Sepsis and antibiotic resistance
It has been called a mystery disease, and a master of disguise for how well it can be mistaken for the common flu and be hard to diagnose. Despite this elusiveness and health professionals’ lack of agreement about its origins, what we can all agree on is that sepsis is becoming an epidemic. According to The Global Sepsis Alliance’s official website, sepsis kills 258,000 Americans every year, and the numbers are increasing. In the US alone, deaths went from 154,159 to 207,427 in 2007 and the number of hospitalizations for sepsis has overtaken those of myocardial infarction. According to their website “Sepsis remains the primary cause of death from infection despite advances in modern medicine such as vaccines, antibiotics, and acute care. In the developing world, sepsis accounts for 60-80% of lost lives per year, affecting more than 6 million newborns and children annually and over 100,000 women contract sepsis in the course of pregnancy and childbirth“.
But what is sepsis? According to the Global Sepsis Alliance, sepsis is defined as ‘the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death.’ According to them, the reason behind this increase in the number of deaths from sepsis is “more chronic diseases, upsurge in major surgical interventions and invasive procedures, broader use of immune-suppressants and chemotherapy agents as well as spread of antibiotic resistant organisms.”
Similarly, the World Health Organization, in their April 2014 news release disclosed data from their most comprehensive report done on antibiotic resistance to date, with data from 114 countries. In this report titled “Antimicrobial resistance: global report on surveillance” Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security asserts:
‘The report focuses on antibiotic resistance in seven different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhea. The results are cause for high concern, documenting resistance to antibiotics, especially “last resort” antibiotics in all regions of the world…Common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill…This serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country”.
While it is not my intention to cause fear, it is indeed to stress the seriousness of the disease. What is most alarming about sepsis is that it is usually caught when it is almost too late. Symptoms appear when the body has gone into systemic shock and the infection has spread to organs causing great damage. To make my point as vivid as possible, I would like to refer to a sepsis survivor’s first person account. In her book, “My Sepsis Story. How I almost died and you don’t have to” Lisa Brandt tells us how she survived the disease after almost losing her life because the infection had damaged her liver very badly.
It all started with a feeling of being unwell that didn’t go away. After being dismissed several times even by doctors as just having the flu, she went back home. Unable to stay awake she would sleep for 18 hours at a time and would wake up freezing and drenched in sweat. She recalls being terribly thirsty but being unable to urinate for days. After a few days of feeling this bad, she finally gathered the strength to make a call to what in Canada is known as Telehealth, where a registered nurse determines whether your case is serious enough for medical intervention. While she was on the phone, she felt a strong urge to urinate, urine came out as pure red blood. This was what convinced the nurse something was seriously wrong. Lisa was rushed to the ER, once again she heard: “Another case of flu, just wasting my time”, this time from the ambulance personnel. Once in the hospital, it took several days for the doctors to determine what was wrong with her, but they looked alarmed at how bad her liver looked. They informed her liver had actually failed and had such big lesions they were not sure they could save her. There were eight different infection sites in her liver the biggest of which was 4.5 centimeters long. Meanwhile, they still didn’t have a diagnosis for her, all they knew was that she had bacteria in her blood. The source of her septic blood continued to elude the doctors, meningitis was a possibility but her blood was too thin to do a spinal tap. On IV antibiotics for several days, they still didn’t know whether the antibiotics would be strong enough to save her liver. Thankfully, the antibiotics slowly started clearing the infection on her liver. While she was fighting for her life, she would constantly go from high fever to a cold sweat that would drive her to tears and to the point of thinking about ‘finding a way out’. Her fight for survival was wavering and ‘the feeling of vulnerability was crushing’. Her depressed immune system and the very strong antibiotics she was put under made the nurses afraid she could contract a very contagious and prevalent bacteria in hospitals called C. Difficile, because antibiotics kill the good bacteria in the gut, which ironically can lead to sepsis. After fifteen days in the hospital, she was pronounced healthy enough to go home. She was given a line attached to a bag of antibiotics that made her recovery at home easier. She wrote her book to share her experience with as many people as possible. To date, she is a very active advocate to make sepsis known to the world, she has interviewed several experts in the topic and works closely with the “Global Sepsis Alliance” to convince the WHO to make September 13, World Sepsis Day. She can be reached at www.voiceoflisabrandt.com
What we can learn from this testimony is how hard it is even for healthcare professionals to spot and diagnose sepsis, and how crushing, devastating and debilitating this disease can be. Most importantly, what can we as individuals do about this reality? I think the answer is to not panic and stay informed.
Antibiotics in perspective
Nobody can doubt the great role antibiotics have played in saving lives and improving health. It was Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1920’s that made this possible. After his discovery, some of the most powerful antibiotic drugs were available in the 1940’s and since then millions of lives have been saved. How can it be that several decades later antibiotics are linked to millions of deaths every year? It is called ‘bacterial resistance’ or ‘antibiotic resistance’ and because of it thousands of people die every year by bacterial infections that are not treatable by antibiotics. Pharmacist Ben Fuchs recalls when he was in pharmacy school in the 80’s and a professor warned of the day when antibacterial resistance would be a reality. Three and a half decades later, it is here.
So what are antibiotics?, how do they work and what exactly are bacteria?
Ben Fuchs explains bacteria are primitive cells without a nervous system or a brain. Like any other cell, bacteria have a covering called bacterial wall, like all cells, they make proteins, and like all cells, they have their own DNA. It is these characteristics that make bacteria vulnerable to antibiotic medication. Antibiotics kill bacteria by taking advantage of these components. In this sense, the mechanism of action of penicillin for example works by blocking the production of the bacteria’s cover, so they are not able to make their cell wall. Other antibiotics interfere with the bacteria’s ability to make protein, others will block the bacteria’s DNA. This is all great and has been very effective, but Ben Fuchs explains, antibiotics, like all drugs have a ‘dark side’. Despite the fact that bacteria are just primitive cells, they are intelligent, they can learn to adjust to their environment very effectively. Bacteria have ‘figured out’ a way to make antibiotics stop working, this is what is called ‘bacterial resistance’ or ‘antibiotic resistance’ and it is also the reason bacteria are now called ‘superbugs‘. Unfortunately, the more antibiotics are used the more likely they will stop working. Ben Fuchs explains antibiotic resistance is getting so bad that even finding an effective antibiotic can take up to 2 or 3 days. He explains labs have to grow bacteria in a petri dish, then they have to add a particular antibiotic and wait to see if it works and this takes time that a person in critical condition might not have. Sometimes in emergency situations doctors will use super potent antibiotics or they will combine antibiotics, and up to 40% of the times this does not work. Even worse, combining antibiotics increases the likelihood of more antibiotic resistance.
The mechanisms by which bacteria render antibiotics harmless are nothing less than astounding:
- Some bacteria have the ability to share genetics or ‘borrow’ genes from other bacteria that are not susceptible to the antibiotics.
- Other bacteria can erect a covering around their cell wall that will block the entrance of antibiotics into the cell.
- Other bacteria have the ability to kick out an antibiotic using little molecular ‘pumps’ that will force the antibiotic out of a cell.
- Other bacteria can change the chemical structure of the antibiotic target inside a cell. By disguising that target the antibiotic cannot recognize it anymore.
- Still other bacteria can literally destroy the antibiotic.
All of this occurs at the microscopic level. Once the bacteria has figured out how to outsmart the antibiotic it can ‘pass’ that skill to its bacterial ‘children’. The end result is the dreaded ‘antibacterial resistance’.
In his long career as a pharmacist Ben Fuchs has observed how we as individuals have contributed to this antibiotic resistance in different ways. First of all, he explains most antibiotic medication has a course of action of up to 21 days, and it is very important that the patient finishes the course of antibiotics even if he/she feels better. Not doing so can cause bacteria that has been left behind to proliferate again causing a new type of antibiotic resistance. Another way in which we contribute to antibiotic resistance is by overusing antibiotics anytime we feel any sign of a cold or the flu. He explains we have an immune system and we should let our immune system fight the disease. Third, antibiotics can be found in dairy, meats, fish and tap water. There is not much we can do about that but if possible we should eat antibiotic free and filter our tap water. Four, he has observed many people stay on the medication for months at a time, especially many acne medications. There is a rule in pharmacy, he explains, that says you cannot stay on antibiotics for more than 2-3 weeks at a time.
Ben Fuchs explains it is possible to kill bacteria without having to use antibiotics. Our body, he says, is built to fight bacteria naturally. How can we do this? First of all, we need to strengthen our immune system, then, there are many wonderful supplements we can take that have antibacterial properties.
Your immune system
Firstly, he explains we need to stay away from foods that suppress our immune system like sugar, refined flours or any food that turns into sugar in the blood (refined carbohydrates). He mentions a study done in 1973 published in the ‘American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’ where researchers at Loma Linda University gave volunteers 20 teaspoons of sugar, blood was then taken out and mixed with bacteria. What they observed was a dramatic suppression of the immune system’s ability to kill the bacteria. Just 3 oz. of sugar, they noted, inhibits the ability of white blood cells (the heart of our immune system) to destroy bacteria and viruses from 30 minutes to up to 5 hours. This applies to all sugar, fruit and fruit juices, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, etc. Secondly, stress shuts down the immune system. (Please read our previous blog on stress). Thirdly, there are wonderful supplements that strengthen the immune system:
- Vitamin C: several grams a day to bowel tolerance and in divided doses. It can be used to prevent colds and flu’s and other kinds of bacterial infections.
- Zinc: 50 mg of zinc picolinate, taken together with copper (around 2 mg). Zinc is one the most important minerals when it comes to immunity and antimicrobial activity.
- Selenium: the second most important immune boosting mineral. It acts like a little battery to fuel the body’s main immune system chemical glutathione, which protects our body’s cells’ membrane from breaking down. Selenium has powerful antibacterial properties. While it can be toxic in high amounts to human cells, this toxicity is being studied to kill bacteria. In the “Journal of Digestive Diseases and Sciences” July 10, 2008 scientists explain the antibacterial action of selenium enriched probiotics to kill pathogenic e-coli. And on the ‘Journal of Biomedical Materials Research’, Professor Tom Webster of Brown University has proven that a selenium coating on catheters and endotracheal tubes significantly reduces staph bacteria as much as 90%.
- Iodine: this essential mineral has been used extensively to treat colds and bacterial infections long before the existence of antibiotics. Iodine is antibacterial, anticancer, antiparasitic, antifungal, and antiviral. According to Lynne Farrow, author of the book ‘The Iodine Crisis’, iodine’s medicinal use dates back 15,000 years. Iodine was the first treatment of choice in the 19th century for tumors and aggressive diseases of obscure origin. The importance of iodine cannot be underestimated, every single cell in the body uses iodine and without it we would die. Despite this, deficiency in the diet is another worldwide health crisis. The World Health Organization has recognized that iodine deficiency is the world’s greatest single cause of preventable mental retardation in children and adults. Iodine deficiency has been identified as a significant public health problem in 129 countries and up to 72% of the world’s population is affected by an iodine deficiency disorder. You can find iodine in kelp which is an active ingredient in the “Heart and Body Extract”.
- Ben Fuchs also recommends taking probiotics. Good bacteria, he says, are a great way to protect yourself from bad bacteria. Working as a pharmacist he would always advise patients to start taking probiotics after finishing their course of antibiotics (which cost him his job).
Watch what you eat
Many pro-inflammatory foods cause an immune reaction in the body that can create havoc in our health. A good example are lectins. Lectins are chemicals produced by most all vegetation (grains, fruits, and vegetables) as a defensive mechanism to keep animals from eating them. Wheat is an example, but any vegetation can cause a reaction. Not everybody reacts to lectins and not all lectins cause an immune reaction, so it is a question of paying attention to how our own body reacts to specific foods. What is particularly problematic about lectins is that they can ‘stick’ to certain parts of the body like the joints or the brain but specially the cells in the digestive system. When they adhere themselves to the cells of the digestive system, this makes your own cells look like a foreign invader to the body causing your immune system to launch an attack on your own cells. This is what is called auto-immunity. What happens when our body attacks itself is a microscopic chemical war where white blood cells release chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, nitric oxide and free radicals that are designed to kill the invader. These chemical poisons released by the white blood cells are ‘squirted’ into your own digestive tract, the very sensitive and delicate area of the small intestine, to kill your own cells. This creates lots of dead cells that have to be detoxified by our lymphatic system. Apart from the chemicals that the white blood cells release, when cells die they literally explode releasing lots of chemicals too. When these digestive problems and auto-immune reactions happen over and over, all this toxicity and inflammation builds up. This build up will eventually interfere with the flow of nutrients that are usually carried by the blood to feed the cells in the digestive tract. This interruption causes cells in the small intestine to starve and to start dying, then cracks start forming in the walls of the small intestine. With time, cells in the digestive system get weaker and weaker and they are unable to absorb nutrients. Not only this, these cracks allow food particles and lectins to enter into the blood stream, a condition called leaky gut syndrome. This condition is quite prevalent and accounts for every degenerative disease there is: arthritis, high blood pressure, blood clotting, cancer, etc. according to Ben Fuchs. He explains the small intestine is like a tube coated with cells. In a healthy gut, the food we eat goes into the stomach, then into the small intestine where food doesn’t just pass though: all nutrients, minerals, vitamins, essential fats and aminoacids are literally sucked into these cells in a very controlled fashion. The fiber, toxic chemicals, water and things the body does not need are ‘dumped’ out of the body through the next compartment, the large intestine.
So these holes in the digestive system can cause lectins to get into the blood stream causing an immune reaction in the body. But other factors can cause the same immune reaction too, like not making enough stomach acid or a pancreas that is not making enough digestive enzymes. All of this can cause undigested food to get into the blood causing the same immune reaction. Another factor that can cause an immune reaction is having the wrong kind of bacteria in the gut, which causes a proliferation of pathogenic organisms in the gut. The toxins these pathogens release can cause the same immune reactions in the body that lectins do and can be the cause of bacterial infections like sepsis.
The importance of healthy gut bacteria
Ben Fuchs explains you can protect yourself from bacterial infections with the help of probiotics. Similarly, Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, author of the book ‘Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia’ believes there is a direct link between pathogenic bacteria in the gut and brain disorders. Abnormal gut bacteria she explains release pathogens that cause diseases in children like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, etc. Dr. Natasha is a neurologist and neurosurgeon born and raised in Russia. After practicing as a neurologist in her native country, she moved to the UK where her son was born and at the age of three was diagnosed with autism. Being a neurologist she was surprised to find out her own field of expertise had no answers for her son’s condition. She then went back to school and got a degree on human nutrition. It was then that she learned the clear relation between the health of the gut bacteria and the health of the brain. After changing her son’s diet he is not autistic anymore and lives a normal life. Dr. Natasha has a clinic in Cambridge, UK where she successfully treats hundreds of children with ADHD, autism, learning disabilities and psychiatric, immune and digestive disorders. When she graduated in 1984 she recalls autism was a very rare disorder, with 1 for every 10,000 children having the disorder. The numbers have been increasing dramatically and in 2010 there has been a forty fold increase with 1 in every 150 children being diagnosed autistic. Today, there are some areas of the UK where 1 in every 60 kids is autistic. She explains these kids are born with a normal brain and sensory organs, but they don’t develop healthy gut flora from birth. Our gut, she explains, is home to probiotic bacteria, probiotic viruses, probiotic yeasts, even probiotic protozoa. She explains these organisms living in our gut account for 90% of our body’s cells and genetic material. The human body is just a host, a habitat for these organisms accounting for just 10%. In a healthy gut the beneficial species of microbes (called probiotics) predominate, keeping the harmful pathogens under control. But when we have the wrong kind of bacteria in our gut they release toxins that damage the gut wall and get into the bloodstream and end up in the brain. This makes our digestive system a constant source of toxins instead of a source of nourishment. When the brain is flooded with toxicity it cannot process information right and the child cannot learn. Since autism happens at a critical time in the development of the child, when they start to learn to talk and their brain is developing, the child then misses the opportunity to learn. She explains while the baby is in the womb, his/her gut flora is sterile, it only acquires gut flora as it goes through the birth canal of the mother, whatever gut flora the mother has will be transferred to the baby.
What has caused the shift in gut flora in the last few decades? She explains she has observed an epidemic in abnormal gut flora that started around WWII when antibiotics started to be used. Every course of antibiotics wipes out the beneficial species in the gut and leaves the harmful pathogens uncontrolled. Scientists she says have found thousands of different species of pathogenic-disease-causing microbes, bacteria, fungus, etc. but as long as the good ones predominate in the gut, they keep the pathogens under control only allowing them to subsist in small colonies. Antibiotics wipe out the beneficial bacteria and give the pathogens the opportunity to proliferate. Since it takes from 2 weeks to 2 months for bacteria to go back to normal this gives them an opportunity to proliferate. She has found in the mothers of kids with autism 100% abundance of pathogenic gut bacteria having a direct incidence in the number of autism cases. This increase in pathogenic organisms found in the blood of autistic children has been compounded by other factors, like a decline in breastfeeding after the 60’s and 70’s. She explains breastfed babies receive immune factors from the mother’s milk which protects them from these pathogens. Even if the mother has abnormal gut bacteria, her body can build immunity to these pathogens to protect her. These immune factor are then found floating in the blood and are passed on to the baby through the breast milk. However, when breastfeeding stops the protection stops, and this is when the baby starts going down with these diseases. Since newborn’s immune system is so immature this becomes a recipe for disaster, accounting for the increasing number of cases of autism and other terrible diseases.
She also believes antibiotics have been overused. Other factors that have contributed to the spread of pathogens in the gut colonies of the mother is the use of contraceptive pills that also destroy the beneficial bacteria. Also the foods we eat, heavily processed foods she says feed pathogens in the digestive system. All these factors combined have created abnormal gut bacteria in many women and they are passing it to their babies at birth. Could this explain why sepsis affects women and babies in great numbers? Since the establishment of normal gut flora takes place in the first 20 days of the baby’s life, the baby’s immune system is very weak. She recommends probiotics, removing problematic foods and improving the health of the body’s detoxification system, whose headquarters are in the liver and has departments in every cell. The liver she explains is a very sophisticated system that keeps us clean. Because the digestive system, and metabolism in general, produce a lot of toxic substances the liver has a critical role in detoxifying the body. In patients with autism because there is a river of toxicity coming from the gut, the liver’s detoxification system gets clogged up. In these kids toxins like mercury, lead, arsenic, formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals accumulate in the various tissues of the body. Poisons we are all exposed to but in normal circumstances the liver can detoxify them. In these kids, the detoxification system of the body needs to be restored. For this she recommends a simple diet with vegetable juices to flush toxins out, seaweed powder, sea salt, apple cider vinegar and fermented foods. Fermented foods she explains provide the needed probiotics and they chelate chemicals flushing them out of the body. Fermented foods she says are the perfect food for those people that have digestive problems like leaky gut, ulcerative colitis, etc. because the good bacteria in the fermented food pre-digests the proteins and fats, releasing the vitamins also ingesting the sugar found in the food, making it a natural low sugar food.
Last but not least, she explains the ‘die-off effect’, most patients can initially get worse when detoxifying the body because of the great amount of toxins being released at once, but this usually clears out as the body is cleansed.
This takes us to the next important point in our discussion.
The lymphatic system
In her book ‘The Core Balance Diet’ Marcelle Pick, MSN, OB/GYN NP describes another important way the body detoxifies itself ‘the often overlooked lymphatic system (which is) your body’s sanitation department: it cleans up the mess made by virtually all the other systems of the body. Widely regarded as a lesser sister to the circulatory system, it has no dedicated muscle (such as the heart) to pump lymph fluid, yet every cell in your body is continuously bathed in lymph fluid, which circulates through a vast network of capillaries and ducts, pulsing with motion and breath. Like a river of fluid, the lymph system sweeps debris from the shores of your cells and filters it through the appropriate receptacles (lymph ducts and nodes, spleen and liver) for removal. If your lymph stopped moving, you would die of toxicity in a matter of hours“. Ben Fuchs also explains how important the lymphatic system is for health and detoxification. According to him, oxygenation is very important to kill pathogens and bacteria. In the body this oxygenation is accomplished by the action of the lymphatic system which carries away toxins like a river carries away silt. Clogging, clotting and congestion of the lymphatic system can create oxygen deprivation and this increases the odds of a bacterial infection dramatically. Clogged lymphatic system will also block the flow of bacteria filled fluid after the dead bacteria and the infectious material is supposed to pass through the lymph. Lymphatic congestion is going to further compromise the body’s defense system by causing a defect in this movement of dead infectious material through the body.
He emphasizes it is possible for the body to fight bacteria and infections by moving the lymph, drinking plenty of fluids and eating less solid food so the body can concentrate in combating the pathogens instead of having to detoxify and process foods.
The products from Healthy Hearts Club can help you accomplish this. We recommend the “Liver Compound Complex” taken on a regular basis to assist the liver in its detoxifying abilities, especially if you are on prescription drugs. The “Heart and Body Extract” is antibacterial, anti-viral, strengthens the immune system and helps the lymphatic system by improving circulation all over the body. The “Blood Purifier Extract” is a nutritive supplement with a pleasant licorice taste for degenerative disorders, it has great blood cleansing properties as well as being antiviral and improving the lymphatic system.
Don’t wait till it might be too late, take control of your health now.