What is a Biofilm?


If you’re managing any kind of chronic health condition*, Bacterial Biofilm is an immensely important concept to grasp! Doing so requires an immense shift in perspective on health, so please bear with me.

*Health conditions linked to biofilm include: Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Lyme disease, any chronic bacterial infection (including sinus & tonsil infections), chronic candida infections, Barrett’s esophagus, Helicobacter pylori, cavities and gum disease, endocarditis, kidney stone infections

mass-of-gelatinous-biofilm-had-enmeshed-numbers-of-microorganisms-including-amoebae-and-bacteria-725x493

The blue stuff is a biofilm that is protecting bacteria and amoebae.

Important Point Number ONE

Your body is covered by and filled with microbes. These include bacteria, yeast, parasites and viruses. You have TEN TIMES more microbes than you have human cells. (More on that here.)

–>Did you just have a disgusted reaction to that? I urge you, do not be a microbist! Some of those tiny life forms have bad raps (for example, “virus” might sound 100% bad), but they’re not all nefarious and destructive! Many microbes have evolved along with us and need us as much as we need them. Sure, they may misbehave if given the chance, but they don’t really mean it.

Important Point Number TWO

Those trillions of microbes are smart!
Microbes are tiny and know they can’t take down a human all by themselves. But they also know that they can do serious damage when enough of them are around. Very generally, and in very simplified terms, they harm us by secreting toxins. While small amounts of these toxins are batted away like a fly, if the amount of toxin expands beyond a tipping point, a human might get pretty sick.

Bacteria use something called Quorum Sensing. They produce compounds that act like telegrams. As they gather information about each other’s whereabouts and their total population, they are reproducing. Eventually, if a human body’s immune system doesn’t take them down first, those bacteria will wage war. Learn more about Quorum Sensing from this FASCINATING TedTalk by Bonnie Bassler.

Important Point Number THREE

Microbes know how to defend themselves from antimicrobial agents, whether those are drugs or herbs.

Here’s the trick about antimicrobials: First of all, many of them (especially the drugs) are microbe-specific. (For example, one might kill a bacteria, but not a parasite.)

Let’s tighten the scope to talk about bacteria specifically. Antibiotics only kill bacteria that are active and freely moving. If bacteria could find a way to become dormant or corral together in one protected place, antibiotics would be useless……

Important Point Number FOUR

Bacteria can become dormant and corral together in one protected place, thus rendering antibiotics as useless. When a bacterium senses a prolonged threat (whether it’s from a powerful antibiotic drug or a course of garlic or grapefruit seed extract), it can morph into a dormant state.

Bacteria can take multiple forms, depending on their types. Is it just me, or does this seem kinda like a video game?) Most have the option of becoming dormant (in a cyst or cell-wall deficient state). All can gather together like a bunch of unwashed hippies (sorry- I love you, hippies) underneath the stealthy cover of a… BIOFILM! When the threat leaves, they come out from behind the biofilm and resume both their frolicking and your misery.

And finally… What is a BIOFILM?

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 3.11.15 PMA biofilm is a substantial film produced by microbes to protect them from a treacherous environment. See the substance that tethers this microscopic pin cushion to a colony of bacteria? That’s a portion of biofilm (click image to link to larger image).

While behind this homemade barrier (the biofilm), bacteria, viruses, yeasts and parasites reproduce. They can also sometimes swap genetic material between species! This means if one little guy is resistant to a particular antibiotic, it could confer that resistance to its buddies.

As time goes on, the microbes that live beneath the biofilm will get reintroduced into the body. This can happen via fragments of biofilm that bleb off and float around or a mist of bacteria leaving like a swarm of insects. If bad guys live in the biofilm, this is unsettling to say the least. (See a visual of this at around 4:11 in the video below.)

 

It’s important to keep in mind that biofilm is not the problem… any potential health challenge will result from what types of microbes are living (and breeding) underneath a biofilm. If Lyme bacteria are living there, it’s a bad thing. If huge crowds of candida are camping out, it’s a bad thing.

But, if a balanced population of benevolent bacteria are relaxing and recuperating and keeping the growth of bad bacteria at bay, well then by all means, protect them underneath a biofilm! After all, the good guys deserve protection from digestive enzymes, bile, and being smooshed away through your Food Tube.

That said, a good example of biofilm that we’re all familiar with is dental plaque. It’s a stubborn substance produced by bacteria to keep them from being washed or brushed away. While huddled underneath plaque, bad bacteria feast on whatever morsels are lodged between your teeth and then secrete enamel-dissolving chemicals.

The fingers below are holding another example of a biofilm… from kombucha! You may have heard of this beneficial fermented beverage. It’s produced by microbes that live in the biofilm, otherwise known as a SCOBY (symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast).

If you’re a visual person, check out this video. Jump to minute 4:11 for an extremely good visual, but don’t fear the talking heads! Interspersed among sciency jargon are some very helpful explanations of what a biofilm is.

So what?

Now that you know about biofilms, what do you DO about them?

Whether or not you’re suffering from a chronic condition, the correct answer is: start a Biofilm Busting Regimen! A biofilm buster dissolves the biofilm and helps it go away.

Even though not all biofilms house bad bacteria, it turns out a specific product has been scientifically proven to impact the biofilms of bad bacteria, but not of good ones. Interfase by Klaire Labs is a combination of enzymes that break up a biofilm.

As the biofilm thins/disappears, the immune system will go about killing the microbes that are revealed. Assistance from an antimicrobial agent would likely be much appreciated because crime fighting is hard work.

If you try Interfase, be sure to follow instructions from your healthcare provider very carefully. The key is “slow and low.” If you dissolve the biofilm too quickly, your immune system will be overwhelmed by the work it has to do. Also, when microbes are dismantled, the toxins they store inside their bodies dump out into your tissues. This can make you feel pretty gross. (If this does happen, products like activated charcoal, bentonite clay and soluble fiber, like citrus pectins, can mop the toxins up.)

Other biofilm busters include Neprinol (another combo of enzymes), Lumbrokinase (enzyme made by earthworms), Serrapeptase (made from silkworms), garlic (also an antimicrobial agent) and Terminalia Chebula (Haritaki fruit).

Another important consideration is diet. Both infection and dysbiosis are descriptors of a bacterial imbalance. An infection is when some foreign organism takes over, like e. coli from spoiled food or salmonella from uncooked food. Dysbiosis happens when any species that normally lives in your gut grows to larger numbers than is natural. Either way, an invader eats what you eat (or they could also eat the byproducts of inflammation, which might be driven by your food choices or blood sugar status). A diet containing too much sugar and refined flour selects for trouble.

More reading on Biofilms

  • Really great article, which discusses biofilm involvement in many different health conditions.
  • Article about the effect of Interfase on pathogenic vs. beneficial bacteria.
  • Article about biofilms.
  • Free online webinar about biofilms by Hawthorne University.
  • Amazing art piece that demonstrates problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria underneath a biofilm.
  • Image of biofilm full of harmful bacteria lodged in catheter (that was inside a body).
  • Image of biofilm on surface of drinkable water.