A Long-Standing, Covert Health Threat

While mycoplasma was first identified in animals in 1898 and humans in 1932, its considerable health dangers and implications have only in the last several decades become more apparent. Existing somewhere between a virus and typical bacteria, mycoplasmas are known to be the smallest, free-living organisms in the world. Unlike traditional bacteria having solid cell walls, cell-wall deficient mycoplasmas take on many different shapes, making them sometimes difficult to identify in the laboratory and also difficult to culture. Cell wall deficient microorganisms are typically bacteria which have ‘shed’ their cell-walls, perhaps as a means to attempt mammalian immune system detection. This evolutionary strategy can make them more difficult for the immune system to detect and immune to many conventional antibiotics. While they are known for causing opportunistic illness in those who may be immune-compromised, since the 1970’s, cell-wall deficient microorganisms such as mycoplasma have also become increasingly linked to a growing list of auto-immune illnesses, including CFS, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and others (Endresen; Haier; Nasralla et al; Nicolson et al; Nicolson and Haier; Nijs et al; and Taylor-Robinson).

One of the reasons they are such stealthy invaders is due to their versatile ability to grow more or less anywhere within the body. Unlike viruses, mycoplasmas can actually grow in extracellular fluid and furthermore can grow inside any cell in the body without inducing cellular apoptosis (again in contrast to most bacteria and viruses). Typically residing in the upper respiratory tract and urogenital tract due to their affinity for mucoproteins, mycoplasmas are highly adaptive microorganisms, capable of travelling to other parts of the body causing a wide array of potential issues, including joint diseases (hence their link to RA), myalgias (i.e. fibromyalgia) and neurological degeneration (i.e. the link to ALS). Hence, it has become increasingly recognized that wherever mycoplasma may reside, this may be the site of illness for a given individual.

As research has accumulated in the last several decades, a very particularly telling statistic has emerged: mycoplasma illnesses manifest four times greater in women than in men. This is particularly of note due to the fact that it is the same greater ratio that autoimmune illnesses manifest in women vs. men. Capable of activating or suppressing the immune system, it is not really known whether mycoplasmas first begin to grow and colonize an individual, thus causing subsequent immune decline and/or dysfunction or rather that a weakened immune system sets the stage for the opportunistic organism to then take hold. Building on the concept of understanding the importance of the internal body terrain, as Enderlein and Bechamp have championed, more holistic practitioners may tend to see the former as the more likely situation. Hence it follows that an individual with depleted nutrient reserves, elevated oxidative stress, suppressed natural killer cell activity with TH1 and TH2 immune imbalances, and hyperacidity, all common characteristics of a weakened terrain, could indeed be a ‘ripe’ candidate for opportunistic mycoplasma illnesses. A further connection to autoimmune illness may also be due to another unique property of mycoplasmas: their adhesion proteins (to bind to host cells) are very similar to human proteins. Thus once they have attached to host cell(s), they can either mimic or copy the proteins of the host cell. Subsequently, if the immune system is triggered by a variety of possible influences (such as environmental stressors, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, a particularly virulent illness, etc.), it may instigate the body to begin attacking the body’s own cells (which may or may not have any mycoplasmas attached).

Considered a parasite due to its reliance on host cell and fluid nutrients, mycoplasmas compete especially for cholesterol and arginine in the host cell(s), as well as amino acids and even DNA. This reliance on the host DNA is important as mycoplasmas themselves have very little DNA of their own. Darkfield microscopy has identified mycoplasmas as ‘intracellular endobiotics’, thus the microorganisms hide within our own cells and therefore make typical antibiotic use difficult and/or ineffective. As these ‘cloaked’ microorganisms continue to dwell intracellularly, they eventually deplete host cell nutrients. This may cause death or malfunctioning problems of these cells, which explains why mycoplasmas have also been linked to certain kinds of cancers in some studies (Wear et al; Alexander et al; and Murphy et al). Furthermore, they can invade host cells such as white blood cells, thus becoming capable of entering the CNS and the spinal fluid via the WBC’s. A growing body of studies in the last 15 years specifically using PCR lab analysis have found that approximately half to two-thirds of those suffering from illnesses such as CFS, IBD, Gulf War Syndrome, Sjogren’s, Lupus, Hashimoto’s, Fibromyalgia, Grave’s, Reiters, Crohn’s, and even AIDS may be suffering from mycoplasma, herpes, and/or chlamydial infections (Endresen; Haier; Nasralla et al; Nicolson et al; Nicolson and Haier; Nijs et al; and Taylor-Robinson). Importantly, this seems to be a trend across geographic regions, as European based population studies have suggested an equivalent or possibly even slightly higher incidence of mycoplasmal type infections in such illnesses when compared to North American based studies (Nijs et al). These infection rates stand in considerable contrast to those of ‘healthy’ individuals, who have shown an infection rate of somewhere between 5-15% in North American and European samples (Vojdani et al).

Whether an individual begins to express symptoms of mycoplasma or an autoimmune illness seems to relate to the number of species and/or co-infections the given individual has. Selected study data has suggested that the greater the number of co-infections (for example three mycoplasmal species and Chlamydia vs only one mycoplasma species), the greater the likelihood for autoimmune disease.  This may make particularly good sense to those familiar with the concept of the body’s “threshold limit” when understanding allergy and autoimmune illness expression(1). Continuing however, studies have also noted that there doesn’t necessarily seem to be a connection between the type of co-infection and the severity of signs and symptoms of illness(es). The damaging effects of mycoplasmal infections, in part, relates to their influence on the cytokine expression and possible subsequent inflammation elevation. Capable of both chronically upregulating and/or downregulating certain cytokine patterns, these pathogens can set off the pattern of chronic inflammation in local tissues (such as joints) as well as entire body systems (such as the case within the CNS – again perhaps explaining their link to neurological degenerative conditions such as ALS). Many integrative practitioners may attempt to address the cytokine imbalance, which is important, but one must continue to dig deeper and actually address the infectious etiology of the case to achieve greatest amelioration. These means may differ greatly between the allopathic and naturopathic worlds. Since mycoplasmas are a sort of subtype of bacteria, it is not particularly surprising that conventional medicine has tended to approach their treatment with antibiotics. Tetracycline medications such as doxycycline and minocycline have been typically used with some success, but it may take 6 months to two years to clear such infections and also must be noted that it still requires a healthy immune system for this ‘clearance’ to take effect.

Of course one must also then consider the prudence of an immune compromised patient on antibiotics for such an extended duration as well. If on such an extended protocol of antibiotics, such patients may require considerable probiotics and other nutritional support to offset common antibiotic induced side effects. This is where the importance of addressing the inflammation cascade and nutritional needs of the individual(s) is paramount for the holistically-minded practitioner, so that the chronic cycle of inflammation may be gradually calmed and with it, much of the cumulative damage that ensues when inflammation is rampant. Moreover, regular evaluation with innovative monitoring tools (such as VEGA or EAV) to monitor progression of microbial count and disease progress is key. These tests can be, for greatest accuracy and correlation, combined with Darkfield microscopy analysis. These periodic evaluations can save great amounts of time and potential patient (and practitioner) frustration in allowing the practitioner to adapt or continue a protocol based upon clinical improvement or stasis.

Nutrients such as curcumin, ginger, boswellia, resveratrol, omega 3 fatty acids, green tea, lemon balm, as well as protective antioxidants such as Vitamins A, C, E, D, and K may all be of especial importance for nutritionally minded practitioners, due to their ability to quell inflammatory responses and offer extra anti-oxidant protection for weakened and nutritionally depleted cells. However, practitioners should also be mindful of what not to supplement with in mycoplasmal infections and that these aforementioned nutrients are only supporting the patient, not truly treating the infection(s). Of particular importance to avoid supplementation with is arginine, due to mycoplasma’s predilection for arginine. Practitioners may also find it useful to explore other kinds of advanced testing when devising a treatment plan, such as stimulated cytokine testing to determine the pattern(s) of immune system dysregulation (and subsequent cytokine under- or over-expression), which may further help them appropriately focus their supplement regimen to re-regulate these probable imbalance(s). MORA BioResonance therapy, developed in Germany in the late 1970s, may also be something innovative practitioners may wish to explore, to assist in re-regulating electromagnetic frequency disturbances caused by the pathology and inflammatory sequelae.

Knowing the type of mycoplasma species is becoming increasingly important for practitioners to identify, as this may impact the needed treatment, due to the fact that there are now over 100 known species of Mycoplasma. The 7 most common species known to cause human illness include: M. fermentans, M. hyorhinis, M. arginini, M. orale, M. salivarium, M. hominis, M. pulmonis and M. pirum. Testing for mycoplasmas can be difficult when relying on standardized lab tests, due to their small size and lack of cell wall. However, both PCR testing and Darkfield microscope analysis have been, in recent decades, noted for being reliable sources of analyses. However, it should also be noted there are complications with these blood specific testing methods also. This is primarily due to the fact that mycoplasmas may not be present in blood but rather could be localized in a different area of the body, such as cerebrospinal fluid, joint fluid, or organs. So, for the mindful physician, it is advised to be highly aware of the limitations of testing only one medium when screening for a potential infection and diagnosing a patient.

An Exclusive Article for Members
From THE BRIDGE Newsletter of OIRF
Published June 2012

© Copyright 2012, Dr. Karim Dhanani, ON Canada

About the author

1) In brief, this concept may be explained as that the body can handle a certain amount of stressors (such as opportunistic infections, etc.) without going into an overt disease state. However, if it is pushed beyond its regulatory capacity to ‘manage’ these stressors, then one may expect disease to ensue


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  1. http://www.arthritistrust.org/Articles/Autoimmune%20Diseases%20Caused%20by%20Mycoplasmas.pdf
  2. http://www.lymeneteurope.org/info/notes-and-observations-on-cell-wall-deficient-forms

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