Treating Rheumatic Diseases With Antibiotics

There are millions of men and women in our country with rheumatic diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, mixed connective tissue disease, ankylosing spondylitis, and fibromyalgia. The conventional medical treatment for these illnesses consists of powerful drugs that suppress symptoms, but often at a high price in adverse effects. 

Unfortunately, many of those afflicted with rheumatic diseases don’t know about the treatment with antibiotics that has the potential to halt the progression, if not reverse, their otherwise chronic and often incapacitating illness.  The beauty of the antibiotic treatment of rheumatic illnesses is that it seems to go to the roots of the disease, increasing the likelihood of an actual remission, with much less side effects than current treatments.

The concept that infection is a factor in the development and progression of rheumatic illnesses actually goes back to the early part of this century.  But it was Dr. Thomas McPherson Brown, an accomplished John Hopkins Medical School graduate, who was the first scientist to isolate a suspicious infectious agent, a mycoplasma, from the joint of an arthritic patient.  His pioneering work in developing the rationale and protocols for using antibiotics to treat rheumatic illnesses, spanning fifty years and 10,000 patients, is documented in the book The New Arthritis Breakthrough.

The micro-organism called mycoplasma continues to be the prime suspect as the co-factor or causative agent in the development and progression of rheumatic illnesses. Mycoplasma are the smallest free-living bacteria and commonly infect both plants and animals.  They can grow in tissue fluids (joint, blood, chest, spinal fluids) without killing the cells, thus their infection process can go undetected. In the people who develop symptoms of rheumatic illness, it is believed that the mycoplasma’s attachment to the tissue’s cells has invoked the body’s defensive immune reaction to wage war, thereby creating warm, swollen, painful tissue. The tests used to detect the presence of mycoplasma include the mycoplasma complement fixation test (MCF), and the more sensitive DNA test, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

Tetracyclines are the family of antibiotics that are most commonly used to eradicate mycoplasma infections. The antibiotics are usually prescribed at very low doses, often only three times per week, over a long term. Decades of using tetracyclines over extended lengths of time for the treatment of acne, have established their safety. In severe, advanced cases of illness, intravenous (IV) antibiotics can be used to amplify the effect of treatment. 

There have been at least nine studies since 1990 that have shown antibiotic treatment to be both safe and effective. In the January 15, 1995 Annals of Internal Medicine, the National Institutes of Health published results of a six center, double blind trial of 219 rheumatoid arthritis patients who used a tetracycline for 48 weeks.  The study concluded that minocycline is safe and effective for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.  In 1998, Harvard doctors published study results in The Lancet showing that antibiotic treatment for scleroderma was superior to conventional treatment. 

Don’t expect antibiotic therapy to give rapid or dramatic results.  Rather, the return to health is gradual, sometimes with worsening of the disease before there is an improvement.  It may take up to a year, or longer, to see any improvement in symptoms. The shorter the duration and the less severe the illness, the sooner the patient recovers. The integrative medical practitioner attempts to optimize the antibiotic therapy by simultaneously addressing the rheumatic patient’s total health, with particular attention given to the patient’s nutritional, hormonal, and immune status.

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