Staphylococcus aureus, a type of “Staph” is an insidious bacteria that can cause opportunistic infections across the body. Extremely common, the Staph bacteria can be found on the skin and in the nose of most people. There are many types of Staph, but this particular one can be especially dangerous, as we will see. Usually, Staph causes no infection- it just coexists peacefully with us. Have an open wound or sore, however, and the bacteria can invade deeper into the body, possibly causing deadly infections in the blood, joints, or multiple organs. When Staph becomes invasive like this, standard treatment often requires large doses of antibiotics and careful cleaning of the wound.
Unfortunately, Staph infections are becoming increasingly common, and increasingly deadly. Antibiotic-resistant strains of Staph are increasing in frequency as more infections and treatment cause more resistance in a spiraling cycle. If you develop an antibiotic-resistant form of Staph infection, you may be treated with a more powerful antibiotic- if one is still available that hasn’t been tried. If one is available, it is likely to be much harder on your system and cause more of a die-off of your beneficial gut bacteria. These gut bacteria aren’t just necessary for a well-functioning digestive system, but ultimately the digestive system is critical to a healthy immune system, which in turn is necessary to fight off Staph infections. You can see the problem here for everyone.
If you are diabetic, you are even more at risk. There are a variety of Staph infections, but Staphylococcus aureus is the one of most concern here because it is the most commonly dangerous, and because it has a few almost unique features that separate it from other Staph infections. S. aureus can thrive in the low oxygen environment of an infection by competing with the body’s own phagocytes (that fight infection) for glucose and winning that competition. Not only does that theft of glucose from the body’s phagocytes mean that our phagocytes can’t fight the infection adequately because they can no longer produce the respiratory burst that reintroduces oxygen into the infection (Science Advances, Nov 13, 2020), but that same stolen glucose powers S. aureus to full virulence.
What does this mean for the layman? Diabetes is rapidly increasing, hundreds of millions around the world suffer from the condition, and many more are expected to soon. As the disease progresses, one of the greatest increases in risk is a possible infection, particularly skin and soft tissue infections, often expressed as foot ulcers. These ulcers, being open wounds, are not only prone to Staph infections, but because they are infections in hyperglycemic individuals (high blood sugar), these hyperglycemic conditions can power S. Aureus to an exceptionally powerful infection if that bacteria are involved in the infection. Most diabetic infections include a number of different bacterial strains, but S. aureus is the most common bacterial strain isolated in such infections (European Journal of Endocrinology 2016). Moreover, because of the available glucose in these infections, these S. aureus infections in diabetic patients are particularly dangerous, causing severe systemic infections including endocarditis, osteomyelitis, and sepsis (Diabetologia 53, 2010).
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Not only are diabetics more prone to these S. aureus infections, and more severe ones at that, there are studies that S. Aureus living on the skin of pre-diabetics or even those who are just obese may even cause insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, and worsen the condition of those that already have it according to a team of researchers at the University of Iowa (Schlievert, mBio, 2015). A separate Swedish study found a link between the superantigens from Staph, fueled by glucose, causing insulin resistance and making it more difficult to control blood sugar in those who are already diabetic (American Journal of Medicine, 1982, Rayfield, et al). More research is needed, but studies are beginning to point a finger in an alarming way at S. Aureus as a major culprit in not just diabetic infections, but perhaps in diabetes itself- perhaps especially if you are pre-diabetic or obese.
This is scary stuff- what kind of response can be mounted? Diabetes can be complicated and dangerous and must be controlled. You should have a comprehensive plan discussed with your healthcare provider. Complementary medicine offers several strategies that could be part of that plan in addition to your strategy for glucose and insulin control. The first of these strategies is preventative. You should eat a healthy diet, keep your weight under control, and exercise regularly. A dietician that works with your physician can help you formulate a plan. Coupled with a healthy lifestyle, you should also consider certain natural products that can supplement your body’s ability to control blood sugar. Ingredients like cinnamon, chromium, Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), Gymnema extract, green tea extract, and Brown Seaweed all have support in the literature for contributing to lowering blood sugars or assisting with insulin resistance.
If you already are diabetic and are working to control your blood sugar (or even if you’re not diabetic!) then two other ways you can act preventatively is to minimize antibiotic use to when it’s necessary- try natural ingredients first. Try berberine derived from curcumin, a natural antibiotic, or grape seed extract, colloidal silver, black walnut extract, or Propolis. All of these have properties to support the immune system and help act against pathogens. If you’ve had to use antibiotics for any condition, realize that it could take months or even years to rebuild your beneficial gut flora, especially if your microbiome has been compromised by previous antibiotic use, or by a variety of factors that could disturb the gut, like food allergies, certain medications, an autoimmune condition, or many other things. Consult with your doctor for a complete plan. It’s also important to supplement any antibiotic usage with a good probiotic to more rapidly rebuild good gut flora and repair the microbiome. Taking Berberine at the same time as an antibiotic might also assist with eradicating the bacteria- particularly if it is a resistant strain. Focus on building the immune system, and your practitioner can advise you.
If you have more severe diabetes and are experiencing ulcerations or other infections, then doing all of the above will certainly help. At this point, it should be about doing everything you can for wound care. Aside from the traditional methods of cleansing and protecting the wound, there are a couple of complementary strategies that might also help. Both Ozone therapies and hyperbaric oxygen therapies can help with wound care, particularly with the type of infections we are discussing. Ozone therapies involve either direct ozonation of the blood or the injection of ozone through an orifice to lend anti-microbial support. Ozonation also turns on or aids the antioxidant response system, which can be long-lasting and have particular usefulness in building the immune system. Another strategy in dealing with an open wound is the hyperbaric oxygen chamber. As was mentioned earlier in this piece, S. Aureus can thrive in the oxygen-starved infection by stealing glucose from the phagocytes and preventing them from oxygenating the wound to fight the infection. A hyperbaric oxygen chamber works by increasing pressure and concentrating oxygen, thereby introducing oxygen into the wound and creating an environment where the S. aureus infection may not be able to compete as effectively with the body’s own phagocytes, so eliminating or decreasing the severity of the infection. Good hygiene should be practiced to keep the skin clean to minimize the chance of S. Aureus propagating on the skin.
Diabetic care is complicated and requires a comprehensive plan with your physician, especially when considering the risk of infection, the increasing risk of antibiotic failure, the side effects of antibiotics, and the increasing prevalence and severity of S. aureus infections, particularly in diabetics. You should use every tool in the chest integrated into a comprehensive plan to safeguard your health.
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