Infection or Overgrowth?

Many practitioners fail to recognize the distinction between an “infection” and an “overgrowth. This will usually lead to suboptimal therapeutic interventions.

An “infection” is when a germ not normally found in humans invades and stimulates an immune response. This could be a virus like the swine flu or rabies virus, a bacterium like one would get from an animal bite, or a fungus like the one that causes ringworm.

An “overgrowth” is when the immune system is activated by excessive proliferation of an organism that is normally present in humans.

Much of what we see and treat in clinical practice these days are the consequences of overgrowths, not infections. Bladder “infections,” acne, ear/nose/throat “infections”, acid reflux, and most other problems diagnosed as “infections” are actually overgrowths.

Candida overgrowth is one of the most common problems that practitioners encounter, whether they know it or not. These are usually treated like infections, ensuring a return visit. Giving an appropriate antimicrobial for an infection like tuberculosis or gonorrhea gets rid of the pathogen and the patient only comes back if there is a repeat exposure. That’s not the case with a fungus like Candida. Overgrowths happen due to a compromise in the body’s ability to maintain balance between human cells and the bacterial and fungal cells that live within us—and remember that microbial cells outnumber human cells 10 to 1 in a healthy indiviual.

Keeping Germs in Check

Normally, the body is able to keep germs at bay by virtue of the “immune complex,” an intricate system that is analogous to “homeland security.” The immune system is an obvious component, similar to our military. The immune system has foot soldiers (T-cells) and weapons as powerful as nuclear bombs (free radicals, prostaglandins, interferon, tumor necrosis factor, etc). Anaphylaxis is an immune response that can kill within a matter of minutes. Symptoms of fever, redness, swelling, mucous production, itching, diarrhea, etc, are also usually symptoms produced by the immune system, not the germs the immune system is trying to eliminate. Sometimes its best to let the immune system do the fighting.

The immune complex is far more than the immune system, however. The skin serves as a first line of defense like a moat surrounding a castle. If there is a breach in this barrier from a cut or non healing ulcer, germs have an open door. Staph “infection” is a common one we see after a breach in skin integrity. But again, Staphylococci are normal bacterial residents on the skin which only become problematic when they get into places they should not be, or when the immune system cannot keep them in check. 

Mucous and saliva are also deterrents to germ proliferation. Mucous has sugars that act as decoys for germs to attach to rather than attaching to human cells. The germ/mucous complex is then flushed out by coughing, blowing your nose, or having diarrhea. Drugs that inhibit these mechanisms may be counterproductive in the long run. Cilia are fine hairs that line the respiratory tree. These hairs act similarly to a cow’s tail during a hot Texas summer. They are constantly “swatting flies” that are inhaled with each breath by their constant motion. Cilia are damaged by cigarette smoke causing smokers to be more vulnerable to lung infections.

Hydrochloric acid is produced by cells that line the stomach. Every bite of food we ingest is loaded with germs. You can prove this to yourself by just unplugging your refrigerator for a month. Without ever actively introducing any fungus or bacteria, after a month the food will be grown over with all sorts of organisms—bugs that were already there. They just needed the right environmental change to support their overgrowth.

Each time food is ingested, it has to sit in the stomach for about 2hours before complete digestion or passage into the small intestines.Again, on a good day, you have 10 time more germs in you than humancells that are looking for a free meal. By spraying your food withhydrochloric acid, your food is sterilized for those 2 hours to keepgerms from coming to dinner. If this ability to produce hydrochloricacid is compromised, germs will feed on your food. If the germ isyeast, fermentation symptoms associated with gas production willoccur-bloating, belching, passing gas, etc.

If a germ called H. pylori that is always present in every human overgrows, acid reflux(GERD) willoccur. Paradoxically,”acid reflux” is the result of too little acid,not too much. If hydrochloric acid levels are low, it must besupplemented.

Temperature Tempers Pathogens

Temperature is a major control factor for germ proliferation or inhibition. In the microbial lab, there are incubators at different temperatures depending on whether we want microbes to grow or stay at a static number.

The temperature in humans that keeps germs like yeast from overgrowing is 98.6 o. As body temperature drops below 98.6o, it creates an optimized environment for yeast overgrowth. Temperature is not uniform throughout the body. You can have a temp of 98.6o orally but 70 degrees in your feet.  This is why we see nail fungus in the toes so often. If you look at a person through an infrared camera, you’ll see the different colors that represent temperature variations throughout the body. Wherever there are temperatures below 98.6o, there is an increased chance for germ overgrowth. This is why I measure temps in the big toe as well as under the tongue.

This temperature of 98.6o is maintained by cellular energy production similar to the way a car engine produces the heat that warms your car interior in the Winter. Energy in your car is produced by the combustion of gasoline in the presence of oxygen in the presence of a controlled spark. The cells in your body produce energy in a very similar fashion. Glucose is the “gasoline” derived from the food we eat.  Oxygen is delivered to cells from the blood stream from the air we breathe in. The “spark” is produced by T3 (Triiodothyronine), the hormone created by the removal of an iodine molecule from T4 (Thyroxine). If T4 is not converted to T3 effectively, then energy production is compromised. This is reflected by lowered temperatures in the body as well as other other manifestations of cellular energy deficiency.

The further away from the heart a particular tissue is situated, the less likely it will be to obtain optimal oxygen, glucose and T3 needed to produce energy. When cells are not able to produce enough energy, they become easier targets for the germs surrounding them. It’s similar to the way in which a wounded animal is targeted by vultures. Yeast/fungus are the “vultures” of the microbial world. Low thyroid levels create an environment similar to the one you create when you unplug your refrigerator- overgrowth of microbes already present is enhanced. Depending on a person’s genetic polymorphisms, there will be places in the body that are more vulnerable to germ overgrowth than others. You can see this in how mold growth happens on a piece of fruit, bread, or cheese–it starts in one area that is most vulnerable.

The Microbial Balancing Act

Another basic component of the immune complex is the “good bacteria” living in the GI tract. These are germs that normally inhabit a healthy intestinal tract. These bacteria are resistant to the hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach. In fact, they “love” an acid environment. “Philo” is from the Greek word meaning “to love”. This is why these bacteria are called “acidoPHILOus.” If the population of these bacteria is reduced by taking antibiotics, this will also allow yeast/fungal overgrowth. Probiotics should always be given after therapy with antibiotics. This can be done by eating foods such as yogurt or fermented plant foods or by giving probiotic supplements.

Iodine is another primary component of the immune complex. It is in the same chemical class as chlorine, bromine, and fluorine–the halogens. These are very effective antimicrobials against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. This is why chlorine is used in swimming pools/municipal water and bromine is used in baked goods. The halogens best for humans are iodine and iodide.

Every human cell has a site for iodine or iodide to attach and “ride shotgun”–protecting cells from microbial attacks. The site where these halogens attaches is the DHA molecule that we get from eating cold water fish, taking fish oil supplements, or taking in fats from plants that the body can convert into DHA. Flaxseed, hempseed, chia seed, and sea algae are in this category.

Many practioners are only aware of the role of iodine as a substrate for making thyroid hormone. People generally need much more iodine that just what is needed for thyroid hormone production. Be aware that if other halogens are absorbed into the body, they can occupy the sites normally reserved for iodine/iodide. Overexposure to chlorine, bromine, and fluorine can compromise the function of thyroid hormone. A thyroid molecule composed of tyrosine with 2 iodine molecules and one chlorine molecule will not be effective in producing the “spark” for cellular energy production.

All this to say that if a patient presents with a true infection, it makes sense to treat with the appropriate antimicrobial and expect a cure. However, if an “overgrowth” is the problem and all you do is throw in an antimicrobial–natural or synthetic–or recommend a “cleanse”/”detox,” you can expect return visits. To address “overgrowths” you have to investigate the breach in the immune complex and try to equip the body such that it can repair and maintain the breech on its own.


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