Multidrug resistance bacteria pose a serious global threat to human health. Globally, 700,000 people die every year due to antimicrobial resistance.1 Nearly 3 out of 4 medical scopes are contaminated with superbugs.2 According to one study, one in four seniors transfers superbugs from the hospital to their homes.3
The misuse and overuse of antibiotics promotes the development of drug-resistant pathogens. This, in turn, encourages bacteria to adapt to survive and develop new ways of beating antibiotic drugs. Thus, a new superbug emerges. As of today, there are more than 6000 knownantibiotic resistant genes in the bacteria that reside in the human gut!4 This can be somewhat beneficial for the friendly, helpful bacteria that inhabit the gut, but have deadly consequences if unfriendly bacteria have a population explosion. Unfortunately, the part of DNA that carries antibiotic resistant germs is a real champion at communication when it comes to spreading rapidly between one species of pathogen to the next species! Some pathogens have sleeper cells which survive dosages of antibiotics.5 There is a lot more to the story of successful superbug invasion than the inappropriate use of antibiotics though as we shall see.
In part 1 of this series, we will examine the forces that thwart and sabotage the mobile units of white blood cells that protect us from bacterial superbugs. Think of neutrophils as being our first mobile line of defense– army troops that engage in actual hand-to-handle battle with bacterial invaders. They can go from a relatively inactive state to a highly focused active state in a blood vessel in less than a second!6 Our second article in this series examines the natural remedies that enhance their surveillance and killing capacity.
Phagocytes are white blood cells whose primary job is to destroy bacteria by engulfing and then eating them. Neutrophils are one type of phagocyte and are the most abundant white blood cell in our bodies. Although small, they are our first line of defense against bacterial infections. Like good army troops, neutrophils are the first to rush to the site of infection. Highly mobile, they can leave the blood to track down, surround, and destroy the enemy. Macrophages are bigger eaters in comparison to neutrophils. Macrophages are found in organs such as the liver and the lungs
How Neutrophils Work Simplified
Bacteria, as they interact with immune compounds in the body, release signals that attract neutrophils toward the area of infection. Chemotaxis is the attraction of phagocytes (including neutrophils) to the area of trauma or infection. As a neutrophil surrounds a harmful bacterium, it extends its pseudopods, engulfs the invader, and swallows it. Once inside the neutrophil, the engulfed bacterium fuses with germ-destroying lysosomes. Lysosomes, tiny organelles, contain scores of molecules, free radicals, and compounds that destroy the protein, carbohydrates, fat, DNA, and RNA of the germ. Hydrogen peroxide? Neutrophils have it! They also contain an enzyme that stimulates the production of chlorine within the cells to kill bacteria and other germs.
Thwarting the Troops
Up In Smoke!
Certain lifestyle practices dramatically decrease neutrophils’ efficiency. 7,8 For example, smoking stimulates neutrophils at first, but it eventually reduces their ability to capture and kill germs. Nicotine inhibits the neutrophils’ ability to capture and kill bacteria and stimulates the release of pro-inflammatory compounds.9 This explains why smokers are more prone to infections and inflammatory problems than non-smokers. Smoking also reduces the population of friendly bacteria in the nose and throat.10 These friendly bacteria interfere with growth of disease-producing bacteria. Smoking also compromises other immune cells such as B and T-lymphocytes. Even second-hand smoke also impairs the ability of neutrophils and macrophages (another type of phagocyte) to capture harmful bacteria.11
Stress & Depression:
In stressed or depressed individuals, the ability of the neutrophils to capture germs or destroy pathogens is decreased, even though, in some cases, their neutrophil count can be elevated.12 In elderly individuals, stress-coping factors such as having hobbies, keeping pets, and maintaining close ties with friends or family have been shown to significantly improve the efficiency of their neutrophils.13
Diabetes & Immunity
Elevated glucose levels in patients with diabetes can also form what can be described as a sugar coating that can effectively smother the normal defense mechanisms our bodies use to detect and fight bacterial and fungal infections. Optimal blood sugar control improves immunity.
We see that sugar reduces the germ-engulfing efficiency of neutrophils in a dose-related fashion (see chart). A 12-ounce soft drink containing twelve teaspoons of sugar reduces the neutrophils’ ability to “eat” germs by over 50%. This effect lasts five hours after sugar ingestion.14
|Teaspoons of Sugar||Number of Bacteria Eaten by Neutrophil|
Vitamin B-12 deficiency:
A well-balanced vegetarian diet improves the efficiency of the immune system in general by increasing growth hormone production. This hormone primes and increases the ability of phagocytes to kill harmful bacteria. However, vegetarians must be sure to receive a sufficient amount of vitamin B12. B-12 deficiency is common among vegans and vegetarians unless they take care to eat d foods fortified with vitamin B-12. This vitamin is important for the production of white blood cells (including neutrophils). Consequently, a deficient amount of B-12 increases one’s risk for infections.
B-12 and Tuberculosis!
One study in the United Kingdom found that 2,437 Asiatic Indians who ate a mixed diet had 48 cases of tuberculosis per 1000, but those Indians who adhered to a fairly strict vegetarian diet had 133 cases of T.B. per 1000.15 Why was this? Vitamin B12 comes mainly from animal products (unless added in fortified foods). B12 deficiency results in a decreased ability of the neutrophils to kill microorganisms. Plant foods rarely contain any measurable amounts of vitamin B12 although there have been isolated reports of vitamin B12 in certain plants grown in organic soils. However, just because a soil contains B12 doesn’t necessarily mean that it is absorbed by the plant. So, strict (vegan) vegetarians need to be sure to eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 or take a vitamin B12 supplement. Unless we are deficient, fifty micrograms taken every other day is more than sufficient if one’s absorption is adequate.
Risk Factors for B-12 Deficiency
Certain medications, such as protein pump inhibitors, metformin, antacids, and certain antibiotics can interfere with vitamin B-12. Medical conditions as diabetes, thyroid problems, atrophic gastritis, pernicious anemia, Crohn’s, celiac disease, HIV, and certain autoimmune diseases can decrease B-12 levels too.
Animal Food Hazards:
Unfortunately, when the bacteria move from one host species to another, it hijacks certain genes to help it adapt and stay alive. In some cases, these genes give the bacteria resistance towards commonly used antibiotics, eventually rendering them so-called superbugs. Cows are a source of resistant staphylococcus strains causing infections in humans today.16 There is compelling evidence that a novel form of the dangerous superbug Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) can spread to humans through consumption or handling of contaminated poultry.17 Keep Fido, your pet, healthy.
Check Your Bathroom!
Triclosan is a compound used in more than 2000 personal care products like soaps and toothpastes. Unfortunately, this compound is accelerating antibiotic resistance. Use natural products when you can! Handwashing and good hygiene are essential to preventing superbug invasion. But try not to use soap with triclosan.18
Breathing air pollutants enhances one’s susceptibility to infections, especially lung infections.19 The black carbon from car exhaust and factory fumes made the biofilms of disease-promoting bacteria thicker and more resistant to antibiotics.20
Drug-resistant infections are serious and growing problems. Neutrophils play a key role in protecting us from viral invaders. We can reduce our risks to superbugs by good hygiene, avoiding the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, and avoiding or at least limiting our exposure to those lifestyle choices or environmental factors that decrease their efficiency. In our second article of this series, we will explore how to enhance the effectiveness of neutrophils naturally. Click here for part 2 of this series.
Key Words: super, superbug activity, superbug protection, superbug mrsa, superbug article, superbug bacteria, superbug prevention, vegetarian diet and immune, B-12 deficiency and immune
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Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.
- Queen’s University Belfast. “Killer superbugs: Is the answer within our bodies’ natural defenses?” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 November 2017.www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171114123354.htm.
- Terhune C. Nearly Three-Quarters of Commonly Used Medical Scopes Tainted by Bacteria. Medscape April 25, 2018.
- Jie Cao, Lillian Min, Bonnie Lansing, Betsy Foxman, Lona Mody. Multidrug-Resistant Organisms on Patients’ Hands. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2016
- University of Birmingham. “More than 6,000 antibiotic resistance genes discovered in the bacteria that inhabit the human gut.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 November 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181130111626.htm
- University of Exeter. “Antibiotic resistance: ‘Sleeping’ bacteria that can survive drug treatment identified.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 December 2017. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171220195730.htm.
- La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology. “Researchers gain new understanding of how neutrophils latch onto vessel walls to protect from infection, clean up injured tissue: Study reveals an unexpected trick used by cells to curb an inflammatory response.” ScienceDaily. 1 August 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160831085048.htm.
- Hall, E.J. Bolstering the immune system. The Journal of Health and Healing, 23(3).
- Lau, B., How lifestyle affects the immune system. The Journal of Health and Healing, 16(3):4, 1994.
- BMC Cell Biology. “How Smoking Encourages Infection.” ScienceDaily., 17 April 2008. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080414193036.htm
- Juhi Bagaitka. Tobacco use increases susceptibility to bacterial infection. Tob Induc Dis. 2008; 4(1): 12.
- Inzer N. Second-Hand Cigarette Smoke Impairs Bacterial Phagocytosis in Macrophages by Modulating CFTR Dependent Lipid-Rafts. journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0121200
- Niharika Arora Duggal. Depressive symptoms are associated with reduced neutrophil function in hip fracture patients. Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Oct; 33: 173–182.
- Kanhfer R.S. Psychological Stress and Immune Function. (thesis) School of Sport and Exercise Sciences College of Life and Environmental Sciences The University of Birmingham August 2011.
- Nedley, N. Proof Positive, Nedley Publishers, Ardmore, OK, 1998.
- Chanarin, I. J.egetarian diet and cobalamin deficiency: their association with tuberculosis. Clinical pathology, 41(7): 59-62, 1998.
- University of Helsinki. “Superbugs jumping frequently between humans and animals.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 September 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180907110437.htm.
- George Washington University. “Superbug MRSA may be spreading through contaminated poultry.” ScienceDaily. 21 September 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160921085050.htm.
- Ji Lu. Non-antibiotic antimicrobial triclosan induces multiple antibiotic resistances through genetic mutation. Environment International, 2018; 118: 257 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.06.004
- Samuel Sigaud. Air pollution particles diminish bacterial clearance in the primed lungs of mice. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2007 Aug 15; 223(1): 1–9.
- Husssy S. Air pollution alters Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae biofilms, antibiotic tolerance and colonization. Environmental Microbiology. Vol. 19:5. May 2017. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1462-2920.13686