Klebsiella infections are more common than you would think. Because you have ended up here I am assuming that you or someone you know has found a Klebsiella infection and you want to know more.
Read on to learn what Klebsiella actually is, the symptoms it may be causing and possible treatment options.
A Primer On Klebsiella Bacterial Overgrowth
Members of the Klebsiella genus are common residents of the human gastrointestinal tract.
At times, and in manageable numbers, they are considered commensal organisms but frequently, in the case of Klebsiella pneumoniae, they can act as opportunistic pathogens (1).
Commensal – living with, on, or in another, without injury to either
Basically the subtext here is that they can be normal residents of a healthy gut, but, when given the chance, can overgrow and cause issues.
Belonging to the Enterobacteriaceae family, Klebsiella pneumoniae is a species of gram-negative bacteria.
It has the ability to take on a pathogenic role in the digestive tract when there is an imbalance or a weakened immune system. Often this takes the form of a hospital acquired infection known as a nosocomial infection (2).
Take a deep dive into the subject of bacterial overgrowths from this family that can cause leaky gut a host of symptoms – Imbalanced Gut Flora Equals Leaky Gut
Why Is Klebsiella Hard To Treat?
It’s a good question. Let’s get into it.
The paper Molecular pathogenesis of Klebsiella pneumoniae outlines the difficulty in treating Klebsiella infections.
Klebsiella has the innate ability to form biofilms both in the human body and on medical devices. By forming biofilms Klebsiella protects itself from the immune response as well as from antimicrobial treatments (herbal and pharmaceutical).
The capsule polysaccharide, or CPS, found on Klebsiella pneumoniae also contributes to many of it’s immune resistant capabilities.
Image taken from – Molecular pathogenesis of Klebsiella pneumoniae
Klebsiella can inhibit phagocytosis (being eaten by white blood cells) by inhibiting different white blood cells (macrophages and neutrophils) ability to bind to the bacteria.
Not surprisingly more virulent strains of Klebsiella show greater capabilities at blocking the function of different white blood cells. Another immune dodging mechanism displayed by certain virulent strains of Klebsiella pneumoniae is the ability to dampen down the initial inflammatory response by the innate immune system.
Yet a third aspect of resistance is the found in the protective nature of the CPS. As second line defence the innate immune system releases different antimicrobial peptides as a response to infection. Not only does Klebsiella’s protective CPS layer act as a shield it is also released from the bacteria to block incoming antimicrobial peptides, tying them up and reducing contact with the bacterial cells.
Yet another key issue which leads to difficulties in treatment is the fact that many strains of Klebsiella are becoming more and more resistant to frontline antibiotic treatments.
So we can see some treatment issues arising here.
Let’s move onto some symptoms of Klebsiella infections and circle back to treatment ideas later in the article.
Symptoms Of Klebsiella Infections
I have had a Klebsiella infection so I know first hand some symptoms it can cause.
That said it can be hard to tease out what infection is causing what symptom.
My symptoms, confirmed by a comprehensive stool test included
- Intense headaches
- Loose stools
- Sore lymph around the throat
- Increases food intolerances – coffee/chocolate/dairy/sugar
- Trouble sleeping
Again it is very hard to pin down the root cause based on symptoms. That’s why it is so important to test!
From the literature
“Klebsiella pneumoniae, a member of the Enterobacteriaceae family, is a common human bacterial pathogen that can cause urinary tract infections, pneumonias, bacteremia, pyogenic liver abscesses, skin abscesses and necrotizing fasciitis. It is recognized as a highly pathogenic organism that causes disease in the community and nosocomial settings.” (1).
Finding Klebsiella. Testing Options and Alternatives
Generally it is quite easy to find Klebsiella infections by running one of a number of different stool tests.
You have a few to choose from including
- The GI MAP
- DNA based microbiome stool tests like Ubiome (now no longer) and Thryve
- A comprehensive stool test known as a CDSA (complete digestive stool analysis)
Unfortunately these more specific and functional testing are rarely offered by GPs.
Most of the time you will have to pay out of pocket.
For Australians Nutripath offers a CDSA although your health practitioner (GP, herbalist, naturopath) will have to order it for you.
For me paying for the test (approx $250 all up) was a no-brainer.
After experiencing a range of very unpleasant symptoms from drinking unfiltered tank water in the Byron Bay hinterland I ran the comprehensive diagnostic stool analysis from Nutripath and found not one, not two, but five different infections.
Dealing with Infections. How To Treat Klebsiella Infections
Antibiotics are the frontline treatment offered by allopathic biomedicine.
Many times antibiotic treatment was the original insult that disrupted the gut microbiome and allowed members from the Proteobacteria phylum (like Klebsiella) to overgrow.
It is a choice that everyone has to make for themselves.
Unless the infection was life-threatening I would consider taking prebiotics and probiotics for many bacterial overgrowths. Herbal antimicrobials may be indicated for certain bacterial infections. Following up the antimicrobial treatment with a well planned gut rebuilding protocol is essential.
This is a particularly effective treatment, especially when combined with other supporting and complimenting herbal medicines.
Herbs that can improve the effects of pomegranate husk tincture include the following
- Clove tincture – can help with the biofilms that Klebsiella forms
- Oregano leaf (not so much the oil as it can be too strong)
- Baical Skullcap
There are a range of other antibacterial herbs. A few that really stand out include the high berberine herbs like Coptis chinensis, barberry and even goldenseal. Unfortunately these herbs don’t combine well with pomegranate husk due to their active components (alkaloids and tannins don’t play well together).
Also many of these herbs can and will negatively impact the gut flora so we need to focus on supporting it while simultaneously treating the Klebsiella infection.
This is a great point on why working with a herbalist trained in the complexities of gut infections is so important.
Dietary Considerations For Klebsiella Infections
A previous article outlined the use of prebiotic fibres and starches to help boost the gut microbiota.
In the case of Klebsiella infections reducing simple starches and certain colonic foods could be a wise strategy as this particular bacteria favours starch as food.
One study suggested reducing complex carbohydrates in response to Klebsiella infection (4). The use of certain prebiotics may still be of value as they selectively feed beneficial microbes, aiding in the treatment of dysbiosis.
Targeted prebiotics and probiotics can helping to support the gut flora and improve antimicrobial effects of the herbs.
Apart from that I think anything that helps with your symptoms should be investigated. For me it was a reduction in refined carbohydrates.
Now I want to hear from you. Have you had any experience with gut symptoms? Share your thoughts below