We Need A New Paradigm Beyond Antifungals And Antibiotics
We are desperately in need of a new paradigm beyond antifungals and antibiotics, as well as how we view and interact with fungi, and bacteria on this planet. We can't keep nuking our bodies with antibiotics, and antifungals, or do the same to our pets, animals used as food, and our outer environment. We need to look beyond our myopic vision to see a bigger picture that supports true health through nourishment and support of our bodies innate defenses.
If we want our bodies to support us, we need to support our bodies. We do this by recognizing that the terrain around us, and inside of us needs to be in a state of vitality for us to be healthy. A healthy terrain is less likely to create an unhealthy human. Today we will examine how our current paradigm around fungi, and bacteria has lead us to ill health on a personal and planetary level. I suggest we go beyond antifungals and antibacterials and choose a new paradigm that can assist us in regaining personal and planetary health.
Our Relationship With Fungi
We have such varied relationships with Fungi. We love to eat them and use them as medicine, the trees depend on some of them for their networking, while other fungi act as pathogens and affect our health, so we selectively kill some them with antifungals. However, we are entering a time when we need to adopt a new paradigm in medicine beyond antifungals and antibacterials if we are to have healthy bodies and a healthy environment. Naming pathogens all around and in us and killing them somewhat indiscriminately, often with collateral damage is getting us into a lot of trouble and harming our health overall. This article looks at our relationship with fungi growing in us, in our homes, on our food and why our past actions to seek and destroy pathogenic fungi as well as bacteria are not working for us and why a new paradigm could be our saving grace.
Fungi are amazing critters that have numerous forms and live in a myriad of complex ecosystems. They can be as small as a microscopic unicellular yeast that we might find in our beer, wine, or our body, while others are much larger macroscopic fungi that we ingest as mushrooms or simply admire for their beauty. Some of these fungi are food and medicine while others create toxins in our homes and/or our bodies, and can make us sick or even kill us. Sometimes the same fungi in our body that we consider a commensal (non-harmful) can become a pathogen if given the opportunity. This opportunity can be as simple as our lifestyle choices leading to the appropriate terrain that helps them grow at the expense of other less opportunistic flora which are more beneficial for us . Our interactions with fungi are definitely multifaceted and complicated.
Most of this article examines the dark side of our relationship with fungi and I don't want us to lose sight of the fact that we have some wonderful relationships with fungi and we need them in the most basic of ways for our planet to be healthy. Fungi are necessary for the trees on this planet to stay healthy and this is an important fact that is often overlooked. Trees have an amazing web of fungus under the soil that interconnects them. This underground fungal mycelium network allows them to communicate and share resources. All of the forest, both under, and above the ground are interdependent on one another. For details on how this works see Suzanne Simard’s Ted Talk on how trees talk to each other.
How trees share resources through this underground network is interesting. The mass of fungal micorrhiza connect to the trees and network the trees together. This fungal mycelium connects to similar species as well as disparate species. They move things like nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus, water, defense signals, and hormones form one tree to another.
These micorrhizal fungi associate with trees all over the world. The fungi help the trees take up minerals and water, while the trees provide sugars from photosynthesis to the fungi. This relationship protects the trees from stress and drought. Under the soil, the fungi create a vast network that links the trees. The network becomes a hi-way for the trees to send messages, or nutrients to each other. Our current method of row cropping of forest trees as a way to produce timber threatens this fungal network and if the mycelium network goes down, so do the trees and if the trees go down, so do we.
Fungi have always been a source of food and medicine for us, but now we employ them to make peptides, vitamins, enzymes, organic acids, antibiotics, and immunomodulating drugs. The vast array of metabolic products fungi create has led to our harnessing them to crank out various supplements and drugs as well as using non-harmful fungi in agriculture to protect plants from pathogenic fungi that would otherwise grow on our food.
As we consider fungi as pathogens, keep in mind that much of our relationship with fungi is beneficial. I don't want us to lose sight of this fact.
Fungi As Pathogens
Although fungi are important in our environment, and we have harvested many amazing substances from fungi, some of these fungi are also human pathogens that can cause serious health consequences through infections, or through their production of toxins. The health effects can be varied and include actual infections in our body, illness or death from eating fungi that contain toxins, as well as illness from toxins they make and release into the environment. Health consequences also include allergenic reactions to the fungi itself, or to metabolites, or spores created by the fungus., It is common for fungi in water-damaged buildings to create mycotoxins that can be absorbed into our body through our skin, via inhalation, or through landing on our food that we ingest. Additionally, food can have fungi, spores and mycotoxins on it through the poor farming practices or through poor methods of transport, processing and storage of the food.
Commensal Fungi Can Become Pathogenic Given The Right Terrain
We know that specific fungi can be a commensal, or a pathogen, and we see increasing pathogenicity of some yeast in a subset of individuals, while the same yeast may stay a commensal in someone else. This obviously, points to an issue with the terrain of our bodies being involved. Meanwhile, yeasts are becoming resistant to antifungal drugs. Ultimately, this would indicate that antifungals may not be the best answer. In fact, all too often I have people tell me they keep getting relapsing fungal illness after being treated with antifungals.
The main human fungal pathogens that we have associated with infections in the past have been Candida albicans, Cryptococcus neoformans, and Aspergillus fumigatus. However, I would point out that these three fungi are considered to be a commensal in/on the human body to one degree or another. This means they can be in/on the body without being pathogenic and without causing harm. Therefore, it is not simply a matter of a fungus being nonpathogenic or pathogenic. These microbes become pathogenic when they are provided the appropriate terrain to do so. The toxic environment around us created by the use of industrial chemicals, heavy metals, building toxins in water-damaged buildings, electrical magnetic fields and other toxins create a toxic terrain in both our environment, but also inside our bodies as we eat these toxin in our food, breathe them in air, and drink them in water. Strangely, research with fungi find they are even attracted to some of these toxins such as heavy metals and in the environment they have been shown to even metabolize some of these toxins. Bacteria have also been shown to metabolize some of these toxins. Could it be the more toxic we are, the more we grow microbes in our body and the more pathogenic they become? Many of us believe this is the issue.
As time goes by, new species of yeast are showing up as pathogens. For instance, Candida Auris and C. glabrata are becoming more “pathogenic” and becoming resistant to drugs. There are additionally other fungi that humans are beginning to realize are increasingly responsible for infections such as Histoplasma casulatum and Malassezia furfur (as well as other species of Malassezia). Before all our commensals become pathogens, we really should consider creating a healthy terrain in our bodies and in our environment.
Although I don’t advocate throwing out antifungal treatments completely, I would request that we consider a different mode of addressing this issue of fungus amongst us, as well as examining how we address bacterial pathogens, which have similar issues around bacterial commensals becoming pathogenic in some people and bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Additionally, we have the issue of individuals having yeast infections or other fungal infections induced by antibiotics used to treat a bacterial infection. Even if we wanted to keep using antibiotics and antifungals forever, the increased growth of microbes that are becoming drug resistant should be a wakeup call informing us that what we are doing is not working. Rather than continuing to create new drugs to kill these fungi and bacteria, perhaps we need to re-evaluate our idea that we need to kill all bacteria and fungi that are acting as pathogens. Perhaps we should be examining why we have this ever increasing issue of microbes taking over our bodies, and our external environment.
Creating A Sick Terrain Has Created Even Greater Dependence on These Drugs
In our society, we are in a continuous cycle where use of antifungals and antibiotics has increased our need as a society for these drugs. Our current activity of nuking our bodies with antibiotics and antifungals has created a situation where we have severely damaged our microbiota with these drugs. In addition to degrading the general terrain of our bodies, some of these drugs have harmed the power houses of our cells called the mitochondria. The more we have used these drugs the more dependent our medical system has become on using ever increasingly stronger and more dangerous drugs as we create superbugs that are no longer responding to the old drugs. Global antibiotic consumption in humans increased by 65 percent between 2000 and 2015.
The dependence on drugs has been created through practically obliterating the wonderful ecosystem on our skin, in our digestive tract and other organs. When healthy and intact, this flora makes up a multidimensional manifestation of microbes that benefit our bodies in countless ways that we don’t yet fully comprehend.
Degrading the microbiota of our bodies effects our immune system and neuroendocrine system, some of these drugs have also harmed the power houses of our cells called the mitochondria. All toxins harm the mitochondria and that can include drugs. The mitochondria is thought to be an ancient bacteria that evolved with our bodies and became incorporated into our cells. It is no surprise that this ancient bacteria might be harmed by strong antibacterials made to kill bacteria. Without the mitochondria, we might as well hibernate as one of their jobs is to supply us with energy. We know some antibiotics harm the mitochondria. I would not be surprised if most, or even all antibiotics can harm mitochondria to some degree. These little power houses of our cells can’t make the energy we need to live fully if they are having to deal with protecting themselves and us from damage or even death. We end up having chronic fatigue and nothing in our bodies feels like it is working appropriately any more. When mitochondria become dysfunctional it also creates a change in our bodily terrain for the worse and now we are even more likely to have commensals, mutualists and outright pathogens start wrecking havoc in our body.
Our Paradigm Has Allowed Devastation To Reign
We need a healthy terrain to keep pathogens at bay both in our bodies and on the planet. Unfortunately, we have attacked both the terrain of the planet as well as the terrain of our bodies. We have inflicted ourselves with a chronic state of illness both in our personal bodies, and on the Earth at large as we have attempted to kill off anything we have deemed to be “not us” or “not what we want”. Antibiotics, and antifungals have devastated the terrain of our bodies and we have added to the ill health of our bodily terrain by ingesting food without adequate nutrients, breathing toxins in our air, eating toxins in our soil, and drinking toxins in our water. We now can measure a variety of these toxins even in our rain. Those same toxins in our air, soil and water that we have used to kill microbes, weeds and pests in our outer environment have damaged the terrain of the planet and are also damaging our personal terrain in our bodies.
We are now using antibiotics for longer periods of time to treat infections that have become resistant to drugs, or infections that appear to “relapse”. These antibiotics are not only harmful to our bacterial microbiota and to the mitochondria in most of our cells, but they also alter the mycobiota (fungus) too. In fact, studies have shown that the fungal part of the microbiota takes a bigger hit than the bacteria do. Part of the fungal dysregulation from antibiotics leads to great overgrowth of specific opportunistic fungi ,and this leads to the use of antifungals which further damages the inter-relationship of all the varied fungi, bacteria, archea, viruses, and protists that make up our healthy and protective microbiota.
Some individuals get into a cyclical pattern of taking antifungals and antibiotics for pathogenic infections that kill off their protective microbial population and as a result more pathogens are allowed to proliferate. This then leads to more drugs to kill the pathogens and the cycle continues until they get off the ferris wheel or die.
A New Paradigm Is On The Horizon If We Chose It
Rather than continuing to kill off our body’s beneficial flora, I would offer a different theory. The theory I offer is the one I was trained in as a naturopathic physician. It is based on the idea that the health of the terrain predicts what will grow in it. I am not saying the pathogenic microbes are not important and can be ignored, or that some virulent pathogen can't get past our healthy terrain, but it is much harder for them to do so. Our bodies terrain contains many different types of microbes that we need for our body to function in a harmonious way, so they are a very important part of the terrain in our bodies. However, we have forgotten about the health of the terrain in our single minded attempt to kill any microbe we deemed to be a pathogen or non-helpful. We have decided that anything that is not us, and does not seem to be in step with us, be it in our bodies, our pets bodies, animals grown for food, or on our planet is to be attacked and killed and we ignore the collateral damage that takes place. In 2020 around 160,000 tons of antibiotics were fed to farm animals globally. This should be shocking to us. The sad fact is that we are making ourselves, the animals and the environment ripe for disease by going on attack rather than attending to the underlying terrain. This goes for both the attack of pathogens in our bodies as well as the attack of pests, and weeds on the planet. We are spreading disease everywhere.
However, there is a different choice, and a new paradigm of health beyond antifungals and antibiotics. Just as we can introduce, or support beneficial insects, bacteria and fungi to fight off the insects and pathogens that eat and damage our food, we can also enhance the beneficial bacteria, fungi and other microbes in, and on our bodies. These friendly flora keep commensals from becoming pathogenic.
We can support our own bodies resources that allow it to fight off invaders that arrive on our food or drink we ingest through support of digestive processes and good nutrition. We can also support our body’s ability to protect itself by keeping our immune system in shape. A good functioning immune system will orchestrate activities in our body that keeps possible pathogens in check. The microbiota that we have evolved with is a mix of symbiotic and commensal bacteria that also are a part of keeping each other in check as well as keeping serious pathogens amongst them in check. We even evolved with some types of helminths that are now known to keep over-active immune systems in check.
Nourishing And Supporting Our Bodies And The Environment
It is through nourishing and supporting a healthy body terrain that we can create an environment on our skin and in our body that does not allow for pathogens to take hold. They become mere passing ships in the night. This is done through nourishing the good microbiota, eating nutritious, organic food, living in healthy outer environments, and if needed through supplementation of nutrients, and yes even the use of natural antimicrobials when necessary, and the use of drugs only in rare instances if needed at all.
Health of our body starts with health of our inner and outer terrain. Health does not start with antibiotics and antifungals.
There are natural methods of supporting the helpful microbes that can be protective against pathogens. These are best and safest to use when there is not an acute need to attack a pathogen. The healthier a person becomes, the less need there will be to use antimicrobials. An example would be a fungal infection of the skin. We can choose to use something simple to support the natural skin microbiome and rid ourselves of a fungal infection rather than using a dangerous antifungal drug. For instance, in the case of Candida albicans we can apply coconut oil to the skin as an acute treatment. If the fungus was a Malassezia yeast species such as Malassezia restricta or another species known to grow on longer medium chain fatty acids such as lauric acid, also called C12 (in coconut oil), we would be better off using the medium chain fatty acid oil called C8 or caprylic acid that is found in Coconut oil, as some types of Malassezia species use the lauric acid in plain coconut oil as a food source. We don’t know enough about this type of yeast to know which species use lauric acid and which ones do not. Therefore, some people with seborrheic dermatitis/dandruff, or other skin issues from Malassezia will react to the coconut oil and get worse, while others will find their skin healing with its use. Therefore, to prevent your patient from this possible reaction it is better to simply use a high caprylic acid medium chain triglyceride oil made from coconuts. The point however, is that a very simple treatment such as applying a healing oil to the skin or scalp can help to regain a healthy skin terrain and the irritating yeast becomes un-noticed background noise. Research has found these oils help to support the normal skin microbiota usually found in healthy skin. Both healthy bacteria and healthy fungi have been found to be increased with the use of these oil applications.
At the same time the oil is being applied, the individual needs to support their bodies healthy terrain through a diet that feeds healthy microbiota, and the practitioner needs to decide what other lifestyle practices can be used to specifically enhance the vital force of the patient they are working with. Depending on the individual person there may be genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms that should be addressed, or they may have an illness, or be taking drugs or eating food that may make them more susceptible to a disrupted microbiota, or they may be living or working in a toxic environment. All aspects of their life should be examined to figure out what is supporting a healthy terrain and what is causing a lack of vitality for the individual. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual terrain should be examined in detail.
Health, Fungi And A New Paradigm For The Environment We Live In
Looking at the fungal terrain of our body is not the only place to examine the mycobiota. What about the mycobiota of the planet and the microbes we grow in our buildings? We build homes with materials that bacteria and fungi love to grow on when moisture is introduced. For various reasons having to do with the building materials used and how the buildings are built, as well as the lack of knowledge of how to care for these buildings by the owners, these homes are often water-damaged. This means many buildings have had bacteria and fungi growing in the building materials and often toxins are released from these water-damaged buildings into the air through interactions between the bacteria, the fungi and the building materials themselves. These toxins can be found on furniture, in dust, in HVAC systems and in the air, although they generally don’t remain in the air and settle down on something in the home. Some of these toxins can cause inflammation and interfere with our healthy microbial community on our skin and in our bodies. However, this is just the beginning of their negative effects on the body.
Anyone can become acutely ill in a water-damaged building that is growing toxins. However, a segment of our population is reacting to water-damaged buildings by becoming chronically ill and some remain ill even after they leave the building. We know that this effects 25% of the population who are genetically predisposed. However, we only understand the reactions people have to water-damaged buildings when we examine the ecology that links us, the environment, our methods of constructing buildings and how those buildings grow/produce fungi/bacteria/volatile organic compounds.
The increase of mycotoxins/bacterial toxins in buildings and the number of people sensitive to them is not just due to genetic susceptibility. It is a response to an environment that is overwhelmed by both the number of humans on the planet as well as the activity of humans. Our methods of farming, construction, and manufacturing of products have created an ecological nightmare that is biting us in the butt. We are creating a terrain that is inhospitable to us and other beings on the planet.
How Environmental Chemicals Are Involved In Reactions To Fungi And Bacteria In Water Damaged Buildings And Infections
The web we have woven between the environmental pesticides/herbicides/chemical fertilizers and hazardous manufacturing, toxic chemicals and toxic building materials is creating a perfect storm that is affecting more and more people all the time. Genetically, we are all different. This means those most susceptible are affected first. Although there is a segment of the population which is more likely to react to water-damaged buildings, as time goes by, it becomes more, and more common to see people with a variety of poorly understood, and hard to cure illnesses due to chemical toxicants in our environment. These chemical toxins can damage the gut mucosa, decrease absorption of dietary nutrients, and damage microbiota which all sets the individual up to be more likely to react to the water-damaged buildings they live in as well as be unable to protect themselves from pathogens they come across. It can for some individuals become a continuous cycle with the person reacting to multiple toxins and even eventually reacting to the very foods they eat. The more toxins and pathogens the person is dealing with, the less healthy they feel and the less they are able to cope with the increasing onslaught. Add a mentally and emotionally stressful environment and this can literally tip them over the edge into an abyss of ill health.
Why The Increased Reactions To Fungi And Bacteria In The Environment/Our Bodies
We need to consider that the fungus and bacteria have always been here on the planet. However, the issues we are having with them seem to be increasing, both in our bodies and in the planetary environment. We have also enhanced the virulence of some of these pathogens through our use of drugs for infections, feeding them to animals used as food, as well as through medical research gain of function. Who are we to be messing with pathogens and thinking we can contain them in a laboratory setting. We participate in some seriously unwise activities in our relationship to microbes.
The fungi, and bacteria respond to their environment, and alter their anatomy, and physiology depending on the terrain around them. As we alter the environment, they react to the new ecological surroundings by changing as necessary. They do what they need to for survival in the new environment or terrain we create. All too often the terrain we create from the use of antibiotics, and antifungals in our bodies is one that over time kills off both pathogenic and helpful flora, leaving a hole in our microbial defense system with the growth of select super bugs that evolve to be immune to the drugs used. We do this in our environment too by using toxic antifungals, pesticides and herbicides everywhere. Between 1974 and 2018 a global study found 18.9 billion pounds (8.6 billion kilograms) of the herbicide called glyphosate had been sprayed worldwide. This is just one of the herbicides used.
We need to examine our behaviors and the current ecology we have created. We have formed an environment that grows super bugs, super toxins and super weeds. The old idea that we can simply attack and kill bacteria, fungus does not work well. It seems that activity itself has created new super-bugs. This has taken place in medicine, in agriculture and in the construction of our homes and work places.
Shifting Our Attitudes Beyond Antifungals, Antibiotics And Choosing A New Paradigm
To solve this current dilemma we find ourselves in, we need a shift in our attitude and our point of view. We need to step outside of our current frame-work and examine how we created this situation, and what we need to do to create a new healthier environment. This needs to take place in every individual, in each of our homes, our work environments and the world at large. There are answers both for creating a healthy terrain in the body, as well as creating a healthy terrain in the Earths body, as well as in our buildings. There are architects who now focus on healthy buildings. There are farmers who practice sustainable farming and there are physicians who go beyond the disease and support the individual in attaining health.
Naturopaths, functional medicine practitioners and other holistic practitioners help their patients create healthy terrains every day. This is simply a part of how they practice. Biodynamic and sustainable farmers also create healthy terrains. Just as a naturopath creates a healthy terrain in the body by supporting the healthy flora that is our body, the biodynamic farmer or sustainable farmer treats their farm as a living organism. The biodynamic farm is as self-perpetuating organism in as much as it can be. Farming methods that support a healthy farm organism are necessary if the animals, farmer and food on the farm are to be healthy. Everyone from the tiniest microbes in the soil to the larger animals are taken into account and the laws of nature are used to regenerate and keep the farm healthy. Just as naturopaths support the vital force of the human being asking for their advice, the farmer also supports the vital force of the Earth and the creatures inhabiting that little piece of Earth they call their farm.
A Healthy Planet And A Healthy Body
If we are going to become healthy on this planet it will not be through carbon credits that are bought and sold. It will be through recognition of the vital force that runs through us all, recognition of the terrain around us and inside of us, and how it is all interconnected, and that nourishing the terrain is the best way to keep pathogens from taking hold and keeping pests at bay. Plus, who would want to live in a world where we are constantly in fear of pests and pathogens when we could live in a world where we know our environment, and our terrain is protecting and supporting us just as we are protecting and supporting it.
If we are going to be healthy in our body, and we want it to support us, we need to support it. This means we protect our body from toxins including toxic drugs. Going beyond antifungals and antibacterials, means when we see a weak link in our body, we act as caretakers of our terrain by cranking up the nourishment to feed our friendly body microbiota, our mitochondria, and all other aspects of our terrain. If needed, we supplement the system with simple, nature based methods. We use hormetic stress to support our mitochondria, which are giving us our energy and are one of the many facets of our body that protecting us from harm. Being a caretaker is much more attractive to me than being a Rambo. As for me, I am in favor of us all supporting the terrain, but we have a lot of educating that needs to take place if we don’t want to nuke our body or the entire planet. First, we educate ourselves and then we educate everyone else. Let’s all get on board and create a healthier us and a healthier planet. Send this article to all those who need to read it as a starting point or share it on social media. If you feel like you don't have the ability to make positive changes in the world, read this short article about creating a better world and how simple it actually is. If you wonder where to start, seek out a naturopath, functional medicine doc or some other holistic practitioner in your area. When you interview them, ask them how they will support your body and state of health. If they only talk about disease and symptoms, and they do not understand that we are all dealing with a toxic environment around us and for many inside of us, and/or they do not know how to help you deal with this state of our inner and outer terrain, move on.
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