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The toxic effects of a Clostridium infection

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

A Clostridium infection kills around 10,000 people in the US every year. Typically hospital acquired, it has also been shown to play a major role in mental health and well-being, including autism, psychiatric and neurologic illnesses. Easily transmitted, even by the asymptomatic and extremely difficult to kill, it is one bacterial infection you don't ever want.

What are the symptoms of a Clostridium infection?

Diarrhea is the most common symptom of a Clostridium infection. A fever, loss of appetite, nausea, and/or abdominal pain can also occur. There also may be a history of recent antibiotic use.

Severe infection can cause pseudomembranous colitis or inflammation of the colon which can cause perforation and even death!

There are approximately 100 different species of Clostridia (C.) and not all are harmful. One of the most toxic you may have heard of is C. botulism. It is associated with food poisoning and is the reason we avoid distended food cans. C. difficile is another highly resistant and toxic species. One study found that 68% of children hospitalized were infected with C. difficile!

Although the initial symptoms can pass or be intermittent making the victim think that the have combated the bacterial infection, there are toxic effects that can be long lasting.

The infection is transmitted by a fecal-oral route. Unfortunately C. difficile spores are acid and heat resistant, and are not killed by alcohol-based hand cleansers or routine surface cleaning.

In what conditions should you consider a Clostridium infection may be present?

  • Depression

  • Chronic Fatigue

  • Tic / Tourettes

  • Autism

  • Schizophrenia

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

  • Obsessive Compulsive disorder

  • Seizures

  • Gastrointestinal disorders including constipation, diarrhea and colitis, and even...

  • Rheumatoid arthritis.

How does Clostridium have an impact on the brain?

Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that cross nerve cell junctions or synapses. They essentially send messages from one nerve cell to a "target" nerve, muscle or gland cell. Neurotransmitters are essential for our body and brain to work. Billions of neurotransmitter molecules work constantly to keep us breathing, our heart beating and our brain functioning.

Some important neurotransmitters you may have heard of are norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine.

Norepinephrine (aka noradrenalin) is involved in alertness and is mobilized in times of stress or danger.

Low levels of this hormone/neurotransmitter have been shown to play a role in ADHD, depression, and low blood pressure.

Epinephrine (aka adrenalin) is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands but works as a neurotransmitter in the brain.

Dopamine plays an important role in the coordination of body movements. Dopamine is also involved in reward, motivation, and addictions.

The toxic metabolites* of certain Clostridium species appear to inhibit neurotransmitter function.

In particular they inhibit the enzyme that converts dopamine to norepinephrine. High levels of dopamine follow which when not within the synaptic vesicles can be toxic to the body by increasing free radicals and causing neuro(nerve)-degeneration. Other transmitters such as norepinephrine are then reduced, further impacting brain function and mental well-being.

How is a Clostridia infection diagnosed?

Unfortunately most hospital testing does not distinguish between the different types of Clostridia or only look for C. difficile. It is instead recommended to look for the toxic metabolites* (HPHPA & 4-cresol) and the neurotransmitter metabolites (HVA - Homovanillic acid and VMA - Vanillylmandelic acid). The organic oats test (OAT) is able to do just that by assessing the metabolites from a urine sample. (It costs around $327 NZ).

High HVA can indicate high dopamine.

Low VMA can indicate low norepinephrine.

The ratio between HVA and VMA should be 1. If HPHPA and 4-cresol are present this indicates a Clostridium infection.

How is it treated?

Unfortunately many of these harmful bacteria form spores that are highly resistant to heat and antibiotics, and are therefore very difficult to kill.

A typical approach is to treat with two antibiotics vancomycin and metronidazole. Research has shown that it is better to pulse the doses of these antibiotics in order to get the spores. Three days on and two days off for a period of 27 days for vancomycin is suggested. Metronidazole should be divided into 3 doses.

Very high doses of the beneficial bacteria lactobacillis rhamnosus and boulardii have also been found to be beneficial. From 10-100 billion or more. (However if SIBO is also an issue this may aggravate symptoms).

NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) or intravenous glutathione can also help by increasing brain glutathione levels and reducing the neurotoxic dopamine metabolites.

Furthermore it is recommended that those infected be wary of high protein diets as they may increase the production of the toxic metabolites. (Increased tyrosine and phenylalanine may increase dopamine production as the clostridium inhibits the enzyme necessary to convert the dopamine).

As you can see, a Clostridium infection can be very serious and have far reaching consequences. It should be considered in anyone diagnosed with autism, ADHD, a mental health disorder or severe gastro-intestinal complaints.

Cross you fingers your immune system is strong enough to combat this one if ever it came across it!

You may like to check out 6 Simple steps to heal your gut and boost your immune system if you want to aid prevention.

* These toxic metabolites are 3- (3-hydrophenyl) 3 hydroxypropionic (also known as HPHPA) and 4 Cresol (also known as p-Cresol).

The information in this article was obtained by research provided by Dr William Shaw (from the Great Plains Laboratory) for the Functional Medicine University.

For more info, go the articles at The Great Plains Laboratory website.

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