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​Clostridia Connection to Mental Health and Autism

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Clostridia Bacteria, Neurochemical Toxicity, and the Link to Certain Mental Health Disorders

By Kurt N. Woeller, D.O.

Clostridia (aka. clostridium) are a group of opportunistic and often times pathogenic bacteria that can harbor in the digestive system. They are strictly anaerobic (don’t like oxygen) and form spores that are resistant to many conventional antibiotics increasing their pathogenicity (1). Clostridium difficle (aka. C. diff) is the best known clostridia bacteria that can lead to various digestive problems including the inflammatory bowel condition called Pseudomembranous colitis (2). Not all symptoms of C. difficle (CDI) infection are related to Pseudomembranous colitis, and may manifest as flu-like symptoms and lead to bloating, gas, abdominal pain and mixed bowel movements (loose stools to diarrhea and constipation). Clostridia bacteria can overrun many of the normal digestive flora and lead to significant imbalances of the microenvironment (aka. microbiome) of the digestive system (3). Unfortunately, C. difficle infections are a growing problem and account upwards of 30,000 deaths in the United States every year (4).

There are many other types of clostridia bacteria, other than just Clostridia difficle.
C. botulinum (responsible for certain forms of food poisoning) is part of the clostridia bacteria family, as well as C. tetani (responsible for the neuromuscular disease Tetanus). In fact, there are over 80+ species of clostridia bacteria that may lead to problems, but not all are severely dangerous and pathogenic.

In addition to the inflammatory problems and obvious bowel symptoms of loose stools, cramping and pain brought on by certain clostridia bacteria, there are other less known but equally significant implications from a chronic illness standpoint. Various forms of clostridia bacteria also produce metabolic toxins that can negatively impact neurochemistry leading to problems linked to mental health disorders and autism (5). One particular metabolite is 3-(3-hydroxyphenyl)-3-hydroxypropionic acid (HPHPA) produced from a variety of clostridia bacteria including C. botulinum, C. sporogenes, and C. bifermentans. C. difficle can produce a number of metabolites as well, with one in particular called 4-cresol (6), which has a similar negative neurochemical effect to that of HPHPA. With the production of 4-cresol, C. difficle is able to compete against other strains of clostridia in attempts to obtain bacteria dominance in a colony of similar pathogens. The problem is our brain and nervous system stand in the way with regards to the negative consequences of this toxic compound. Both HPHPA and 4-cresol specifically interfere with a converting enzyme for dopamine called Dopamine Beta-Hydroxylase (7) which can lead to imbalances of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, contributing to psychological problems seen in autism, as well as schizophrenia.

If we focus on how 4-cresol functions it binds tightly to the active site of the dopamine beta-hydroxylase enzyme rendering it ineffective. When this enzyme is inhibited there can be an increase in dopamine levels and decrease in norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is important for attention, focusing, and alertness. However, it is the excess dopamine that is really problematic for certain people.

Dopamine plays a central role in motor impulse coordination within the central nervous system and when deficient in extreme conditions, severe neurological disorders can ensue such as Parkinson’s disease. To a lesser degree, imbalances in dopamine levels can manifest as mood and cognitive challenges, as well as hyper self-stimulatory activity seen in autism, in attempts to satisfy rewards centers in the brain. When dopamine becomes too high there can be other problems.

As reported in the Journal of Neuroscience article by Linan Chen, et.al (8), there are many negative consequences to excess dopamine levels:

  1. Overstimulation of dopamine nerve tracts
  2. Substitution of dopamine into norepinephrine tracts and overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system./li>
  3. Damage to neurons/li>
  4. Depletion of the antioxidant glutathione
  5. Increase in oxidative damage

Therefore, with the blocking effect of HPHPA and 4-cresol from various clostridia bacteria on the dopamine beta-hydroxylase converting enzyme, profound negative effects can occur with neurotransmitter imbalances leading to a host of mental health challenges.

As a practicing clinician with many years working with individuals with chronic health challenges I have advocated for the collection of urine samples for the Organic Acid Test (OAT) from Great Plains Laboratory as a primary test for anyone with mental health disorders and autism-spectrum issues. It is the OAT from Great Plains that has the markers specific for clostridia bacteria, along with other useful metabolites including those for yeast such as arabinose and tartaric acid. Many people erroneously focus solely on yeast intervention, but often do not realize that clostridia bacteria are problematic as well, and can lead to adverse behaviors including psychosis, aggression, self-injury and violent outbursts in extreme situations. From clinical experience, many times just treating yeast and not addressing clostridia bacteria will backfire leading to deterioration in an individual’s condition.

I experienced years ago with a child who showed the classic yeast behaviors of giddiness, goofiness and inappropriate laughter, excessive self-stimulatory behavior, and heightened sensory needs a worsening of these issues upon strict yeast treatment. Subsequent OAT testing

revealed elevated HPHPA from clostridia bacteria. The treatment for candida apparently had unveiled an underlying clostridia problem. The relationship between candida and clostridia is complex, but in those individuals neurologically sensitive to the metabolites of these organisms the adverse effects can be profound.

Treatments for clostridia usually revolve around the use of antibiotics, particularly Vancomycin (vancocin) and Flagyl (metronidazole) given over a 10 to 14 day period of time. High dose probiotics can be helpful too in crowding out clostridia, but unfortunately no intervention is 100% effective all the time. Recurrence rates of clostridia bacteria are high, particularly C. difficle.

Botanicals have a role in assisting the fight against clostridia bacteria. One product I have used for multiple purposes such as supporting the digestive system against yeast, opportunistic bacteria, and even clostridia is Biocidin®.

A proprietary blend of concentrated herbal remedies that include Bilberry extract (25% anthocyanosides), Noni, Milk Thistle, Echinacea (purpurea & angustifolia), Goldenseal, Shiitake, White Willow (bark), Garlic, Grapeseed extract (min 90% polyphenols), Black Walnut (hull and leaf), Raspberry, Fumitory, Gentian, Tea Tree oil, Galbanum oil, Lavender oil (plant and flower), and Oregano oil (plant and flower), Biocidin is a nice supplement to consider for health support in the presence of clostridia bacteria. The capsules of Biocidin are small and easy to swallow. This makes it convenient for adults with pill swallowing problems, and children who can swallow pills, but not large capsules. Biocidin also comes in a liquid concentrate which can be mixed in dilute juice for children and other individuals not able to swallow capsules, and has the advantage of being able to titrate the dosage up slowly. Many kids actually like the taste too. Biocidin is manufactured by Bio-Botanical Research and can be found at www.biocidin.com.

Kurt N. Woeller, D.O. – medical director (Sunrise Medical Center)

951-461-4800 (phone)





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