A biofilm is a group of microorganisms (i.e. bacteria, yeast, etc.) which form a protective layer. Bacterial biofilms are resistant to antibiotics, disinfectant chemicals and to phagocytosis and other components of the innate and adaptive inflammatory defense system of the body (1). Candida albicans can also form biofilms, which can make them resistant to certain antifungal medications such as fluconazole (2). And since many people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions have these types of infections, it can be beneficial to understand how to disrupt these biofilms.
Although bacteria and yeast infections are common, how can you tell if these pathogens have biofilm? Unfortunately most labs that test for bacterial and yeast infections don’t do testing to determine if there are biofilms, and so when treating these infections you are faced with a couple of different options. One option is to give the necessary treatment without any biofilm disruptors, and hope that biofilms aren’t present. The second option is to take biofilm disruptors when treating an infection. Authors of a recent study on antibiofilm peptides claimed that biofilm-related infections account for at least 65% of all human infections (3). If this is the case then it probably would be a good idea to play it safe and take some type of biofilm disruptor when combating any type of infection.
Which Microorganisms Are Known To Have Biofilms?
Many different microorganisms have biofilms. I’m not going to list all of them here, but I’ll list some of the more common ones, including some common pathogens associated with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions.
Helicobacter Pylori. This bacteria is a potential trigger of thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions. Antibiotics are commonly used to eradicate H. Pylori, although it seems that they have become more resistant even when triple or quadruple therapy is used. And a big reason for this is because H. pylori forms biofilm on the gastric mucosa epithelium (4) (5) (6). As a result, whenever giving treatment for H. Pylori it would be wise to give the person substances which can help to dissolve the biofilm matrix.
Borrelia Burgdorferi. This is the bacteria associated with Lyme disease, and if the infection isn’t detected early then this can lead to chronic Lyme disease, which is usually very difficult to treat. There is evidence that Borrelia burgdorferi can form biofilm (7), which may be a big reason why it is difficult to eradicate.
Yersinia Enterocolitica. This bacteria has been associated with both Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. One study looked to detect the production of biofilms by 60 strains of Yersinia enterocolitica, and found that all 60 strains produced biofilms (8). In addition, they also discovered that the majority of the biofilms were resistant to all of the antimicrobials used.
Escherichia coli. While E. coli isn’t commonly associated with the development of thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, it probably is the most well known pathogen. Most strains of E. coli are actually harmless, although some strains can cause respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, and other illnesses. Both commensal and pathogenic E. coli can produce biofilm (9) (10).
Klebsiella Pneumoniae. This is another gram-negative bacteria that can cause numerous infections, such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, etc. And these can also produce biofilm (11).
Candida Albicans. Unlike the other microorganisms listed so far, Candida is a fungus. And there is plenty of evidence which shows that candida albicans can form biofilms (15) (16) (17) (18), which as I briefly mentioned earlier can make it resistant to antifungal medication.
Which Natural Agents Can Disrupt Biofilm?
There are actually a number of different natural agents which have been shown to dissolve the biofilm matrix:
N-acetylcysteine (NAC). Although I commonly give NAC to my patients to increase glutathione production, numerous studies also show that it can be used to reduce and prevent biofilm formation (19) (20) (21) (22). It seems that NAC works by degrading the extracellular polysaccharide matrix of the biofilm (22). I spoke about H. Pylori earlier, and one study showed that N-acetylcysteine treatment prior to starting antibiotic therapy led to the disappearance of gastric biofilm in all patients who had H. Pylori (23). And there also is a study which shows that NAC can be used to inhibit biofilm formation by Candida albicans (24). So if someone has either bacterial or yeast overgrowth it probably would be beneficial to take an NAC supplement.
Proteolytic Enzymes. Proteins, polysaccharides, and DNA constitute a major component of the biofilm matrix (25). As a result, it would make sense for proteolytic enzymes (enzymes that break down proteins) to help degrade biofilm. And numerous studies show that certain proteolytic enzymes can break down biofilm (25) (26) (27). One of the most popular products used by many healthcare professionals to disrupt biofilm is Interfase by Klaire Labs, which consists of numerous proteolytic enzymes.
Colloidal silver. Although I’m very familiar with colloidal silver, this admittedly isn’t something I have frequently given to my patients. But after doing some research I very well might be recommending it more often for those with infections. With regards to biofilm, there are numerous studies which show that colloidal silver can be effective against the biofilm of Candida albicans (28) (29) (30). There also are a few studies that show that colloidal silver has antibiofilm activity in Staphylococcus aureus (31) (32).
Lactoferrin. Lactoferrin is an iron-binding glycoprotein present in milk, and also has antimicrobial activities by withholding iron from iron-requiring bacteria. Colostrum is rich in lactoferrin, and this is one of the main reasons why taking colostrum can enhance immune system function (33). Numerous studies show that lactoferrin can inhibit biofilm formation (34) (35) (36).
In summary, both bacteria and yeast can form biofilms, which can be resistant to antibiotics and antifungal medications. Some of the microorganisms which produce biofilms include H. Pylori, Borrelia Burgdorferi, Yersinia Enterocolitca, Escherichia coli, Mycoplasma, and Candida albicans. Whenever someone has a bacterial or yeast infection it probably would be a good idea to have them take one or more natural agents which has been proven to dissolve biofilm. These include NAC, proteolytic enzymes, colloidal silver, and lactoferrin.