Anti-Inflammatory Diet

All health care starts with diet. My recommendations for a healthy diet are here:
Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Lifestyle.
There are over 190 articles on diet, inflammation and disease on this blog
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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Making Monsters, Renegade C. butyricum and E. coli

It is common knowledge that our gut is teeming with good bacteria that we feed with prebiotic fiber to keep us healthy.  But a sick gut, caused by antibiotics or fiber deficient processed food, can make us susceptible to infection with pathogens, such as the notorious, toxin-producing strains of E. coli that cause food poisoning or Clostridium difficile, a.k.a. C. diff. of hospital infections.  What prompted me to write this post, was reading that premature babies in neonatal intensive care units are dying from gut infections caused by a pathogenic strain of C. butyricum, known as a probiotic that provides protection from C. diff.

New Toxin-Producing, Antibiotic Superbugs are Manmade
Closer examination of the report revealed that the new strain of C. butyricum is a toxin producer.  This made a lot of sense to me.  When I started working with E. coli in the early 70’s, it was known as the safe ubiquitous lab bacterium that everyone cultivated in their colons.  Similarly, C. butyricum is present in commercial probiotics and is a hero for producing butyric acid from resistant starch, promoting immune system development and reducing inflammation.  How did these beneficial gut bacteria become converted into pathogens?

Antibiotic and Drug Use in Hospitals and Farms Select for Antibiotic Resistance
C. butyricum and E. coli have been converted into toxin-producing, antibiotic resistant pathogens by common procedures of meat production and hospital treatments.  These bacteria do not normally produce toxins nor are they resistant to antibiotics.  They have been systematically selected for those pathogenic properties.

Common Practices in Neonatal Intensive Care Units Lead to NEC
Chronic inflammation is one of the common contributing factors to premature births, because labor is stimulated by a spike of inflammation, normally occurring at 40 weeks of gestation.  Chronic inflammation from autoimmune disease, infection, or obesity, can cause labor to be early and a newborn to be unprepared for life without some special care.  Unfortunately, there is not uniform enlightenment about the development of newborn gut flora, and immature newborns are exposed to antibiotics and formula, which prevent normal gut flora development.  C. butyricum is not present in low birth weight babies exclusively fed breast milk, but the combination of antibiotics and formula select for colonization by antibiotic resistant hospital strains of C. butyricum.  This sets the stage for necrotizing enterocolitis, NEC, which is as nasty and lethal as the name suggests.

Antibiotics Used to Make Fat Cattle Select for Toxin Production
The development of toxin producing E. coli in cattle suggests how pathogenic C. butyricum was produced in the hospital environment.  E. coli was a healthy component of the digestive system of cattle, until the gut flora community was reengineered by antibiotics, so that short chain fatty acids that were normally converted into more gut bacteria and more steer manure, were instead absorbed by the gut to produce a fatter steak.  Unfortunately, this newly designed gut flora community left no place for E. coli.  Some of the E. coli spontaneously mutated to antibiotic resistance and/or picked up multi-drug resistant plasmids from other bacteria, but that still didn’t provide a niche in the new community.  Picking up a toxin-producing gene solved that problem, because the toxin releases needed nutrients from host cells.  Thus, antibiotic use in cattle directly selected for the evolution of toxin-producing, antibiotic resistant E. coli.

Antibiotics and Formula Use Lead to NEC Bacteria
Toxin-producing C. butyricum would be expected to develop in the hospital environment, because high antibiotic use will select for multiple drug resistant C. butyricum, and the disrupted gut flora produced in the presence of antibiotics will also favor toxin producing strains.  Thus, the hospital environment selects for toxin-producing, multiple drug resistant C. butyricum.  The gut flora of newborns in a neonatal intensive care unit are acquired from the staff and relatives that handle the babies.  Since the babies are routinely treated with antibiotics and drugs, multiple drug resistant bacteria, including C. butyricum, are common in fecal samples of neonates and persist for at least two years. 
Breastfeeding or Donor Bank Milk Avoids NEC Caused by Formula
Exclusive use of breastmilk from mothers, donor banks or breastmilk products, eliminates NEC.   Some hospitals respond to the scientific evidence and use only breastmilk for newborns.  Other hospitals simply stick to old practices until law suits force them to change.  They continue to use formula and cow’s milk products,  even though breastmilk is available, and as a consequence NEC is still a problem. Prejudice against breastmilk persists and there is intense promotion of commercial alternatives that contribute to NEC.  None of the alternatives containing probiotics and prebiotics have been found to be adequate.   Hospitals are slow to change, because patients are uninformed and low birthweight babies continue to die.