Published November 18 2013
Yersinia enterocolitica is a type of gram-negative bacteria which most commonly infects young children. However, numerous studies have linked this pathogen with some people who have Graves’ Disease. But there is controversy as to whether Yersinia enterocolitica is involved in the pathogenesis of Graves’ Disease, or if it’s just an incidental finding.
First of all, how do people get infected with Yersinia enterocolitica? Infection is frequently acquired by eating contaminated food, especially raw or undercooked pork products (1). The infection can also be transmitted by drinking contaminated unpasteurized milk or untreated water, or on rare occasions it can be transmitted by the bacterium passing from the stools or soiled fingers of one person to the mouth of another person (1).
Some of the common symptoms associated with this condition include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and/or vomiting. In fact, the infection might lead to acute appendicitis in some cases (2). A stool test is frequently used to determine whether someone has this infection, and is the most accurate method of testing for this pathogen.
Can Yersinia Enterocolitica Cause Graves’ Disease?
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, whether or not Yersinia Enterocolitica can lead to the pathogenesis of Graves’ Disease is controversial. An older study showed that antibodies against Y. enterocolitica have been found in a high proportion of persons with autoimmune thyroid conditions, especially in those with Graves’ Disease or hyperthyroidism (3). The study suggested that thyroid autoimmunity might be triggered by a bacterial infection such as Yersinia enterocolitica.
However, a study in 2011 looked to evaluate the relationship between Yersinia enterocolitica infection and the development of overt autoimmune hypo- or hyperthyroidism (4). This study concluded that Yersinia enterocolitica is not a risk factor for either the occurrence of thyroid antibodies or for the development of overt autoimmune hypo- or hyperthyroidism. However, a study in 2013 suggests that Yersinia enterocolitica might contribute to the pathogenesis of Graves’ Disease (5).
So there is evidence that Yersinia enterocolitica can potentially be involved in the pathogenesis of some cases of Graves’ Disease. This doesn’t mean that everyone with this pathogen will develop an autoimmune thyroid condition, and this of course was demonstrated by the study in 2011. But if someone has Graves’ Disease and symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhea, then it might be a good idea to conduct the necessary testing to rule out the presence of Yersinia enterocolitica.
Can Natural Treatment Methods Eradicate Yersinia Enterocolitica?
Most cases of Yersinia enterocolitica will self resolve without any treatment. More severe infections might require antibiotics. Natural antimicrobials such as garlic and oregano oil might help for those who want to avoid taking antibiotics. Plus, keep in mind that eradicating this pathogen probably won’t restore one’s health back to normal. In other words, if Yersinia enterocolitica triggers an autoimmune response, in addition to eradicating the pathogen, one still will need to suppress the autoimmune component and control the inflammation.
So hopefully you have a better understanding of Yersinia enterocolitica, including how people commonly get infected, the symptoms this pathogen produces, and how to test for it. While some people with Graves’ Disease test positive for Yersinia enterocolitica, it still is unclear as to whether this pathogen can trigger an autoimmune response, thus leading to an autoimmune thyroid condition. But either way, if someone with Graves’ Disease has this infection they will want to eradicate it (assuming it doesn’t resolve on its own), and will then want to do things to help suppress the autoimmune component.