Mycoplasma and Autoimmune Disease
New theories suggest that a “stealth” bacteria called mycoplasma may play a significant part in autoimmune disease.
by Sarah Tomley
Mycoplasma: A Possible Cause of Autommune Disease?The cause of most autoimmune diseases are unknown, and scientists suspect that they may have multiple origins. However, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that chronic infections may play a significant role in both autoimmune and degenerative diseases. These infections may help to cause the disease, which continues after their disappearance, or they may act as co-factors in the disease process, or they may be opportunistically “tagging on” to the autoimmune or degenerative disease, increasing sickness and complications.
Which Autoimmune and Degenerative Diseases are Associated With Infections?
Many autommune diseases have been found to coexist with infections, including rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and multiple sclerosis (1). An article in Natural Immunology (2) notes that certain associations have long been proven, including streptococci and rheumatic fever, Borrelia burgdorfii and Lyme arthritis, coxsackieviruses and myocarditis, and rubella and type 1 diabetes.
One particular type of bacteria that is coming under increasing scrutiny for its possible role in autoimmune and degenerative disease are mycoplasma. These bacteria were first found to be associated with autoimmune disorders in the 1970s (3). Mycoplasma are “stealth bacteria” living inside human cells, that are known to be able to migrate from a disease site to other areas of the body, causing additional disease. Like chlamydia and borrelia, mycoplasma can invade almost every tissue in the human body, compromise the immune system, permit opportunistic infections by other pathogens, and even damage or kill nerve cells.
Interestingly, tests have shown (4) that women suffer from higher levels of mycoplasma infection than men by a ratio of 4:1, reflecting a gender difference that is also found among many forms of autoimmune diseases. However, many scientists currently believe that the gender ratios of autoimmune disease is most likely to relate either to sex steroid effects or the X-chromosome (8).
What are Mycoplasma?
Mycoplasma are the smallest known free-living micro-organisms, and they exist in several different forms during their lifecycle, which makes them especially hard to kill. They have no cell wall, but are covered by a membrane that regulates their permeability and allows them to stick to the membranes of blood vessels and nerve tissue. This outer layer contains lipopolysaccharides (LPSs), which are known to trigger the human immune response and cytokine production, in turn leading to inflammation.
How do Mycoplasma Infect the Body?
Certain types of respiratory infection, including types of pneumonia, are caused by mycoplasma, and during the infection the bacteria can migrate to infect first other airways (causing diseases such as tracheobronchitis, asthma and pharyngitis) and then almost any other area of the body. Mycoplasma is associated with disorders of the skin, blood, nervous system, cardiovascular system, joints, liver and pancreas. It has been found in the heart tissues of people suffering from coronary heart disease (5), and in the cerebrospinal fluid of people suffering from diseases as diverse as meningitis (6) to Alzheimer’s (7). It has also been linked as a cause or co-factor to rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ME, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, lupus and diabetes. The type of disease this bacteria causes seems to depend only on which cells of the body it has migrated to and invaded.
Are there Symptoms Before Major Disease Develops?
Mycoplasma and chlamydia (a similar organism) can cause symptoms wherever they migrate to, but in such as way that they are virtually non-diagnosable. People may suffer from muscle or joint pains, fatigue, sore eyes, headaches and fainting, asthma, high blood pressure, chronic sore throat and/or many other symptoms that can be mistaken for other diseases, or even thyroid conditions. Since the thyroid can itself be attacked by mycoplasma or chlamydia, these bacteria can cause thyroid disease in several forms, including Hashimoto’s disease. As the bacteria slowly invade greater areas of the body and at greater depth, so disease worsens.
“Immunological reactions against Mycoplasma pneumoniae in multiple sclerosis: preliminary findings.” Maida, E; Journal of Neurology; 1983; 229.
“Autoimmunity provoked by infection: how good is the case for T cell epitope mimicry?” Benoist C, Mathis D.; Nat Immunol. 2001 Sep;2(9):797-801.
“Mycoplasmas – Stealth Pathogens”, L. Taylor
“Autoimmune diseases caused by mycoplasmas” Harold W. Clark, PhD, Mycoplasma Research Institute Florida
“Detection of Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydia pneumoniae in ruptured atherosclerotic plaques”; Higuchi ML, et.al., Braz J Med Biol Res. 2000 Sep;33(9):1023-6.
“Neurological symptoms in patients whose cerebrospinal fluid is culture- and/or polymerase chain reaction-positive for Mycoplasma pneumoniae”; Socan M,. Clin Infect Dis. 2001 Jan 15;32(2):E31-5.
“Neurologic manifestations of Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections: diverse spectrum of diseases.”; Smith R, et.al., Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2000 Apr;39(4):195-201.
“The Autoimmune Diseases”, Noel Rose & Ian Mackay, Academic Press, 4th Ed, p.275