by Dr. Bill Rawls
Things often come around.
Early in my career practicing Ob/Gyn, I became aware of a subset of patients who suffered from a condition called interstitial cystitis (IC), sometimes referred to as painful bladder syndrome.
People with interstitial cystitis feel like they have a bladder infection that never goes away. It doesn’t respond to antibiotics, and urine cultures are typically negative. Because these patients are often treated repeatedly with antibiotics, however, they frequently end up having chronic urinary tract infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria induced by taking antibiotics. The condition occurs more often in women than men at a 5:1 ratio.
Interstitial cystitis is considered idiopathic — cause unknown. It is notoriously difficult to treat. I developed a special compassion for these people because no other physicians wanted to see them. For years, I searched for solutions, but my efforts were focused primarily on relieving symptoms — gains were minimal and short-lasting.
The Lyme Connection
Interestingly, with my professional interests now focused on chronic Lyme disease, I’m starting to hear from chronic Lyme patients who suffer from bladder pain and symptoms consistent with IC. I’m also hearing from men with chronic Lyme who have bladder symptoms and chronic prostatitis (chronic infection of the prostate gland).
And, interestingly, remembering back to patients from the past, sufferers of IC frequently had chronic pain in other areas of the body. Many of them also had fatigue and symptoms common to fibromyalgia and chronic Lyme disease.
This makes me believe there has to be a microbial connection. Borrelia, the microbe commonly associated with Lyme disease, could be a culprit. However, I would lay odds on mycoplasma and a closely related bacterium called ureaplasma. About 75% of chronic Lyme disease sufferers have been found to harbor at least one species of mycoplasma.
It fits. Mycoplasma and ureaplasma are the smallest of all bacteria. They are obligate intracellular microbes — which means they must live inside cells of a host to survive. They typically infect linings of the body — linings of lungs, intestines, joints, and the urinary tract.
Different species of mycoplasma and ureaplasma prefer certain areas of the body, but any species of these microbes can be found in different places the body. The most common species found in the urinary and reproductive tract are Ureaplasma urealyticum and Mycoplasma hominis. These microbes typically spread sexually, but they can be acquired by other routes. Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a frequent cause of respiratory infections, can also be found in the urinary tract.
Mycoplasma and ureaplasma are notoriously difficult to culture. Twenty-five years ago, when I first started practicing medicine, routine testing for mycoplasma and ureaplasma was not available. That’s starting to change — DNA testing has become more reliable, and providers are testing for these microbes more routinely.
And they are finding them — not just in symptomatic patients, but also commonly in people with no symptoms.
That makes things complicated — mycoplasma and ureaplasma are commonly found in the urinary tracts of people who don’t have symptoms. It turns out that it’s actually a very common microbe. Some experts have even defined it as a normal flora. This is why many experts discount the connection between mycoplasma/ureaplasma and bladder problems.
It presents the same kind of conundrum found in chronic Lyme disease — why do some people with these microbes develop symptoms and others do not?
What I didn’t know 25 years ago that I learned from understanding chronic Lyme disease is that the immune system is the key. If people have robust immune function, they can harbor these microbes and not have symptoms. People become chronically ill only when a perfect storm of factors comes together to disrupt immune function, which allows the microbes to flourish.
Therefore the solution must go beyond killing or suppressing microbes — you must restore immune system functions to optimal levels to overcome this illness.
Overcoming Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma
Mycoplasma and ureaplasma respond poorly to synthetic antibiotics for the same reason that other microbes associated with chronic Lyme disease respond poorly to antibiotics — they live inside cells, grow very slowly, and occur in low concentrations in tissues. In addition, mycoplasma and ureaplasma do not have a typical cell wall and other characteristics common to bacteria.
To control them, you must suppress them for a very long time and boost immune function at the same time. If you try to do it with synthetic antibiotics, normal flora are disrupted long before the targeted microbes are eradicated.
Herbs provide a more practical solution. Herbs suppress these types of microbes, but do not disrupt normal flora, so they can be used for extended periods of time (months to years) without concern. Herbs also reduce inflammation and boost immune functions — especially natural killer cells important for eliminating cells infected with microbes.
My favorite herb for mycoplasma and ureaplasma in the urinary tract is anamu (Petiveria alliacea) because it is concentrated in the intestines and urinary tract. The dose I recommend is 1200 mg (2 – 600 mg capsules) twice daily. It is well tolerated with only noticeable side effect being a mild odor to urine and stool. The herb comes from South America, but is readily available from many manufacturers online.
Mullaca (Physalis angulata), another South American herb, is also good for mycoplasma species. It can be taken as a complement to amamu. It can be found online as a loose powder (add to smoothies or make your own capsules) or tincture, as well.
Stephen Buhner, in his book defining therapy for mycoplasma, recommends Chinese skullcap, Isatis, Houttuynia, Sida acuta, and Cordyceps for a primary herbal protocol. I consider Cordyceps and Chinese skullcap to be part of a core protocol for chronic Lyme in general.
Individuals are reporting symptomatic relief of IC symptoms with use of essential oils rubbed into the pubic area several times a day. I have been recommending a formula of tea tree oil and frankincense oil mixed 1:4 in a carrier oil, such as jojoba or grapeseed oil. Recently, I’ve also been recommending adding cannabidiol oil (CBD) from hemp (most people benefit from 15-30 mg, one to three times a day). So far, people are reporting positive benefits.
The recovery protocol for overcoming mycoplasma and ureaplasma in the urinary tract mirrors recovery from chronic Lyme disease or any other condition associated with chronic immune dysfunction. Focusing on a specific microbe alone is not enough; immune system function must be restored. Primary antimicrobial herbs and immune modulating herbs, complemented by cultivation of a healing environment within the body, are your best allies in the fight against interstitial cystitis and Lyme disease.