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Attack of the Biofilms


Anton van Leeuwenhoek, a dry-goods merchant who would leave his mark on history as inventor of the microscope, is viewing a microscopic world no one has ever before viewed—including the hidden biological world adhering to his own teeth—what he calls "animalcules," a sort of film adhering to the enamel. Appalled at his own dirty dental health, he grabbed a nearby bottle of vinegar and engaged in a thorough cleaning of his teeth and then did another scraping.

The vinegar killed only the outer film. In the incrustation, he found a well-colonized tenacious layer of "animalcules."

What Leeuwenhoek was viewing was what scientists now call biofilms—entire bacterial communities that can take up residence almost anywhere—in machinery, plumbing, ships' hulls, even catheters and stents used for medical procedures.

Scientists believe that biofilms are the cause of many chronic infectious disease states—including chronic ear and urinary-tract infections (UTIs) as well as gum disease. In fact, biofilms may be involved in as many as 65 percent of all human bacterial infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in Atlanta.

Although in its early stage of development, a biofilm is actually just a group of disparate unorganized cells, as their population grows, the cells seem to have an almost insidious survival instinct. The bacteria send out signals and begin to reorganize into colonies shaped like pillars, minarets and other structures, forming a veritable city of film. Banded together, their resistance to antibiotics and antimicrobials becomes greatly magnified—perhaps as much as 1,000 times greater, scientists estimate. They even alter proteins in their cell walls to evade antibiotics that would have targeted particular proteins. Furthermore, the slime that they secrete acts much like a coat of armor and further protects them.


Because these colonies are so intractable once established and may be the cause of chronic urinary tract and yeast infections, as well as gingivitis or even damaged arteries, modern science is working hard to find ways to counter biofilm. One thought is to disrupt the communications of the biofilm colonies, thus interfering with genetic alterations that stimulate release of protective slime and changes in protein structure.

Other researchers have discovered a plant that grows in saltwater, Delisea pulchra, that resists biofilm formation. Its protective chemical is a furanone. Scientists have since created more than 60 different types of furanones, all of which inhibit biofilm formation.


Nature's pharmacy also offers strategies that can enable sufferers of chronic urinary tract infections and gingivitis to fight back against biofilm.

Take the isoquinoline alkaloids found in goldenseal, barberry and Oregon grape. The most widely studied member of this family is berberine. Although berberine is known to have a very pronounced antibiotic effect, its ability to vanquish strains of bacteria may be more related to inhibition of the adhesion of pathogens to host tissues. For example, berberine causes certain bacteria such as streptococci to lose their lipoteichoic acid, a chemical that enables the bacterium to attach to the body's tissues and, even more important to fighting biofilm, dissolves the chemicals already connecting bacteria to tissues. This may be why these herbs, that are so rich in berberine, are ideal for treating so many common infectious states including "strep throat."

There is also a good reason why persons suffering from chronic urinary tract infections or gum disease receive benefits from pure cranberry juice and cranberry juice extracts. Cranberry's chemicals also inhibit the initial adherence of bacterial plaque. For example, in the case of gum disease, dental plaque depends initially on bacterial adhesion. However, cranberry's active constituents were able to reverse the coaggregation of 49 (58 percent) of 84 coaggregating bacterial pairs tested in a recent experimental study.

There may be good reason why urinary tract and yeast infections persist and why gingivitis seems to be an ongoing problem in so many sufferers. Sometime in the not too distant future modern medicine may be able to vanquish biofilm. But for now, if your doctor prescribes antibiotics or if you are simply dealing with chronic infections, try using a formula like Phyto-Biotic™ either alone or with antibiotics to prevent further bacterial adhesion and to help dissolve some of the already existing adhesions.

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