Natural Campylobacter Treatments – Herbal Medicine and The Gut

campylobacter infections natural treatment herbal treatments for campylobacter jejuni SIBO bacterial infections naturopathic treatment

Campylobacter jejuni, a gram negative bacterial infection, is a major cause of bacterial gastroenteritis worldwide. Today we will be covering what Campylobacter jejuni is, how it affects the body and some natural treatments to discuss with your gut health practitioner when considering treatment options. 

Campylobacter jejuni overview 

First a quick overview on the Campylobacter genus. 

These particular gram negative bacteria are motile and can be found in a range of different warm blooded animals which are a major source of infection for humans. In fact, 50-70% of Campylobacter infections can be traced back to poultry reservoirs (1).

Campylobacter jejuni is the cause of bacterial enteritis – inflammation of the intestines – in approximately 5-14% of all diarrheal diseases worldwide (2).

How Did I Catch Campylobacter?

Understanding how you caught Campylobacter initially is important so that you can eliminate or reduce exposure and try to prevent future infections. 

As outlined above warm blooded animals are a possible reservoir of Campylobacter. Handling and consuming animal products is a major vector of infection – think food poisoning – as well as household pets. Surface water including swimming and drinking water are also sources of possible infection (3).

Image taken from: Current and Potential Treatments for Reducing Campylobacter Colonization in Animal Hosts and Disease in Humans

Short term Implications of Campylobacter infection 

Anyone who has experienced bacterial food poisoning has endured something similar to the following.

Approximately 48-96 hours after ingestion watery diarrhoea or dysentery sets in. During this process Campylobacter adheres and invades the intestinal wall. A number of factors are at play here enabling the bacterial infection to persist and evade our immune system including bacterial resistance to our innate immune system and the production of cytolethal distending toxin. Colitis – inflammation of the colon – may develop. Finally, there is some evidence to show that Campylobacter can disrupt the tight junctions of the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract resulting in leaky gut, and translocation of bacteria (4).

Alongside diarrhea and possible dysentery common symptoms of Campylobacter infection includes fever and abdominal pain. 

While many Campylobacter infections are limited to a week or so, some infections can persist and develop alarming symptoms such as acute colitis and bloody diarrhoea (5). 

Long Term Consequences of Campylobacter Infection

There are four possible long term compilations from a Campylobacter infection including reactive arthritis, post infectious IBS, Guillain Barre syndrome and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) (3).

Guillain Barre syndrome and Campylobacter

According to medical speak ‘Guillain Barre syndrome is an acute, post infectious immune mediated disorder affecting the peripheral nervous system’ (6).

In layman’s terms Guillain Barre is a syndrome where your immune system attacks your nerves. 

Similarly to reactive arthritis Guillain Barre syndrome often occurs post-infection. You would be right if you were thinking Campylobacter is one of the microbes frequently seen pre-Guillain Barre syndrome occurrence. Up to 40% of patients with Guillain Barre syndrome showed evidence of Campylobacter infection (6).

Reactive Arthritis and Campylobacter

Reactive arthritis is one of the spondyloarthropathies – lack of rheumatoid factor, strong genetic association (HLA-B27), and non joint related symptoms. We have good data coming from a systemic review from 2007 in Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism linking Campylobacter and reactive arthritis. The review found that 1-5% of those infected with Campylobacter developed reactive arthritis. 

Salmonella and Shigella are two other bacterial infections that are associated with reactive arthritis (8).

Furthermore Klebsiella has been implicated in the development of ankylosing spondylitis – for a deeper dive check out this article.

Post Infectious IBS & Campylobacter

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has a range of subtypes including the constipation, diarrhoea, post infectious and mixed subtypes. While there are many risk factors that increase your chances of developing IBS, infectious gastroenteritis is right up there at the top. 

Up to 36% of people that experience acute Campylobacter infections – campylobacteriosis – go on to experience IBS symptoms. While we are still teasing out the details, researchers have found persistent immune activation in patients with IBS that first experienced a Campylobacter infection (9).

SIBO as a consequence of Campylobacter 

We have discussed post-infectious IBS so it should stand to reason that SIBO (often an overlooked cause of IBS) could be a possible consequence of a Campylobacter infection. 

The science gets a tad complicated here but I will try to keep it relevant.

Along with a number of other common bacterial infections, Campylobacter can produce cytolethal distending toxin. The immune system then targets these cytolethal distending toxins by creating specific antibodies. So far so good. The breakdown in this process occurs when these specialised antibodies misfire and mistakenly start attacking the digestive tract – akin to an autoimmune process. While researchers are still working out the finer details we do have a number of animal studies showing that infections from Campylobacter strains secreting cytolethal distending toxin results in antibodies that target human cells in the gut. These cells (the enteric ganglia and the interstitial cells of cajal) help to control the proper movement and contraction of the digestive tract. This cross-reactivity leads to a breakdown in gut motor function and results in small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (10).

A comment from my clinical practice.

If a patient of mine describes an experience of food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea I immediately take note and start exploring and evaluating for SIBO. If other symptoms line up, including bloating and distention, burping, reflux, additional gas or even joint pain or increased anxiety after meals then I will always recommend getting a SIBO breath test. Getting a clear understanding of what is out of balance really helps when it comes to targeted treatment. 

Natural Treatments for Campylobacter 

Getting into the naturopathic and herbal approaches for treating Campylobacter infections we can use targeted herbal medicine, prebiotics and probiotics to support gut health and help modulate the microbiome. Certain diets can help in the early days of infection as well proper hydration and electrolyte replacement as needed. 

Herbal medicine for Campylobacter infections

There are a number of herbs that have been shown to have anti-Campylobacter activity including the following 

Garlic

The organosulfur compounds found in garlic were shown to be effective at killing Campylobacter (11).

Allicin is one well studied organosulfur compound in garlic. Best to crush fresh garlic to release the allicin and consume it immediately. 

campylobacter garlic natural treatment

Oregano 

Oregano has also been shown to be effective against Campylobacter infections (11).

In my practice I start with a herbal tincture which I make using the leaf and work up to the essential oil if absolutely needed. If I do end up recommending the oil I only recommend short term use as it is incredibly strong! 

Thyme

Thyme was shown to decrease Campylobacter’s intestinal adhesion which is necessary for infection (11).

Cinnamon 

Cinnamaldehyde, a phenylpropanoid that gives cinnamon its flavour and distinct smell, is effective at killing Campylobacter in vitro. It was also shown to be effective when added to the drinking water on poultry farms (remember chickens are a major source of infection here) (12).

Clove

Clove gets a ton of use when I am formulating herbs for gut health. This is a herb that doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. For a deeper dive check out the article on clove here.

As for natural Campylobacter treatments, eugenol, a compound found in the essential oil is effective at reducing bacterial infections including Campylobacter (12).

Prebiotics for Campylobacter infections

Much of the science on prebiotics to reduce Campylobacter infections comes from animal studies, mainly poultry farming. 

One review found that inulin and oligofructose decreased Campylobacter counts in the large bowels of broiler chickens (13).

I would expect to see a decrease in Campylobacter numbers with ongoing prebiotic supplementation. The concept is outlined by Gibson, one of the lead prebiotic researchers, and his colleagues. 

They list the concept of colonisation resistance, describing how the gut microbiota, along with the mucosal barrier, act to reduce pathogen numbers including Campylobacter, E. coli and Salmonella. 

Here our beneficial bacteria produce metabolites which lower the pH making the gut more acidic and less friendly for bacterial infections and overgrowths. Our beneficial microbes also occupy space, helping to outcompete these overgrowths and infections. They also help to tune our immune system and even secrete natural antimicrobials aimed at the infections.

Pretty fascinating stuff!

Prebiotics and resistance to gastrointestinal infections

Image taken from: Prebiotics and resistance to gastrointestinal infections

Probiotics for Campylobacter infections

If prebiotics have been shown to selectively stimulate our beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive tract (Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillus, etc) then one would think that certain, targeted probiotics would be helpful in reducing bacterial infections too. 

One in-vitro study showed that both Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium longum were directly antagonistic against Campylobacter (15).

Following this concept up in chickens one study found that Bifidobacterium longum PCB 133 reduced Campylobacter counts and thus could reduce the contamination vector for humans if fed included in poultry feed (16).

Proper Hydration

Seeing as Campylobacter infections cause significant gastroenteritis, often combined with severe watery diarrhoea it stands to reason that staying hydrated is key when dealing with an acute infection. 

This goes double for children. 

Herbal medicine, prebiotics and probiotics can play a role in treating this particular bacterial infection but priority number one is safety. If you, or a family member is experiencing ongoing severe watery diarrhoea and you are concerned about dehydration it can quickly become a medical emergency. 

For the most part my patients do not live close to the clinic. This makes treating acute illnesses difficult. Electrolyte repletion can be helpful but a trip to the emergency room (and the antibiotics that go along with it) may be necessary. 

Now over to you. Have you experienced any bacterial infections? What helped? Leave a comment below.

References & Resources

  1. Hunter’s Tropical Medicine and Emerging Infectious Diseases
  2. Campylobacter Reactive Arthritis: A Systematic Review
  3. Hunter’s Tropical Medicine and Emerging Infectious Diseases
  4. The Chronic Gastrointestinal Consequences Associated With Campylobacter
  5. A Meta-Analysis on the Effects of Antibiotic Treatment on Duration of Symptoms Caused by Infection with Campylobacter Species
  6. Chronic effects of Campylobacter infection
  7. Campylobacter reactive arthritis: a systematic review 
  8. Enteric Pathogens and Reactive Arthritis: A Systematic Review of Campylobacter, Salmonella and Shigella-associated Reactive Arthritis
  9. The Chronic Gastrointestinal Consequences Associated With Campylobacter 
  10. Reaction of antibodies to Campylobacter jejuni and cytolethal distending toxin B with tissues and food antigens
  11. Current and Potential Treatments for Reducing Campylobacter Colonization in Animal Hosts and Disease in Humans
  12. Antibacterial effect of trans-cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, carvacrol, and thymol on Salmonella Enteritidis and Campylobacter jejuni in chicken cecal contents in vitro
  13. Potential for Prebiotics as Feed Additives to Limit Foodborne Campylobacter Establishment in the Poultry Gastrointestinal Tract
  14. Prebiotics and resistance to gastrointestinal infections
  15. In vitro investigations of the effect of probiotics and prebiotics on selected human intestinal pathogens
  16. Characterization of probiotic strains: An application as feed additives in poultry against Campylobacter jejuni

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1 comment

  1. Hello! I have a question about klebsiella oxytoca. Would it be beneficial to add in a teaspoon or two of pomengranate peel powder into my smoothies to help reduce the overgrowth? I have an overgrowth of this in my gut and would like to get a few ideas on how to reduce this. I am also taking PHGG in my smoothies. Thank you!

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