Latest posts by Jessica Peatross, MD (see all)
How Does an Acute Infection Produce a Chronic Problem?
In the age of awakening, it seems everyone is finding their own personal truth about health and productive life changes. It is quite frustrating that often even with the strictest of GMO free, organic, gluten free, vegan or vegetarian diet, we are still unable to overcome some persistent health issues. Most of us are not satisfied with the answers we received in school or in our careers, especially concerning true healthcare. Become your own best health advocate and do your research. At some point in your journey, it may become vital to look at INFECTIOUS causes of chronic diseases such as cancer or autoimmune conditions. Researchers are discovering that infections by viruses, bacteria, or fungi are linked to or can trigger the beginning of neurodegenerative conditions, cancers, and autoimmune conditions, and have the ability to permanently change our DNA. Sometimes, even with the best diet, the body is still overwhelmed, as all its resources are going to fight off the offending pathogen (virus, bacteria, fungus). As long as we continue to keep the mind, spirit, and body healthy, then no pathogen can live in the body.
Throughout medical history, scientists dismissed the role of acute or chronic infections that could potentially cause a noninfectious disease. For example, cancer isn’t contagious, so how could it possibly be caused by a contagious and acute pathogen? In 1982, scientists Barry Marshall and Robin Warren proved that Heliobacter Pylori, a bacteria that invades the gut, can cause ulcers and acid reflux, leading to cancer. Yes, an acute infection produced a chronic and noninfectious disorder. Warren and Marshall won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery.
What Other Diseases are Linked to Infectious Agents?
There are many, and some are directly linked while others are indirectly linked.
The human papilloma virus (HPV), for instance, causes more than 90 percent of cervical cancer cases. The hepatitis B virus accounts for more than 60 percent of liver cancer cases. The hepatitis C virus causes cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease, and eventual liver cancer. Human herpes virus 8 causes Kaposi’s sarcoma, cancer that is a complication of AIDS. Helicobacter pylori bacteria that was discussed above is the agent of peptic ulcers and gastric cancer. These examples may be just the tip of the iceberg. These infections invade the host and deregulate our natural immune systems in a few ways. An infection can slowly damage our body by leaking toxins chronically. Autoimmune conditions, like Crohn’s disease or type 1 diabetes, could possibly be due to our bodies reacting to an underlying toxin, not causing our bodies to attack themselves. The accepted theory is that some pathogens are molecularly similar to our own cells and so an immune response directed against them can mistakenly attack your own body as well (molecular mimicry). Put another way, the body is not imperfect, but it is reacting to an imperfect pathogen that is still reeking havoc on the body. The immune response can continue even after the original pathogen is no longer in the body. Chronic Hepatitis B, for example, can provoke an attack against the liver, often leading to Chronic Liver disease or end stage liver disease over a period of several years. Secondly, an infection can attack the body rapidly and produce immediate handicaps. For example, poliomyelitis, a disease caused by the polio virus, sometimes causes permanent paralysis once the victim is stricken. Lastly, acute infections can lead to chronic conditions that intermittently flare up. For example, food borne pathogens like E. Coli or viruses like herpes can induce chronic sequelae including reactive arthritis and cold sores, respectively.
How Do Pathogens Overtake Natural Immunity?
There are a number of ways that these pesky pathogens can overtake our immune systems. Inflammation and oxidative stress seem to both play a role. Both are linked to infectious and non contagious diseases. Oxidative stress can release free radicals and reactive oxygen species which can change our DNA through cellular damage. Consider that if your immune system is already dampened due to an infection, it may not be able to clear all free radicals and oxidative damage done to the cells. As oxidative stress is implicated in the advancement of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, it would be logical to extrapolate that oxidative damage caused by an infection could also hasten or exacerbate the symptoms of a chronic disease like Parkinson’s.
Inflammation is beneficial to the body when contained and acute. It alerts the immune system that something is awry. All of our fighter cells go to the site of inflammation, destroy the offending agent, and repair any damaged tissues or cells. It is when an offending environmental toxin, heavy metal, or pathogen continues to set the immune system off perpetually that chronic inflammation and disease set in. The system has gone haywire and is alerting us that something else is wrong.
The inflammation and oxidative stress caused by a chronic immune response have been strongly linked to many kinds of chronic diseases, including many types of cancer, neurological/psychiatric diseases (like Alzheimer’s Disease, autism, and depression) and autoimmune disorders (like Type 1 Diabetes or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis). An immune system burdened by chronic inflammation also can’t fight off other pathogens as effectively, so one chronic infection makes you more likely to get another. Some infections like bacteria and parasites can work together to suppress the immune system of the host.
Consider the Unknown
Considering that standard allopathic medical labs are often inaccurate (serum magnesium only measures 1% of the total mag as the rest is bound to protein and cannot be measured), there is a strong possibility that we do not accurately diagnose many pathogens that are still in the body and lie hidden. One theory, by Paul Janiwet and biologist Paul Ewald, states that as our defense measures get more sophisticated, so do the capabilities of many bacteria, fungi, and viruses. They can replicate so fast that they are able to outwit and become resistant to many antibiotics. Is it possible that they are also able to hide in the body as they also become more intelligent? Bacteria in the mouth and even Lyme disease are able to hide in a sticky biofilm. Candida overgrowth or parasites have also learned how to attack the system but still go unnoticed for years. Could we be missing chronic Epstein Barr or Cytomegalo virus that is causing chronic disease?
Tests for these infections are difficult, expensive, and often mutually contradictory, making diagnosis even more difficult. But if you have a chronic disease (and probably even if you don’t), it’s a safe bet that you’re also suffering from infections or pathogens in hiding.
One of the most important ways you can support your body’s defenses through diet is by healing your gut. The gut is the second brain. In fact, it speaks more to the brain than the brain does to it via the vagus nerve. Most of our immune cells are contained within the gut. Leaky gut is an inflammatory condition that generates systemic inflammation by decreasing immunity in the gut. On the other hand, healthy gut flora strengthen your immune system. Healing your gut and restoring a healthy balance of beneficial gut flora involves eating a healthy diet free from inflammatory grains or legumes, dairy, or factory farmed meat, and avoiding chronic stress.
Meditation and yoga also help you connect to your higher self and with self introspection. Knowing yourself is always a key to the health puzzle. It’s also important to get enough micro-nutrients to keep your immune system and your body’s natural defenses running smoothly. Vitamin C and Vitamin D are especially important for immune function. Cat’s claw, silver hydrosol, elderberry, curcumin, and MSM are also potent immune modulators and antivirals. Reduce daily stress by turning into what truly makes YOU happy. Obesity and metabolic syndrome contribute to oxidative stress, so staying at a healthy weight and stabilizing any blood sugars can help. Intermittent fasting or a juice fast is also beneficial since it promotes autophagy, the process of digesting any free radicals or inflammatory cells. Freeing up complicated digestion lets the immune system focus on other areas of disease that need to be tended to. Castor oil packs, detox IVs, parasite cleansing, and heavy metal chelation can also be necessary steps.
The key to preventing any infection (and many chronic conditions) is to not only have a strict, non inflammatory diet, clean water, decreased EMF/stress, and detoxing from environmental toxins, heavy metals, and pesticides, but to also increase our own innate immunity so that it is able to prevent any infection within our bodies. Remember, if it does not feel good to your soul or if you are damaging others, then it may be time to reconsider some life decisions. Often we make ourselves ill by keeping ourselves in unhealthy situations. The mind, body, and spirit are connected. Detox yourself of processed food and toxic people and careers, and refill your life with food, people, and activities that feed your soul and help change the world for the better.
3. 16th edition of Harrison’s Internal Medicine: Infectious Diseases