If you think a ‘biofilm’ is a nature documentary, think again! Biofilms are one of the reasons why bacterial infections can be so stubborn and hard to treat, and you NEED to know about them.
We have bacteria everywhere. By now we’re quite familiar with the concept that not all bacteria are ‘bad’ or dangerous. The mostly beneficial bacteria that make up our microbiome are absolutely vital to our health (read here for more on our microbiome). But of course there are some ‘bad guys’ or at least, ones that we want to keep under control. Bacterial infections are problematic in many small ways and large ways for our health.
Bacteria are survivors. They replicate fast, communicate efficiently, and are incredibly resilient. One of the ways in which bacteria increase their survival and resilience is through the formation of biofilms.
Biofilms are like a wall or blanket under which bacteria can hide out and avoid not only surveillance and attack from our immune system, but also evade even the most powerful antibiotics. This may be one of the contributing factors in the increase in antibiotic resistance (for more on this very real phenomenon read here). As antibiotics are usually tested on individual or free-floating bacteria, it has been postulated that 1000x the dose can be required to eradicate bacteria in biofilms.
Biofilms are usually slimy. They are made up of proteins and sugars. Some great common examples are the slippery coatings on rocks in a river, or the yucky slime on an old dish cloth. Closer to home, the plaque on your teeth is also a biofilm. This gives you an idea of how hard and persistent a biofilm can be, and how it creates a nice little cosy home for bacteria to thrive and bacterial colonies to grow. Biofilms are a major problem in hospitals and one of the reasons why advancements in equipment sterilisation are so important.
Biofilms aren’t just a wall though, oh no, they are a whole complex gloopy mass complete with nutrient funnels that is constantly changing and evolving and triggering inflammation in a human host. Many bacterial infections that give us grief have biofilms, it is estimated about 80%. Biofilms are found in all areas of the body- skin, mouth, teeth, gut, reproductive organs, urinary tract, sinuses, etc.
Biofilms are one of the reasons why people often get recurrent or chronic sinusitis for example, or recurrent urinary tract infections. That feeling that an infection ‘never really goes away’ or is ‘always simmering’ is often due to the persistence of some bacteria in a biofilm, despite treatment. One research paper postulated that 59% of those with chronic sinusitis had a biofilm present in their sinuses. Bioflms of the middle ear have also been implicated in children with recurrent ear infections.
So if these little guys are so clever, so persistent, and potentially dangerous, what tools have we got in our arsenal?
As ever, natural botanical remedies are proving themselves to be powerful allies. Many botanical remedies have the ability to break down biofilms and therefore allow the more complete eradication of bacterial infections.
Here are just some of our superstars, some you’ll recognise:
Essential oils of thyme, oregano and clove
Curcumin from Turmeric
Berberine, found in many medicinal herbs
Knowing what you now know about biofilms, you’ll know that botanical extracts will need to be in a pretty potent form and administered in the right way to get the best results. Always see a practitioner for appropriate treatment.