interventions targeted at biofilms, including probiotics, were beneficial in these cases. Therefore, it is best to integrate any antimicrobials you are taking with biofilm-busters.
Video: The 5 Stages of Biofilm Development
A Full Recovery Is Still Possible
Healing from an infection when biofilms are involved is nowhere near as straightforward, but you can do it! Jean Stanford, co-developer of the Restore 3 program, suffered from fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for years, until she discovered through her own research that biofilms were the likely culprits behind her persistent health problems. Her journey led her to supplemental protein-digesting enzymes, which can break up the film produced by bacteria. This is why the Restore 3 program features protease and serrapeptase (the suffix –ase indicates that it is an enzyme). Serrapeptase has been found to interfere with the ability of disease-causing bacteria, such as S. aureus, to adhere themselves to the body’s tissues and form films. Stanford recommends two capsules of Restore 3 each day until your symptoms disappear, or up to nine if needed. It can take two to four months to eradicate the infection, with first results often appearing in the first two or three weeks.
As biofilms are made up of both proteins and sugars, Stanford then added amylase, glucoamylase, cellulase and hemicellulase. Amylases are produced in our saliva and pancreas, but are needed in greater numbers if you have a chronic infection. We do not produce cellulases, which break up the cellulose in plant cell walls. One more reason to chew your food!
Another study looked at both protein-breaking proteases and carbohydrate-busting amylases. Both types of enzymes helped to break down Pseudomonas fluorescens biofilms, but proteases were more effective in this case, because the films were mostly made of proteins. P. fluorescens does not commonly harm humans, but infections have been recorded through contamination of medical devices and blood products.
Julia*, a Facebook user who contacted me through a Facebook group for the college where I studied, has finally recovered from a 23 year-long story with biofilms:
I’ve had Chronic Fatigue syndrome since I was 17, after I had both the Epstein Barr virus and Toxoplasmosis from my cat. I was in bed for six weeks. In 1995, I saw an Integrative Doctor who told me that I needed to stop eating wheat and dairy, and put me on lots of supplements including vitamin C and Chinese herbs. I could return to school and do very well, but was tired, all the time after 5:00 p.m., and never able to exercise.
Supplementation, including homeopathic GABA, magnesium and omega-3 fats, helped me to work full-time and lead a normal life. But years later, I developed [burning] symptoms that I’d never experienced before … It turned out I had Blastocytitis colitis and other parasites, Rickettsia, and the Australian version of Lyme disease. I was officially diagnosed with Post Exertion Fatigue, and had leaky gut due to the chronic inflammation in my stomach.
To get rid of Rickettsia and the Australian version of Lyme disease, my Integrative Doctor put me on doxycycline for 11 months. My treatment felt like it was on hold until I was prescribed InterFase Plus by my naturopath, to break up the biofilms. I noticed an immediate improvement in my energy. I’ve been off antibiotics since February this year, and over the last month I haven’t needed a daily nap. Some nights I’ve even had normal levels of energy an hour before bedtime.
Julia still takes a long list of supplements, including herbs for adrenal health, probiotics, methylated B vitamins, and must watch her diet carefully. “I feel that I’ve been cured, but my cells are still recovering from the battering of antibiotics and tick borne illnesses.”
Enzymes And Probiotics Help Conquer Biofilms
InterFase Plus is designed to break up biofilms in the gastrointestinal tract, as its ingredients do not absorb well and so remain in the stomach and intestines. The formula contains similar enzymes to the Restore 3 program alongside EDTA — a binder. EDTA works by detaching bacterial cells in biofilms, and has a mild antimicrobial effect. Another binder we recommend is Quicksilver Scientific’s Ultra Binder, which includes bentonite clay and activated charcoal; these, like EDTA, help detach biofilm cells by binding to minerals and other substances in them. If you’re worried about the loss of beneficial minerals, modified citrus pectin (MCP) may be the answer for you. Like EDTA, it can help remove heavy metals such as mercury and lead, but without depleting you of essential minerals. MCP disrupts biofilms by breaking down the lattice structures made by a protein known as galectin-3, which is the backbone of biofilms. It also blocks the protein from causing trouble in the first place.
Both Jean Stanford and Julia also incorporated probiotics, as certain species may interfere with biofilms and the bacteria inside them. For example, when L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus and L. casei were compared for their effects on candida biofilms; all of them reduced cell counts by 25-61 percent depending on the species and stage of development. L. rhamnosus only inhibited early-stage candida biofilms, but had no effect on mature colonies. Different probiotic species have certain effects on biofilm-producing pathogens. In this case, L. rhamnosus could only disrupt an early stage where candida cells multiplied and stayed together to form hair-like projections. They did not act as antibiotics; instead, they interfered with candida cells’ ability to communicate with each other and colonise surfaces. The effects of certain probiotic species on biofilm-producing pathogens depend on
Another study looked at the effects of L. acidophilus against the biofilms of Staphylococcus aureus. This is also known as “golden staph”, and it can progress into dangerous antibiotic resistant infections. The probiotic was able to reduce mature biofilms by 83 percent, but only inhibited them by 15 percent in the early stages.
One question that often arises is whether you should hold off on taking probiotics until after you finish a course of antibiotics or natural antimicrobials. After all, we do not want to take them for nothing. But research has found that probiotic use can help to keep the healthy intestinal flora in balance, significantly reducing the risk of side effects, such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea. And if you’re taking a natural form of antibiotics, such as colloidal or chelated silver, it is still important to replenish your beneficial flora with probiotics, as silver can affect friendly species too.
Other Supplements That Can Help
Other natural therapies that may help to break up biofilms are N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) — which is also a precursor to the antioxidant glutathione, garlic, ozone, and colloidal silver. A review of clinical trials found that NAC can thin out the mucus that makes up biofilms, allowing antimicrobial substances to penetrate them, and even eliminate mature biofilms. N-acetyl cysteine can also prevent the formation of biofilms, making it more difficult for bacteria to adhere to surfaces, and has some direct antimicrobial effect itself. In another study, NAC was able to kill off bacteria underneath biofilms from dental infections more effectively than conventional treatments. At higher doses, NAC completely disrupted mature biofilms.
However, the clinical trials in this review all used NAC in combination with antibiotics, so it is best used alongside other therapies. The bacterial species involved included H. pylori, which causes stomach ulcers, and species commonly seen in urinary tract infections, such as E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae.
Garlic, or more specifically, the allicin found within its cloves, helps to combat biofilms in yeast infections. In this study, allicin was compared to the antifungal drug fluconazole for its effects against Candida albicans. Both allicin and fluconazole caused dose-dependent reductions in biofilm and microbe growth, but allicin outperformed the drug. Others have found that allicin can interrupt communication between S. epidermis and P. aeruginosa bacteria, as well as disrupt biofilm adhesion. Ajoene, another phytochemical in garlic, can impair communication between E. coli and P. aeruginosa. Allicin, ajoene, and other substances in garlic are either rapidly metabolised or poorly absorbed, meaning that they may be best put to use for biofilms in the digestive tract or in topical creams.
Ozone has been shown to penetrate biofilms produced by S. aureus and P. aeruginosa, causing a significant fall in bacterial counts underneath the films. This effect was stronger using ozonated water rather than a mix of gaseous oxygen and ozone. While ozonated water began to take effect in 30 seconds, the gaseous mix needed 40 minutes of exposure. Perhaps highlighting the importance of this research, the bacterial biofilms were taken from children with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that can be worsened by infections.
Colloidal and chelated silver is another remedy that can eliminate these two biofilm-producing infections, including the methicillin-resistant strains of S. aureus. More than 95 percent of the bacteria in each strain were killed off by colloidal silver. This study involved topical application, so its results are most relevant to skin or dental infections.
A combination of therapies to treat biofilms is best. “Many people believe that systemic enzymes alone will dissolve biofilm. However, depending on the type(s) of microbes we’re dealing with, it is best to use a combination of natural, and in some cases, prescription, agents. Allicin can be helpful, along with xylitol, linalool oil, NAC and oregano oil. Some prescription antibiotics have the capability to penetrate biofilm, such as Tindamax,” Dr. Jackson explains.
Bye Bye Biofilms
Don’t keep suffering from biofilm infections or the chronic diseases they can contribute to. Become your own best health advocate. However, the best place to start your healing journey is consulting with a qualified holistic health professional. There are many treatment options, and the right ones for you depend on individual factors.
Alexandra Preston is an Australian naturopath, passionate about empowering others to take charge of their health and healing the planet. Her special area of interest in natural health is antiaging; she also loves the beach and is a semi-professional dancer.
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