Chronic vector-borne illnesses, defined as illnesses spread by ticks and other biting insects, are rising dramatically, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). (1) Ticks and other biting insects carry a wide array of infectious microbes and can transmit those microbes into our bloodstreams when they bite us. Some people who are bitten will get sick from the microbes; a proportion of those affected may also experience ongoing, persistent symptoms related to these pesky infectious bugs.
The health effects from vector-borne illnesses run the gamut, but some common symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Neck stiffness
- Skin irritations
- Heartbeat abnormalities
- Shortness of breath
- Numbness and tingling
- Cognitive issues, including poor memory
The fact that these microbes are difficult to eradicate is nothing new to those of us suffering from tick bites. However, managing chronic symptoms can feel like a full time job. One natural tool that many practitioners and tick bite recipients have learned to appreciate are intestinal binding agents like charcoal and bentonite clay. These natural compounds can bind toxins in the gut to help minimize symptoms by effectively “capturing” microbes and supporting their removal through the GI tract.
Read on to learn how intestinal binders can play a central role in the management and recovery from tick-borne microbial imbalances.
Endotoxin, Released by Dying Microbes, Disrupts Detox
Chronic infections disrupt gut function and trigger an unproductive inflammatory response by releasing harmful bacterial byproducts, including a potent substance called endotoxin. Borrelia burgdorferi, the microbe that causes the prominent vector-borne infection Lyme disease, does not make endotoxin but does produce a similar compound, peptidoglycan, with unwanted inflammatory properties. (2)
As bacteria die in response to antibiotic and antimicrobial herbal therapies, they release substances such as endotoxin and peptidoglycan. However, if not eliminated promptly, these substances can circulate throughout the body, triggering widespread inflammation. (3) Interestingly, endotoxin has been tied to “brain fog,” a lack of mental clarity and inability to focus, that may occur during antimicrobial therapies. (4) Other possible effects of circulating microbes include headaches, joint pain, and malaise.
Dying microbes like endotoxin riles up the immune system and breaks down the intestinal barrier, the layer of intestinal cells that separates the inside of the gut from your blood circulation. An unhealthy gut and inflammatory activity, in turn, compromise detoxification by bogging down your most crucial pathway for detoxification — your gut and stool!
Altogether, chronic infections and traditional treatments for these conditions can compromise detox and make some sufferers feel worse, not better! Enter binders, an alternative solution for decreasing the body’s toxic burden, opening detox pathways, and facilitating healing.
Natural Binders Support Healing from Lingering Infections
Intestinal binders are substances that bind onto toxins in the gut, preventing them from being recirculated between the gut, liver, and bloodstream. When toxins repeatedly cycle between these systems, in a process referred to as “enterohepatic circulation,” they continue to exert toxic effects on the body.
Intestinal binders stop this vicious circle by mopping up a variety of toxins in the gut, including microbial toxins related to persistent infections, and ushering them out of the body via the stool.
Binders also bind heavy metals and mycotoxins, which may compromise a healthy immune response. (5) Removing these environmental toxins may allow the immune system to finally fire “on all cylinders,” better addressing these ongoing infectious stressors.
So, what are some examples of intestinal binders? Here are just a few:
- Activated charcoal: Activated charcoal, often made from coconut shells or bamboo, contains millions of tiny pores that capture toxins including metals, bacterial endotoxin, and mycotoxins, in the gut. (6, 7) Hospitals and emergency rooms have long used activated charcoal to treat cases of poisoning in children and adults. It is well-tolerated and readily excreted in the stool.
- Chitosan: Chitosan is a water-soluble polysaccharide derived from the outer skeleton of shellfish. It binds heavy metals and microbes and may also support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which play crucial roles in the immune system. (8, 9)
- Bentonite clay: Bentonite clay is a creamy gray volcanic ash. Each molecule has a vast surface area capable of binding to numerous harmful substances, including heavy metals, mold toxins, and endotoxin. (10)
- Zeolite: Zeolite is a collection of aluminosilicate minerals (aluminum bound to silicon and oxygen) that have a high binding capacity for various ions, including heavy metal ions. Zeolite is plentiful in kaolin clay and other types of naturally-occurring clays. It binds strongly to ammonia, a waste product of protein metabolism that can compromise brain function in excess, and mycotoxins,substances produced by environmental molds that are harmful to human health. (11)
If you are healing your body from a lingering infection, intestinal binders should be a central part of your protocol. By mopping up inflammatory microbial byproducts and other potentially harmful toxins, binders can offset the side effects of microbial-balancing treatments and bring your immune system online, allowing you to better fight off foreign invaders.