I never thought I’d see the day that sugar would turn out to be good for you because sugar is a pro-inflammatory and too much of it can predispose you to infection. But there’s some new info that reveals that on occasion it might be just what you need. And that time would be if you are taking a course of antibiotics. Bacteria, viruses and yeasts are really adept at survival. And we don’t want the bad ones taking up residence in our body. They are amazingly clever little critters that are able to survive onslaughts of pharmaceutical drugs and get stronger and tougher so that they can outlive the next blast should it come their way.
Antibiotics do a couple of things: they either kill bacteria directly or they impede their ability to multiply. They do it by targeting the cell walls of the bacteria so that the contents inside the cell become vulnerable to the external environment of the cell. Antibiotics also interrupt the ability of the bacteria to synthesis vital nutrients its needs to survive, such as folic acid, DNA and RNA processes that would allow them to synthesis amino acids and proteins. Bacteria get stronger against antibiotics by the process of changing themselves in the presence of a threat such as antibiotics. They find ways to stop the uptake of the antibiotic into the cells – for example by altering the amount of receptors or doorways through the cell wall so that the antibiotic can’t get to where its target is. And some bacteria also manage to pump the antibiotic out of the cell if it does get in. Now that’s cool. Bacteria can also change their molecular structure so that the antibiotic isn’t able to recognize it and therefore not bind to it. Some bacteria can wage warfare back on the antibiotic and produce enzymes that destroy the antibiotic – eating it up basically. Bacteria’s are amazing little things. Life in all its forms even bacterial life – is truly fascinating.
As if they weren’t doing a good enough job on their own of surviving our warfare on them. In addition to their own capacities at getting around drugs designed to kill them, we help them capacity to resist our drugs when we don’t finish the entire course of antibiotics. Not all the bacteria die on the same day – some are stronger than others and take longer. That’s why you’ve got to finish the course. And, even if you do finish the course it is possible some will survive anyway and you will need to go back and for another course of antibiotics. Sometimes even that doesn’t work and after a few weeks you are ill again. The bacterial that create chronic infection are ones that are called ‘persisters’ and they can make life miserable for people.
Persisters are especially prevalent among people whose immune system has been in a long battle of some kind or other. E Coli for example causes urinary tract infections and these are very common, especially in older people. If not brought under control infections like this can cause sepsis and that is very serious and can easily land you in hospital. Staph and strep infections are also among the type of bacteria that cause chronic infection among vulnerable people.
Some new research has revealed that sugar can help make pesisters susceptible to antibiotics. Persisters are not like the bugs we described above that manage to outwit an antibiotic by mutations and changes. Persisters more or less shut down and become inactive in the presence of antibiotics. They are like sleeper cells – hanging around, not drawing any attention to themselves and flying under the radar of the antibiotic.
Sugar causes a sleepy hibernating bacterial cell to wake up and take up the antibiotic into the cell along with the sugar and then – die – the thing that we wanted to happen all along. This is so amazing because it is a cheap and easy solution to the problem of bacterial persisters. It beats the heck out of creating new antibacterial to find new ways to get to persisters.
Apparently though the bacteria can be somewhat fussy and some of them prefer to eat fructose over other kinds of sugar. The sugars that were tested included mannitol and glucose in addition to fructose, but only fructose was able to wake up the Staphylococcus aureus to the point where it ingested enough fructose-antibiotic combo to die. In the petri dish the various sugars combined with the antibiotic managed to kill off 99% of persisters compared to killing of 0% without the sugar which is pretty impressive. Eating fruit with every antibiotic you take for staph doesn’t seem such a bad idea because you would be getting good amounts of fructose because fructose in the primary sugar in fruit.
Whether this tactic works orally though remains to be seen. Sugars are likely to be digested before ever getting to the target bacteria. The researchers delivered the combo of sugar and antibiotic intravenously to mice who had been given urinary tract infections and intravenous delivery worked. I hate animal experimentation I know the arguments – but seriously – how hard would it be to find humans to participate in this trial especially when so many people already have urinary tract infections. The mice were delivered antibiotic with the sugar mannitol. Using this sugar for E Coli which causes urinary tract infections should be able to be done orally since humans don’t digest mannitol.
What about other ways to help get rid of bacteria? If you have a recurrent urinary tract infection then taking cranberry supplements may be useful. It provides an environment where the bacteria find it very difficult to hang on the cells walls of the urethra.
Another way to help yourself is to strengthen your immune system. Seventy five percent of your immunity is in your gut so keeping your gut flora healthy is key to fighting off infection. Anitbiotics do a grand job of knocking out all of those clever little bacterial bugs most of the time. However they don’t differentiate between good bugs and bad bugs and our good bugs are annihilated along with the rest. You need to replace them. Toward the end of your course of antibiotics begin to take a lactobacillus mixture of probiotics obtainable from any number of places these days. You can also eat good quality yogurt and kefir on a daily basis to do the same job.
What is a good quality yogurt? Its one that has enough CFUs or colony forming units and you wont find that information listed anywhere on the label. When you buy yogurt it’s a good idea to look at the ingredient list. If you see gelatin or pectin then those are thickening agents and for my money I don’t want it. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with pectin but really it has no place in yogurt. Pectin is a prebiotic – a soluble fiber – hence its ability to thicken up yogurt (that’s what soluble fiber does – thickens things).
Back in the day when yogurt was made in a traditional manner it was thick because of the fermentation process of the bacteria on the milk. And there were billions of colony forming units. So if I see a yogurt that relies on gelatin or pectin to thicken it up then I put it back. Usually I buy an organic yogurt because I am fairly sure its going to contain good quantities of what I’m looking for and I am fairly sure the other one is not. Kefir is something I make myself. The commercial one is ok but lacks many of the strains of bacteria and yeast that the home made variety has.
If you are looking for a probiotic specifically for a urinary tract infection then you will want to buy one from a health food store because different strains of bacteria support different conditions. Specifically Lactobacillus crispatus CTV-05 has been shown to reduce UTI as effectively as an antimicrobial. Women took it intravaginally for 5 days and then once a week for 10 weeks. You can read about it here. You can buy it on line. I had to search a bit but Culturelle is a brand that makes it.
In addition to taking a specific probiotic, to keep your general immunity in good condition take some probiotic in the form of yogurt of kefir daily. This will add a variety of healthy bacteria and yeasts. Eating plenty of fiber also helps because it is the food that friendly bacteria feed on. If you keep your immune system healthy then you’ll go a long way to fighting off invaders in the first place and bouncing back sooner if they do get you.
Kyle R. Allison, Mark P. Brynildsen, & James J. Collins. “Metabolite-enabled eradication of bacterial persisters by aminoglycosides.” Nature, May 12, 2011.
Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Phase 2 Trial of a Lactobacillus crispatus Probiotic Given Intravaginally for Prevention of Recurrent Urinary Tract Infection.
Stapleton AE, Au-Yeung M, Hooton TM, Fredricks DN, Roberts PL, Czaja CA, Yarova-Yarovaya Y, Fiedler T, Cox M, Stamm WE. Clin Infect Dis. 2011 May;52(10):1212-7. Epub 2011 Apr 14.