Scientists at the UT Southwestern Medical Center have made a shocking discovery about the pathogenic bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Unlike any other known life form, Borrelia Burgdorferi has been shown able to exist without iron to facilitate enzyme and protein formations. Researchers have now discovered that in the absence of iron this bacteria is able to utilize manganese as a viable replacement. This new understanding may help researchers better understand the notorious persistence of Lyme Disease among many whom have been infected by it.
A Novel New Understanding
Lyme disease is caused by an infection with the bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi. This bacteria has been traditionally renowned for being transmitted by a species of tick. When caught early enough, Lyme disease is eradicated with a simple round of short-term antibiotics (traditional treatment). However, if left untreated it can progress into stage 2 or stage 3 Lyme disease which is notoriously hard to treat—leaving many to suffer horribly. Previous research had shown that Borrelia burgdorferi is found with atypically large amounts of manganese.1 These levels of manganese allow the bacteria to produce the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase, which is a ke component to pathogenic virulence. These types of molecules are produced to help cells of invading bacteria survive attacks from our immune system. This biodefense method is driven by iron in other organisms, and by signaling the reduction of iron our immune system effectively ‘starves’ dangerous bacteria out. The UT Southwestern scientists have shown Borrelia Burgdorferi to be able to use manganese as a substitution to iron for this process—helping to explain some of the mystery as to why Lyme is so notoriously difficult to treat.2
Iron Starving Immune System
Iron is an essential nutrient for most all life forms and is maintained in a somewhat delicate balance. Too little iron and we can become anemic and show signs of systemic biological dysfunction. Too much iron however, and excess damages from oxidative radicals can cause us harm as well. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle—considered to be our point of iron ‘homeostasis’. Our bodies’ usage of iron is largely noted as being a recycling process where the iron from old red blood cells are recycled for new use. Our iron homeostasis is maintained by a complex series of enzymes that are largely mediated by the liver. These systems are able to detect recycled iron and utilize it for future use. Dietary iron plays a much smaller role in our bodies’ overall use of iron and only around 2mg is though to be absorbed from food daily. This means that supplementation with iron or eating iron rich foods might not necessarily help boost overall iron levels, but that’s another story.
Our immune system is tough—really tough—and it has some really incredible ways of battling against things that mean us harm. One of the many ways its thought to fight pathogens is through the increased expression of a compound named hepcidin. This compound is responsible for regulating the about of iron we have flowing through our bodies. When it is found in higher levels, iron gets sort of ‘trapped’ and is unable to float freely about. Our immune system uses this iron-regulating action to lower iron levels and starve out pathogenic bacteria. Dysfunction of the HAMP gene can cause this process to be disrupted in some individuals, but for those without issue this type of immune response is generally very effective. 3 This new research from UT Southwestern offers some much needed insight into the pathogenesis of Lyme Disease—which will hopefully offer insight into future treatments.
Manganese and Iron are thought to be absorbed through similar cellular pathways. When an imbalance in one occurs, an imbalance in the other is likely. This could be illustrated as imagining each compound being a different color liquid being poured down a single drain. If there is an issue with the drain—there’ll be an issue with the drainage of both liquids. 4 Also, it could be said that if you are pouring one liquid more quickly into the drain, it might hamper the ability of the other liquid to enter as well. It turns out this is kind of the case with iron and manganese. A study of 26 women between the ages of 20-45 found that an increased amount of iron (measured as serum ferritin) was associated with a decreased amount manganese. 5 This describes a competing nature of the relationship between iron and manganese.. In many cases, it might be useful to add supplemental manganese as a means of further restricting available iron for pathogenic bacteria. Unfortunately it seems this wouldn’t work at all for Lyme disease—likely making the condition much worse. Working to lower manganese levels in addition to low iron levels is one potential approach for applying the information learned from this research. Many compounds such as Calcium, Magnesium, tannin, soy, and phosphorus have all shown the ability to impact manganese levels, and could conceivably be used for such approaches.6
There is a lot of controversy surrounding Lyme disease, its origins, its ways of spreading from host to host, and also effective treatments. Conventional thinking has regarded Lyme as being the result of a bacterial infection spread from a species of tick known as ‘deer ticks’. Lyme disease is thought to progress through different stages—each becoming more serious and more difficult to treat. It’s generally regarded as being effectively treated with short term antibiotics when caught early enough. More recent research has suggested that Lyme may be sexually transmitted as well—deepening the already controversial regards for the disease.7 Over the years many have speculated on the sudden appearance of the disease is such a isolated area. There have been shocking allegations that Lyme disease may have even been the result biological warfare research gone awry. As National Geographic notes, this theory is “compelling but controversial”. With newer insights into the ability of Borrelia Burgdorferi being able to survive without iron—the only known living organism to do so—once wild theories seem more plausible.
Lyme disease is a horrible—horrible—condition that still isn’t well-understood in its later stages. Research suggesting the bacteria responsible for Lyme is the only living organism not dependent on iron for survival is shocking. As mysterious as this newfound knowledge is, it can begin to start influencing future directions exploring more effective treatments for Lyme. Considering high supplementation with manganese-blocking compounds like magnesium, calcium, soy, or phosphorus may offer a novel approach in helping to fight Borrelia Burgdorferi’s iron circumvention. This would likely only be effective in cases of already low iron, and large quantities of supplementation. There is NO evidence available to directly support this notion, and it shouldn’t be entertained as a valid treatment option by anyone.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23376276 ↵
- http://www.pnas.org/content/106/9/3449.abstract ↵
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3085559/ ↵
- https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12640-009-9130-1 ↵
- http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/70/1/37.long ↵
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13883952 ↵
- https://www.lymedisease.org/lyme-sexual-transmission-2/ ↵