The Naturopathic Way: Chronic Infection
Generally speaking, most people think of infections as something that happens acutely. "I caught a cold" or "I have a stomach virus"... these are most often illnesses that have a distinct beginning and end. We are sick, and then we are better- life goes on. In chronic infection, the pathogenic organism(s) persist- often in spite of or hidden from our immune systems- and contribute to diminishing health over time.
Germophobes beware! We’re talking all about bugs in this article. Tiny, creepy, omnipresent microbes. Little, itty, bitty organisms that are everywhere, and I do mean everywhere...
From Wikipedia’s Microorganism page:
Microorganisms live in all parts of the biosphere where there is liquid water, including soil, hot springs, on the ocean floor, high in the atmosphere and deep inside rocks within the Earth's crust.
Top to bottom and everywhere in between, they've got us covered!
The Benefits of Microorganisms
First, a note about how vital and essential the vast majority of microbes are- both to planet Earth, and to our health and bodies.
Ecosystems would not exist without microbes participating in the carbon cycle (an exchange among the biosphere and atmosphere allowing the recycling of carbon for all organisms to use), fixing nitrogen (which accomplishes the small feat of creating DNA, RNA, and proteins), recycling nutrients, and decomposition. Kinda important stuff. After all, they were here first!
The primary beneficial roles microbes play in human health include energy creation and generation, information transfer, vitamin synthesis (folic acid, biotin, and vitamin K2, among others), carbohydrate digestion, fatty acid synthesis, and gut-immune system communication. Having a healthy relationship with microorganisms is critical to health and well-being.
Dr. Art Ayers, PhD is a biomedical researcher who understands the complexities of human health as well as the interaction between diet and health. Dr. Ayers has written numerous articles which essentially state that whatever the effect of a treatment protocol, dietary change, lifestyle change, etc. has upon the microorganisms of the body determines how it will effect the human host. In other words, if something promotes beneficial flora, our health improves. If the microbial effect is negative, our health suffers.
The Ubiquity of Microbes
The power microbes have in relationship to our health stems from the finding that over 100 TRILLION microbes inhabit the human gut. That is over 10 times the number of cells of our own body. They’ve got us outnumbered 10 to 1!
In health, the body’s immune system is strong and can adapt to the viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa that it encounters in daily life. We are continually exposed to micro-organisms and, again, most are actually beneficial to and symbiotic with our health.
However, when our bodies are under a stress response (see: The Underlying Causes of Disease), our immune system functions at a suboptimal state. Nutrient deficiencies, toxin excesses, and other stressors contribute to a diminished immune system functionality.
Generally speaking, most people think of infections as something that happens acutely. “I caught a cold” or “I have a stomach virus”... these are most often illnesses that have a distinct beginning and end. We are sick, and then we are better- life goes on.
In chronic infection, the pathogenic organism(s) persist- often in spite of or hidden from our immune systems- and contribute to diminishing health over time. Chronic infection is an idea that has not yet been championed by conventional medicine because it is often impossible to diagnose without complex laboratory or diagnostic evaluation that is not routinely a part of a medical doctor’s office. Blood work that is more commonly tested often does not show specific markers for chronic infection (however, lab work from someone acutely ill most often clearly shows a pattern of infection).
How Chronic Infections Cause Chronic Disease
Part of how pathogens affect our health chronically is by exacerbating the other underlying causes of illness. Viruses, bacteria, etc. consume energy and produce waste matter. With an overgrowth of a pathogenic organism or organisms, the nutrients that would otherwise nourish our health are not utilized by us. Surface level microbes form complex polysaccharide matrixes called Biofilms to protect and “wall-off” their communities.
These biofilms trap calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. When microbes process energy themselves, they produce waste matter that we then have to process. Simultaneously, when microbes die-off we are left to handle these components. A blanket term for this pathogenic waste matter or die-off particles is called Endotoxin.
As a result, we may become more nutrient deficient, accumulate more toxins, and become more susceptible to an unhealthy stress response.
Emerging research supports the idea that persistent underlying infection is at the root of many chronic ailments, illnesses, and diseases in ways that are different than our current understanding of acute infection.
How Can We Heal from Chronic Infection?
In our practice, chronic infection has emerged as one of the very most important underlying causes in disease. Cases not often attributed to “infection” have often seen great improvement when we start to improve our immune system strength in the effort to reduce chronic infections.
Healing from chronic infection may be a challenge--and that's why we are here to help! We have worked with many patients to establish a comprehensive, individualized naturopathic plan to improve their immune systems.
Additionally, we offer a number of beneficial nutritional supplements that help to support healthy immune function, such as:
- The Lewis Family Probiotic
- The Lewis Family Digestive and Immune Support
- Vitamin D
- A number of other immune supportive nutrients and supplements are available to our patients based upon their individual needs.
Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more information about the impact of chronic infection upon health--this is an area that we will be focusing on in future articles!
Wikipedia.org (Microorganisms, Pathogen, Carbon Cycle, Nitrogen Fixation, Human microbiome)