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What is MRSA? Another Reason We Need Good Bacteria

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The Era of the Super Immune System

A few years back, Luke was working on the house when, after putting on a pair of heavy duty gloves, he detected what seemed to be a small burr in one of the fingers. When he shook his glove, a brown spider dropped to the ground and ran off.

MRSA after spider bite. MRSA is very common in Hawaii.

The next day, the top of his right hand was red, hot and swollen, suggesting a potential bacterial infection at the site of a spider bite. A few hours after that, the redness had already crept up his wrist, so I put Luke on a course of Augmentin. When the infection failed to respond, I suspected MRSA (methcillin resistant Staph aureus) and added Bactrim.

I’ll spare you the gory details of the healing wound. The point is, what might have been a disfiguring infection was soon stopped in its tracks: the drugs worked.

But what if they didn’t?

According to a recent article in Bloomberg Markets Magazine, instances of drug resistance are increasingly common around the globe, particularly in places like India where overcrowding, sewage and sanitation problems and unregulated access to low-cost generic antibiotics provide a perfect breeding ground for common bacteria to evolve into superbugs.

Germs have been strategizing against the effects of antimicrobial agents from a variety of sources (including other microbes) for billions of years. So as far as bacteria are concerned, manmade antibiotics represent just another challenge, the most recent of a long series of biological puzzles to solve. Superbugs like MRSA (Methcillin Resistant Staphyloccocus Aureus) demonstrate just how nimble germs can be, circumnavigating whatever chemical barriers we throw in their path.

White blood cells must be in shop shape to catch the bad guys. Sugar and inflammatory oils in your diet will slow them down, opening the door to all kinds of infectious agents.

With the advent of penicillin came hope that we might someday wipe out bacterial illness. That hubris was soon replaced with the hope that we might at least keep one step ahead of bacteria, developing new antibiotics faster than germs could adapt. Now, we’re doing all we can to avoid entering what the World Health Organization calls the “post-antibacterial era.”

Recently, researchers discovered a new breed of superbugs armed with a special gene called NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactimase-1) that can be easily transferred across many different types of bacteria, including the very common intestine-dwelling E-Coli.

Think of NDM-1 as a list of strategies for overcoming any antibiotic a germ might encounter, a kind of “Defeating Antibiotics for Dummies” distributed (not in book form, but on loops of DNA called plasmids) to germ populations all around the globe. And since, according to University of Indiana microbiologist Karen Bush, the giant pharmaceutical companies now pursue highly profitable hypertension and high-cholesterol drugs (which patients take for many years) rather than new antibiotics (which patients take for days or weeks), the publishers of the “For Dummies” book won’t need to bother coming out with updated editions for some time.

You might be thinking, Right, another story about the latest superbug, or bird or swine flu, or flesh-eating bacteria, or whatever else we’re supposed to be terrified of this news cycle. What can I do about it?

Well, I’ll tell you a few simple things you can do.

First, understand that although some 20% of antibiotics prescribed for adults in the US are for sinus infections, study after study has shown that antibiotics are no more effective than placebo for the treatment of these infections. The next time you have a sinus problem, listen to your doctor’s advice about what prescription, if any, might actually help.

Second, supercharge your immune system by eating probiotic foods and cutting sugar. The gut, if you’ll pardon the phrase, is the heart of the immune system, and probiotics balance the gut flora that help prevent bacteria from getting out of control. A high-sugar diet, on the other hand, stacks the cards against you as it creates a latticework of cross-links within the interstices between cells. These can create physical barriers that snag white blood cells as they chase down bacterial bad guys.

Finally, stop using antibacterial gels. Instead, wash your hands with regular, non-antibacterial soap and water. In Hawaii, I saw numerous patients with recurrent MRSA infections, and every one of them used antibacterial lotion regularly. These hand lotions don’t discriminate: they kill good, protective bacteria along with the bad. And since no lotion wipes out 100% of bacteria, some will survive to communicate their adaptation strategies to other bacteria, strategies that will find their way into the next edition of “Defeating Antibiotics for Dummies.”

And that’s not very super, now is it?

Read more in Deep Nutrition, in the section entitled Fermentation, Part II: Boost Your Immune System With Probiotics, pp147-8 and Food Rules, under Doctor’s Order #14: Avoid Antibacterial Soaps

Related Posts:

One of the most common gut irritants that will damage your intestinal health: http://drcate.com/canola-oil-the-blob-that-ate-butter-olive-oil/

The spontaneous clearance of thyroid cancers and why I think immune health is key to cancer prevention and survival: http://drcate.com/papillary-thyroid-cancer-more-common-than-you-think/

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About Author

Dr. Cate

With over two decades of clinical experience and expertise in genetic and biochemical research, Dr. Cate can help you to reverse metabolic disease and reshape your body.

  • Lory

    Hi Dr. Cate,

    I have been a believer of priobiotics (had helped me with my gut issues, and I noticed I have not had any colds for more than a year now since switching to a LCHF diet, with regular consumption of probiotics in the form of homemade sauerkraut and fermented dairy (we also consume raw milk and raw heavy cream). Of course, your books have reinforced my faith in probiotics.

    Recently, I got into soapmaking to make use of my excess homemade buttermilk (by-product of homemade raw butter from grass-fed cows) and whole milk yogurt. I thought with your background in biochemistry that you probably will have answers to my questions or at least provide qualified opinions on the use of fermented dairy on soap making.
    Q: Is there a chance of preserving the probiotic properties of fermented milk if used in soap making even after reacting with the NaOH? What if I add some extra after the initial saponification process reaches the emulsified stage? Will the probiotics still exert an antigenic property even after having been neutralized by lye by virtue of their protein structure and trigger an immune response from the user, in hopes of providing immunostimulation to the non-immunocompromised user? Will the glycerin by-product somehow coat some of the probiotics or antigenic proteins that were added after the soap batter/mixture emulsifies to give some sort of protection to keep them intact, albeit inactive. This glycerin tends to form a thin film of protection on the skin, so if the glycerin also has them probiotics or proteins intact, then they can act as a sort of vehicle for delivering these probiotics (or at least, part of the antigen protein) to the skin. This is my theory, and I would like to know if there is logic to it.

    I do work as an RN and have had issues with antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers, and actually had Cetaphil prescribed for me so I can officially use it in the hospital instead of their soaps. I am planning to use my homemade probiotic soaps if hospital will allow me (maybe after challenging the blue light test they administer).

    • Soaps retain no pro-biotics. Good soaps promote the growth of healthy skin flora, which may help. The Maasai use fermented milk mixed w/ ochre clay on their skin to apply probiotics…the cost is a very strong odor.

  • Crystie

    Dr. Cate,

    Have you seen this project about collecting samples to get a better map of the American gut? http://humanfoodproject.com/american-gut/

    Though I thought a poop sample would mostly indicate the state of the large intestine, not necessarily the rest of the gut.

    • Fastinating study, thank you. New research suggests we may need as many as 5000 species of bacteria, including H. Pylori possibly! (P Pylori is currently thought to cause peptic ulcers. But it may be that we need small amounts and in locations other than the stomach.)

  • Jim Kling

    I’ve avoided the over-prescription of ABs, with a nasty tooth abscess the only exception over the past decade that I can recall. I try to eat yogurt, kefir, kim chi, cultured cheeses, etc., to keep gut flora healthy. And while I prefer soap without AB, my wife buys it and my workplace’s soap dispensers all contain it.

    Questions: Does the use of AB hand soap affect gut flora, or only symbiotic bacteria on the skin’s surface? Does bacteria on the skin provide any protection against infection the way gut flora protects us internally? How deleterious is usage of hand soap with AB aside from promoting resistant strains – if my gut flora is otherwise healthy, do I really need to worry?

    • Good questions. In Food Rules page 146 we explain that, regular use of skin products that kill skin flora not only breeds antibiotic resistant bacteria, it also risks breeding bacteria with collagenase enzymes that can dissolve your collagen to form abscesses and even limb-threatening infections.

      Antibiotic hand soap is unlikely to significantly affect gut flora.

  • Kim

    In my case, i started getting UTIs after moving to Mexico, and they became more and more frequent. My digestive system is weak – beans and nightshades are irritating and i’ve cut them from my diet. So i really didn’t like being on courses of gut-bacteria-killing antibiotics 2x a year – then 3x, then 4x. Then i started making kefir water and homemade sauerkraut and yoghurt. I’ve been infection free for 7 months, despite 2 trips to the sea, which before was always a UTI trigger.

  • Lpjohnson

    I’ve worked in healthcare for twelve years now, and the hospitals really push hand sanitizer. I refused to use it (I just wash my hands) but I always read the ingredients when they switch products. Triclosan, phthalates, and most recently propane & butane. Really? And people use this stuff in their kids?

  • Hurd Finnegan

    Thank you Dr. Cate. My brother in law died last Friday from a bacterial infection that had got in his lungs. He was 48 years old. I am going to start spreading the word to everyone I can. I will start by sharing this post.

  • Beth

    A family member of mine died a few weeks ago after contracting a bacterial infection on a business trip to India. I suspect this may be a case of NDM-1, but her case remains a medical mystery. It underscores the importance of being vigilant about our immune systems by consuming less sugar and processed carbs and eating things like unpasteurized sauerkraut, fermented dairy, etc. on a daily basis. We also need to halt indiscriminate antibiotic use in livestock and return to grass-based farming.

  • Kathy Smon

    I’ve devoured your books and am am implementing as many suggestions as possible. I understand the science and benefits of fermentation but am very susceptible to migraines. My top dietary trigger is fermented foods, the 2 worst were miso and tempeh. I can tolerate soy sauce in small amounts.

    Love yogurt, but am allergic to the proteins in milk. I’d been making soy yogurt with organic, unsweetened, Silk soymilk (not good?).

    What dietary options are there to get probiotics into my diet?

    • Based on what you wrote here, there’s a very good chance you do not have an actual allergy to fermented foods. I find many people have been misdiagnosed with allergic disorders even when based on blood tests. this is something I work with people to clarify, if you need. Meanwhile, probiotic supplements are an easy way to get at least some types of good bacteria into your system.

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