Thursday, January 27, 2011

What Are Biofilms?

Many patients with underlying chronic illness and infection often have difficulty in regaining total health, due in part to the ability of pathogenic organisms to resist treatment. Many organisms, including H. pylori, Candida species and numerous others, rather than living independently, form highly complex colonies that are imbedded in a protective matrix. When these organisms colonize within our bodies, this matrix acts as armor, protecting them against even the most powerful standard treatments. The matrix may be made of hydrated exopolysaccharides, proteins, DNA and other substances that are usually generated by the organisms themselves. Calcium and magnesium binding creates structural strength, and tiny canals are formed which allow passage of nutrients between organisms. The organisms not only live as a community, but communicate with each other and influence their own phenotypic expression, down regulating such genes as those determining motility and growth, and up regulating the genes for production of their biofilm matrix.

Genes for antibiotic resistance are also up regulated, enhancing the protective function of these colonies. Organisms enmeshed in a biofilm community can be much more resistant to antibiotics than their free living counterparts. Small hormone-like molecules are produced which provide communication between organisms. Organisms are able to sense levels of stress hormones in their host that allow them to determine host immune competence.

These bugs are no slouches. They have had thousands of years to develop highly sophisticated ways of outwitting their hosts (us!). Specialization occurs between different organisms located in different areas of the matrix. These complex communities can be multi-species and even multi-kingdom.

Biofilm communities are ubiquitous in nature, found on rocks in creek beds and stagnant ponds. On the positive side, biofilms are used to filter sewage water, and are being developed for electricity generation. Examples that impact our physical health include dental plaque, H. pylori, intestinal Candida, and both beneficial and pathogenic intestinal bacteria.

The existence of biofilms is an important consideration in the treatment of infections and is speculated to be one of the reasons that pathogenic organisms can be so difficult to eradicate. Antimicrobial pharmaceuticals or botanicals most often fail to penetrate into the biofilm matrix; so many organisms are able to survive treatment. Biofilm matrixes can colonize in our intestinal system and many of us live with them unknowingly.

To address this problem, new enzyme formulations are being developed that help dissolve the matrix. The enzymes are given on an empty stomach along with the antimicrobial of choice for a specific organism. Probiotics are given separately, which exert their own protective effects.

The Amitabha Clinic in Sebastopol, California has been using these new protocols in treating intestinal dysbiosis, a common component of chronic illness. We have documented good success rates in eradicating pathogenic organisms as demonstrated by repeat stool analysis.

Advancements in this area of treatment have aided many people in the fight against chronic infection and previously undiagnosable conditions. Biofilm research and its application to clinical practice and personal health are an exciting development in integrative medicine which I encourage everyone to investigate further.

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