(NaturalHealth365) The digestive tract is loaded with trillions of microorganisms that form a natural ecosystem commonly called the gut flora. Everyday our body must maintain a certain balance of progenic and pathogenic organisms. The discovery of bacteriophage – as a key component in our mucous membranes – plays a critical role in stabilizing bacterial balance.
Bacteriophages, also called “phages”, are viruses that infect and replicate within bacteria. Wherever bacteria and other microorganisms reside you will also find phages. In fact, phages are one of the most abundant life forms on earth – found in water, soil, within (and on) humans, plants and animals.
Phages, as other viruses, have their genetic material enclosed in protein sheath called a capsid, and are metabolically inert outside of their host bacterial cells. They are named based on certain characteristics that describe them. For example, siphoviridae are phages that have a non-enveloped head and non-contractile tail while myoviridae have a non-enveloped head and neck between their head and tail. Within these groups – there are literally hundreds of different subtypes.
Do viruses – in river water – help heal the body?
Many traditions report stories of river waters having miraculous healing ability with infectious diseases. In fact, phages are found in abundance in free flowing river waters and most scientists agree that phage count is extremely important to healthy spring water and keeping bacterial counts down.
In 1896, Ernest Hanbury Hankin reported in his journal that some sort of compound or organism – in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, in India – had powerful antibacterial action and prevented the spread of cholera.
British scientist Frederick Twort would discover a small agent that infected and killed bacteria in 1915. He hypothesized that it may be a sort of bacterial virus. His work was interrupted by the onset of World War I – but, in 1917, French-Canadian microbiologist Felix d’Herelle, found “an invisible, antagonistic microbe of the dysentery bacillus.”
D’Herelle, who was working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris at the time of discovery, knew he had made a breakthrough discovery. He reported, “In a flash I had understood what caused my clear spots was in fact an invisible microbe…a virus parasitic on bacteria.” D’Herelle would be the first to call the virus a bacteriophage meaning “bacteria-eater” as phagein is the Greek meaning for “to eat.”
D’Herelle would go on to conduct much research into bacteriophages and develop the concept of ‘phage therapy’. This spread through Eastern Europe in areas of France and in particular Russia where they have been used for over 90 years as an alternative to antibiotics.
Many experts believe phages are perhaps our greatest weapon against MRSA and other drug resistant strains of bacteria.
What is the interaction between phages and bacterium?
Phages have a specialized structure with tunnel tails that allows them to bind to the surface of their bacterial targets. Over 95% of phages in the world are caudovirals, meaning they inject their DNA into the bacterial cell – through their tail. The hollow heads of the phage organisms hold their DNA and RNA and the goal of the phage is to inject this and breed through the use of the bacterial cell.
Once they are firmly attached the tail injects the viral DNA into the host cell. According to Phages.org, once the phage has attached itself:
“The viral DNA is then injected through the tail into the host cell, where it directs the production of progeny phages, often over a hundred in half an hour. These ‘young’ phages burst from the host cell (killing it) and infect more bacteria.”
Phages have two major ways they affect bacterium. They have lysogenic and lytic activity. Lysogenic activity strengthens the bacterium by giving it genetic material that enhances environmental adaptation. Meanwhile, lytic activity destroys the infected bacterium by overwhelming it with progeny phages that burst through the host cell.
Phages are considered self-amplifying and self-limiting. A single dose of phage would continue to replicate and maintain high concentration of phage particles as long as susceptible bacteria are present. They are also self-limiting because those phages that aren’t used are quickly flushed from the body by the immune system in the absence of host bacterial cells.
What is the true role of mucous in the body?
Mucosal surfaces are the primary entry points into the body for pathogenic microorganisms. Until recently, most scientists viewed mucus as simply a physical barrier that helped to prevent against the invasion of infectious organisms. It was also thought to play a lubricating role between tissues. However, the latest research shows that mucous appears to be the major home of phages.
The saliva around the human gums were found to have five phages to every one bacterium cell. On the mucosal surface of the gum itself the ratio was close to forty to one.
Phages will be found wherever you find bacteria since they depend upon them for survival. Researchers have found evidence that phages partner with host animals and humans to kill off unwanted bacterial colonies and control the composition of friendly microorganisms in the body.
Could this ‘slime’ be a natural defense against parasites?
Sea coral naturally produce and maintain a layer of surface slime which is similar to mucus. Researchers have noted that this slime contains massive amounts of phages and they protect the coral from certain bacterial species that would be dangerous to the coral reef. The coral slime is a sort of probiotic defense system in that it encourages beneficial organisms and protects against parasites and infectious species.
It is hypothesized that humans and other animals have adapted to select specific phages that give them a survival advantage against specific bacteria. It has been shown that sometimes phages insert genetic material into a friendly bacterium without killing it. This is called “prophagic lysogeny,” and offers the bacterium a survival advantage by improving its fitness and ability to defend against attack by other species of bacteriophages.
When the body is not under infectious stress – the phage preferentially uses lysogenic activity to reproduce. This is non-threatening to the host bacterium. Under times of infectious stress – the phages favor a lytic function where they destroy the infected bacterium.
The intelligence of the mucosal membrane
Researchers, such as Jeremy Barr, describe this as a form of mucosal intelligence system. Our microbial bacteria have been observed to create their own weapons in the form of phages to battle against opportunistic bacteria that may consume resources. This is a key part of the bacterial warfare that is going on within our bodies and plays an enormous role in our overall health.
Individuals with irritable bowel disorder (IBS), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have a severely disrupted gut flora and a breakdown in the mucosal lining of their gut. These are indications that they are not receiving the vital protection that mucosal based phages offer and this must be considered as a major factor in the cause and progression of these disorders.
Did phage therapy outperform antibiotics?
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, phage therapy was used for treating bacterial infections in the United States. They were commonly used for soldiers in the Red Army. In the 1930’s, Stalin had his medics use phage therapy to help his troops ward off dysentery and it was heralded for its ability to help sick and wounded soldiers return to battle quickly.
Eli Lilly began to commercialize phage therapy in the U.S. – in the 1940’s. However, when antibiotics were produced in the 1950’s they were widely marketed and became the cornerstone of the pharmaceutical companies business. This put an end to research and development of phage therapy in the U.S. and much of Europe.
However, the Soviet Union continued to use phage therapy and conducted many successful trials but there publications were mainly in Russian or Georgian languages and were unavailable internationally – until recent years. The thorough research done over the last 80 years does indicate an 80-95% success rate with very minimal side effects.
In Russia and Eastern European countries such as Germany and Poland phage therapy has been used successfully against diphtheria, tetanus, gangrene, scarlet fever, meningococcus, Salmonella and Shigella. Hospitals in Eastern Russia region of Georgia spray operating rooms with phages before surgeries as prevention against infection.
What makes phage therapy better than antibiotics?
Phage therapy has shown great promise for individuals suffering with MRSA, Sraphylococcus, Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, Salmonella, skin (acne) and soft tissue, gastrointestinal, respiratory and orthopedic infections. Our society has an epidemic of antibiotic resistance and the detrimental effects of antibiotic overuse.
Phage therapy goes deeper than antibiotics due to the phage’s ability to self-amplify – when there is enough of the bacterial species they are targeting. Antibiotics and probiotics for that matter are much more concentration dependent than phage. With phage the more of the targeted pathogenic species there are the more phage will target, replicate and expand. Once the pathogenic species numbers are reduced the phage will naturally reduce and be swept out of the body.
Phage therapy has distinct advantages over antibiotics because the use of “wild type” phage with a multitude of different types of phages is too variable for bacterial resistance to form. Additionally, the phages keep intact healthy microflora and maintain a good microorganism count by preventing against small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
The viruses do not affect or infect human tissue at all and once they are no longer able to find a host bacterial cell they are quickly neutralized by the immune system and/or swept out of the body through the feces. Phages ability to fend off opportunistic pathogenic organisms – without any adverse reactions – makes them a valuable health promoting tool.
Phages have been used in a variety of ways including systematically, topically, intravenously and orally. Plus, studies since 1966 have shown an 80-95% success rate with minimal side effects.
What are the limitations of phage therapy?
Weld and other researchers have stated that up until recently phage biology was poorly understood and therefore the wrong phage and phage concentrations were used to treat infections. This was a limiting factor along with the poor quality of the phage preparations that were administered in many of the studies.
Current phage therapy research uses a “cocktail” consisting of a variety of phages that have the ability to target a number of different pathogenic bacteria including those with mutations or plasmids that protect them from other phages. Research using these phage cocktails – over the next 5-10 years – may very well revolutionize current treatment methods for infectious diseases as well as preventative measures.
The obstacles to phage therapy
The biggest obstacle to phage therapy is the relative lack of overall published research that would demand widespread usage. This is primarily due to low return on investment for pharmaceutical companies. Patented antibiotic therapies are a huge money maker for these companies whereas phage therapy is not expected to bring anywhere near the same returns.
The economic consequences on these large drug manufacturers dictate where they focus their time and energy. Globalyz Biotech is an international company that commercializes bacteriophage treatment.
Another major obstacle with phage therapy is the public’s negative view of viruses. There will take some education to cross the “psychological barrier” that people have so they will not be worried about using these live viruses as a healthful tool. We can look to phages as the equivalent of probiotics and perhaps even title them as “proviriotics”.
Beyond Organic has created the first supplements – featuring bacteriophage. It is marketed as a prebiotic that enhances the environment for probiotic growth. These products called “Terra Firma” and “AdaptGen” include 4 different bacteriophages (Myoviridae T4, Myoviridae LH01, Myoviridae LL12 and Siphovirdiae LL5).
The Terra Firma product also contains healthy microbial species Bacillus coagulans, Bacillus subtilis and Saccharomyces boulardi. These three species are major players in a healthy microflora and help with nutritional absorption and immune system function. The AdaptGen contains Bacillus subtillis along with adaptogenic herbs.
These products are the first supplemental combination of probiotic microorganisms and bacteriophages and they offer great promise as a powerful support to aid digestion, immunity and detoxification.
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About the author: Dr. David Jockers owns and operates Exodus Health Center in Kennesaw, Ga. He is a Maximized Living doctor. His expertise is in weight loss, customized nutrition & exercise, & structural corrective chiropractic care. For more information – visit: DrJockers.com. Dr. Jockers is also available for long distance phone consultations to help you beat disease and reach your health goals.
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