Parasites Friend or Foe?


Dr. Michael Ruscio: Hi, everyone. This is Dr. Ruscio and I would like to speak with you about a concept and titled parasites, friend or foe. You may have heard information recently with this kind of hygiene hypothesis renaissance is happening right now that essentially state that parasites, germs, dirt, bacteria, all these things are good for us, and the lack of exposure to these bugs, this dirt, if you will, is a major driving factor contributing to allergies and autoimmune conditions.

It’s true, but it may not be quite as simple as that, so I’d like to kind of outline some of the details of this argument so that you can use the information to guide health care decisions, because that’s really why I think a lot of people are interested in this, to try to use the information to try and get healthier.

This is a slide that we’ve discussed in the prior video from the New England Journal of Medicine. What you’re seeing here on the left side is the incidence of certain infectious diseases. As you can clearly see, the instance of infectious diseases is going down. However, at the same time, some of these infectious diseases that are going down. You see an increase in incidence of autoimmune conditions. It’s a fairly clear and a fairly tight correlation, and this has been shown in numerous populations, that the less exposure to infectious disease and dirt a population has the higher the incidence of allergy and autoimmunity. That’s essentially what you’re seeing here in this graph. Again, you’re seeing a decrease in things like hepatitis, measles, mumps, tuberculosis, and rheumatic fever, and an increase in things like Crohn’s, multiple sclerosis, asthma, and type one diabetes.

However, or continuing from another study here looking at the association between H pylori and inflammatory bowel disease, to quote, “These results suggest a protective benefit of H. Pylori infection against the development of IBD, inflammatory bowel disease.” So as H. Pylori infections go down, there was an increase in irritable bowel disease. Again, more evidence supporting this notion that exposure to germs, and bugs, and what we may have formerly considered infectious agents, may be beneficial. This evidence was showing infections are good.

But if we continue here, another quote from a published study, “H. pylori eradication in gastric carcinoma or gastric cancer patients is beneficial, as reflected by low scores of atrophy in intestinal metaplasia.” This study is showing that treating and eradicating H. Pylori actually protects against stomach cancer, so this completely contradicts what we’ve seen in some of the other studies.

Then continuing, we see here another study, and I extracted this information from this study and put in a table and make it a little easier to interpret, but essentially what you’re seeing here is there were 10 patients that all had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or thyroid autoimmunity, and also had an H. Pylori bacterial infection. Half of these patients were treated for the H. Pylori infection, the other half were not. Essentially what you’re seeing in this table, is the level of antibodies against your thyroid compared to the group that received H. Pylori treatment in the group that didn’t. The summary here is that in the three patients that were treated, now, I said there were 10 patients broken into two groups, that would be five and five. However, there wasn’t complete data for all the patients so we were left with a group of six, three versus three.

You’re seeing green, the three patients that were treated for the H. Pylori infection, you’re seeing in red, the three patients that were not treated for the H. Pylori infection, and the numbers you’re seeing are the levels of thyroid antibodies. What you can see in the green, there was a significant reduction in the level of these tyroid antibodies, which shows you that there was a significant decrease in thyroid autoimmunity and thyroid inflammation, and you do not see a significant change in the red in the people who are not treated. What this show is about treating an H. Pylori bacterial infection, you can potentially help turn off or turn down the thyroid autoimmune process. Again, this is suggesting that bacteria are bad.

To quote a few more studies, the top reference here, “Antibiotic therapy may induce remission in active celiac disease and Crohn’s disease, but other studies show antibiotics may contribute to IBS, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.” The second reference here, to quote, “Patients with IBS showed significant improvements in their IBS symptoms after eight weeks of treatments with an herbal combination,” that was an herbal antibiotic combination, “and did not report any adverse effects during their treatment.”

So, we really see some discordant findings here. Some evidence shows that infectious agents, dirt, bacteria are good for you. Other evidence clearly shows that they’re bad for you. How do we make heads or tails of this? Well, as I presented at Paleo(f)X, my speculation, my interpretation on this, is there a two important factors, timing and context.

Now timing, most bacteria, viruses, worms, et cetera, seem to have a protective benefit when they colonize or infect a host early in life, usually before three years of age. This seems to be when the immuno developmental window closes. Interestingly, this is also when the gut colonization seems to stabilize. So, it seems gut colonization and your immune system developmental window, so to speak, all close by about the age three. When an infections are acquired before the age three, they tend to be mostly protective. When acquired after the age of three, they tend to be mostly detrimental. Now of course, there are some exceptions there, but that tends to be the general rule.

The other important factor is context. Okay? Context, meaning what are your immunogenetics? Meaning, some people have underlying genetics to have a very, very strong immune response. And when they don’t have proper colonization, they’re are more prone to form autoimmunity. And also the diversity of the colonization, meaning that something that could potentially be pathogenic has been maybe less of a chance to become pathogenic or harmful when you have a very robust colonization. Essentially what that means is if you have many, many different forms of bacteria, and viruses, and potentially worms have colonized you, they’re living inside of you, that makes you potentially more tolerable to an additional bacteria, virus, or worm. If you have very poor colonization, meaning not diverse, meaning very few, then you may react more negatively to a colonization. In summary, here at the bottom, it seems that late colonization, again post three years of life, plus poor microbial diversity, meaning you don’t have diverse colonization, plus the right genetic backdrop can equal sickness.

Now, I’m going to do another video on this shortly to follow up with some additional steps you can take in some more information outlined in this conversation further, so I’ll hope to see you in that next video. This is Dr. Ruscio and I hope you found this helpful. Thanks.

What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.

Dr. Ruscio is your leading functional and integrative doctor specializing in gut related disorders such as SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac, IBS and in thyroid disorders such as hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. For more information on how to become a patient, please contact our office. Serving the San Francisco bay area and distance patients via phone and Skype.

Discussion

I care about answering your questions and sharing my knowledge with you. Leave a comment or connect with me on social media asking any health question you may have and I just might incorporate it into our next listener questions podcast episode just for you!