Clostridium difficile, better known as C. diff is the "untreatable" bacterial infection that plagues hospitals throughout the developed world. It is a "superbug" that has become resistant to even our most powerful antibiotics. Each year more than half a million people, many in hospitals, get this life-threatening bacterial "hospital sickness."
But is there a treatment, and even a possible cure that doctors and hospitals are overlooking? How do you treat a c.diff infection? What are the possible cures that go beyond just using antibiotics?
Are there holistic or natural alternatives to treating a hard to cure c. diff infection?
Clostridium difficile (klos-TRID-e-um dif-uh-SEEL) or C. diff, as its name implies, is a bacterium that has become resistant or immune to current antibiotics. A C. diff infection can cause severe diarrhea, nausea, dehydration and even death and c. diff infections are growing in American hospitals.
How do you treat a C. diff infection?
Officially, C. diff, the antibiotic resistant "superbug" is treated with...more antibiotics. Yup. That is the "standard of care" for this infection. Even though a C. diff infection is often cause by overuse of antibiotics, the standard treatment for C. diff is, ironically, more antibiotics.
This will occasionally knock out the disease, but may cause more harm as it strips the body of healthy bacteria needed to live.
The dangers of a c. diff infection
Clostridium difficile is found in nearly all environments, but usually does not pose a health risk to most people. People who are immunity compromised are most at risk, such as people in a hospital or those who have taken antibiotics for a sustained period.
The C. difficile bacterium is found throughout the world. It is passed from feces to hand to food when people who are infected don't wash their hands properly.
A new aggressive strain of c. diff is emerging
The Mayo Clinic reports that an aggressive strain of C. diff that produces far more toxin, has recently emerged and although the disease is most commonly thought of in hospitals, people outside hospitals and those who have not taken antibiotics have reported the disease.
I was reminded of the perniciousness of this disease when a friend's elderly father recently got a C. difficile infection in the hospital and was considered a proximate cause of his death.
It reminded me of the time my wife was in the hospital and also contracted c. diff. The antibiotics the hospital was giving her only gave her intense intestinal pains and did nothing to cure the infection. So we tried something else that seemed to work. Probiotics. Simple probiotics.
Standard Treatment for C. diff infection
The Mayo Clinic advises "plenty of fluids and good nutrition." They suggest eating starchy foods like potatoes and rice to counteract the diarrhea. But is there something else they are overlooking?
The microbiome of our bodies is becoming better understood by science and there is new awareness that antibiotics, while working very well to kill certain harmful bacteria, also need to be replaced with probiotics, healthy gut bacteria to help maintain overall body health.
When simple OTC probiotics seemed to cure a C. diff infection
My first encounter with C. difficile was when my wife was in the hospital for complications arising from her breast cancer. She was in the hospital for nearly a month when she got a bacterial infection. The doctors prescribed her powerful antibiotics which may have killed the initial infection, but which also lead to a C. diff infection.
The doctors then prescribed her more antibiotics, the standard treatment. But these were difficult for my wife to stomach. She was nauseous, her gut was in shreds and it seemed like folly to do the same thing and expect a different result.
CVS probiotics to the rescue?
I asked the doctors if probiotics might work. My thought was to "re-stock" her gut with healthy biomaterial to fight the bad bacteria. The doctor's demurred, they said it wasn't "tested" and basically dismissed the idea. They preferred more antibiotics.
But the C. diff seemed to be getting worse. Staying the course was not an option anymore. I only knew a little bit about "probiotics" at the time, only that it was the same stuff they put in yogurt. So I went out and bought CVS Maximum Strength Probiotic Capsules.
What did I know? I was guessing here. It had a variety of strains of healthy bacteria including Lactobacillus Rhamnosus A191, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Bifidobacterium Breve; Bifidobacterium Longum, and at 20 billion probiotics per capsule, it seemed like a lot. Meanwhile my wife had secretly stopped taking the antibiotics altogether.
From there, we just kind of winged it. The label said take one capsule at mealtime, 3 a day for a healthy person, so we figured with a depleted healthy gut bacteria, we should double her dose and then we tripled it.
Results of probiotics on a c. diff infection
Within 3 days, the c. diff had subsided and within a week it was gone. The hospital's own lab tests confirmed it. My wife still had many other complications from the cancer, but the C. diff was cured.
Remember, she stopped taking the hospital antibiotics a week before the infection was cured. I am sure the doctors thought it was the antibiotics.
Caveats here, get your caveats here
Can it really be that simple? Can taking large quantities of over-the-counter probiotics fight and cure a powerfully resistant, "superbug" strain of bacterial infection?
Treating C. diff or other bacterial infections with probiotics is not scientifically proven and one seeming success is not conclusive.
But in our case, it seemed to help. At the very least, hospitals and doctors ought to investigate probiotics as a possible cure for c. diff, especially since the standard treatment works so poorly.
There is much research to be done. Which strains of probiotic bacteria at which strength levels? How often do you need to take it?
The possibilities of probiotics for overall health
My purpose in writing this is to share my personal experience and to open the dialogue to the possibility that there may be another way to treat difficult to cure bacterial diseases.
One that is more aligned with our bodies natural microbiome and to see if using healthy bacteria can offer a defense against super-strains of bad bacteria where antibiotics have failed.
At least I can provide a floor and a starting point for further study and if you or your loved one is faced with C. diff in the hospital, here is a possible alternative treatment.
We used CVS brand over-the-counter. There are many brands I am sure would work too.
Probiotics and fermented foods and drinks that promote healthy bacteria are slowing being shown by science to be powerful ways to help keep your body healthy naturally. Where will it take us next?