by Dr. Bill Rawls
Last Updated 10/25/16
Mycoplasma is the stealthiest of all stealth microbes. It may be a major player in many chronic diseases associated with aging, but remarkably, most people, including most doctors, have limited awareness of it.
Mycoplasma is the smallest of all bacteria. 4,000 of them can fit inside one red blood cell in your body (only 10-15 of average sized bacteria would fit). It is a parasite—it cannot live without a host. Unlike other bacteria, mycoplasmas do not have a protective cell wall. This interesting strategy of survival allows them to change their shape and fit into areas where other bacteria cannot go. It also allows them to slip inside cells of the host. Not having a cell wall makes mycoplasma completely resistant to many types ofantibiotics.
There are over 200 known types of mycoplasma (and probably many yet to be discovered) that can infect both animals and plants. It is highly adaptable and can jump species and adapt to new hosts very readily.
There are at least 23 different varieties of mycoplasma that can infect humans (and counting). A few of them are considered harmless normal flora, but most have the potential to cause disease.
Mycoplasma are spread by biting insects (ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, biting flies), sexual contact, contaminated food, and airborne droplets. Most everyone has been exposed to some form of mycoplasma. Mycoplasma (several species) have been closely linked to many chronic degenerative diseases.
Mycoplasma is a master of manipulating and outmaneuvering the host’s immune system. Half of its genetic makeup is devoted to that exclusive purpose. It has little ability to cause direct harm to the host, but it can use the host’s immune function to its own advantage.
Everything that this stealthy microbe needs for survival (vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids) must be scavenged from the host; it makes nothing itself. To gain access to needed resources, mycoplasma generate inflammation in the body by manipulating the signaling mechanisms of the immune system (called cytokines). Inflammation breaks down tissues and allows the bacteria to gain access to the host’s resources. Mitochondria are prime targets for energy; fatigue is always a factor in mycoplasma infections.
Mycoplasma favor infecting the cells of tissues that line different areas of the body. Common sites of infection include nasal passages, sinuses, lungs, the lining of the intestinal tract, the genital tract, vesicles inside the brain, and the synovial lining of joints. They also commonly infect white blood cells, red blood cells, and brain tissue. Different mycoplasma have a preference for certain tissues, but all mycoplasma species possess the ability to infect any type of tissue and all organ systems.
The most common mycoplasma, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, has preference for lung tissue. Initial infection with M. pneumoniae typically causes pharyngitis (sore throat), cough, fever, headache, malaise, rhinitis (runny nose); all the common symptoms of a basic upper respiratory infection. If the person’s immune system is not full strength, it can progress to bronchitis and even pneumonia (about 20% of pneumonias). The type of pneumonia caused by mycoplasma (often called “walking pneumonia”) is rarely severe enough to result in hospitalization, though it can drag on for weeks or even months.
Clearing of respiratory symptoms, however, may not be the end of the story. After mycoplasma enters the body through a prefered infection site, it also infects white blood cells. Once inside a white blood cell, it can be carried to all parts of the body and infect other tissues and organs.
The lungs are certainly not the only way for mycoplasma to enter the body. Some species of mycoplasma have a preference for causing genital infections. Others can be spread by ticks and several species of mycoplasma are commonly found in the intestines. Initial infection sites are not absolutely species-specific, however. Mycoplasma pneumoniae has been known to cause genital infections and other mycoplasma that typically infect the genitals have been found in the stomach.
No matter where the initial infection occurs, any species of mycoplasma has the potential to spread throughout the body.
- Genital infections are most common with four species of mycoplasma (M. hominis, M. genitalium, Ureaplasma urealyticum, U. parvum), but other species of mycoplasma can be spread sexually and cause genital symptoms. Genital infection with mycoplasma can cause UTI symptoms (burning and pain with urination) in both male and female. Typically the urine culture is negative.
- Genital mycoplasma has been associated with prostatitis, kidney infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical infection, and infertility (male and female). In pregnancy, mycoplasma has been associated with premature rupture of membranes, miscarriage, growth retardation, and postpartum infection. The genital area is an entry point for mycoplasma and can lead to systemic infection.
- M. pneumoniae is the most common mycoplasma to be associated with respiratory infections, but other species of mycoplasma also are found. Mycoplasma has been associated with childhood asthma. The feeling of needing to “catch breath” in fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, and chronic fatigue may be related to mycoplasma.
The potential for widespread infection, however, is very much influenced by the status of immune function. If immune function is optimal, the microbe is contained after the initial infection and no long term harm occurs. Studies from different areas of the world suggest that 30-70% of people carry at least one species of mycoplasma without having symptoms. It essentially becomes like a normal flora (non-threatening microbes found on the skin, in the gut, and in body cavities).
Most mycoplasma species are not normal flora, however. They are just waiting for an opportunity. If immune function slips for whatever reason, chronic systemic infection becomes possible. Infection can occur in any tissue or organ of the body where mycoplasma can scavenge vital nutrients. Mycoplasma are very efficient scavengers; any mycoplasma species can infect any organ system in the body. This causes a wide range of symptoms that are completely unrelated to the initial infection.
The general breakdown of tissues by stealth microbes accelerates the aging process and is likely a primary factor in many, if not most, chronic degenerative diseases.
- Mycoplasma commonly infects the synovial lining of joints (lining protecting the joint). 90% of people with rheumatoid arthritis test positive for mycoplasma in the synovial fluid. The most common mycoplasma species associated with rheumatoid arthritis is M. fermentans, but M. pneumoniae and other species have also been found. Mycoplasma or other stealth microbes may be an underlying factor in most forms of arthritis.
- Mycoplasma scavenge fats from the myelin sheath covering nerve tissue. Not surprisingly, mycoplasma (and other stealth microbes including chlamydia and borrelia) have been linked to multiple sclerosis. Mycoplasma has been closely linked to other neurodegenerative diseases including ALS (M. fermentans is most common) and Parkinson’s disease.
- Mycoplasma has been found in the bone marrow of children with leukemia.
- Mycoplasma has been found in cancer tissue, including cervical and ovarian cancer.
- Finding mycoplasma in cervical cancer suggests that it may be a cofactor in cervical cancer, along with human papillomavirus (HPV). (Mycoplasma has been demonstrated to facilitate the entry of certain viruses into cells.)
- Mycoplasma as a top candidate for explaining autoimmunity; it stimulates host self-damage and that it can live inside cells while simultaneously turning off the ability of the immune system to recognize the cell as abnormal. Mycoplasma has been linked to many autoimmune diseases; which disease occurs is dependent on the genetic profile of the person and other stealth microbes that may be involved.
Stealth microbes are a stronger force together than when alone. In other words, mycoplasma may not be a problem unless another stealth microbe (or microbes) is present. Lyme disease may be a good example of this phenomenon.
Mycoplasma is a common Lyme coinfection (75% or more of Lyme disease cases). Mycoplasma is known to be carried and spread by ticks, but it is also possible that mycoplasma is already present in the body when a tick bite carrying borrelia occurs. Immune compromise caused by the new tick-borne infection (and possible other coinfections) allows mycoplasma to flourish and cause symptoms. Most symptoms that occur in Lyme disease can be caused by mycoplasma.
Beyond Lyme disease, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue patients often test positive for at least one species of mycoplasma (along with other stealth microbes). A high percentage of Gulf War Syndrome sufferers test positive for different varieties of mycoplasma (along with other stealth microbes).
If you draw circles around the symptoms of Lyme disease, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia, those circles deeply overlap. Symptoms that can be caused by mycoplasma sit right in the middle of those overlapping circles.
- Muscle pain from breakdown of muscle fibers is common with systemic mycoplasma infection. Joint and muscle involvement may be the cause of pain in fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue.
- Intestinal mycoplasma infection causes destruction of villi and compromise of the intestinal barrier. This allows accelerated damage by lectins in grains (especially wheat), beans, soy, nightshade vegetables, and dairy).
- Mycoplasma is commonly found in biopsies of intestinal lining in Crohn’s disease sufferers. Very likely, mycoplasma contributes to leaky gut and food sensitivities common to Lyme disease, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia. Severe mycoplasma intestinal infection can lead to nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.
- Infection of gastric mucosa (stomach lining) can cause chronic gastritis with nausea and stomach discomfort.
- Nerve involvement can be associated with burning and tingling in hands and feet. Brain inflammation, contributing to insomnia, brain fog, anxiety, and depression, is common with systemic mycoplasma infection.
- Mycoplasma infection has been associated with hearing loss and ringing in the ears.
- Involvement of eyes (mostly children) can cause discomfort and lead to vision loss.
- Mycoplasma infection can be associated with anemia and vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels).
- Skin rashes, most commonly hives (itching red rash that comes and goes) are not unusual.
The biggest problem with diagnosing mycoplasma is that we still don’t have a good handle on it. PCR is the best way to test for mycoplasma, but testing is species specific and focused on diagnosing acute respiratory or genital mycoplasma infections.
Another problem with diagnosing mycoplasma is that medical science does not recognize chronic mycoplasma infections as being significant. Even though mycoplasma is commonly found in association with chronic degenerative diseases, it is also found in ⅓ – ⅔ of any population without causing symptoms. In other words, it is assumed that mycoplasma just happens to be there, but isn’t really a factor in disease.
This type of thinking is simply a reflection of not understanding how stealth microbes operate. Mycoplasma does not cause disease unless it has an opportunity. Individuals with a healthy immune system can harbor mycoplasma and suffer few ill effects. If immune function is disrupted by environmental factors or coinfection with other stealth microbes, however, mycoplasma can definitely contribute to chronic disease.
When testing for mycoplasma, it is best to order a complete mycoplasma panel, which will include M. fermentans, M. genitalium, M. hominis, M. penetrans, M. pneumoniae, M. synoviae, and Ureaplasma urealyticum. But…these are only the common known species of mycoplasma; other lesser known species could also be present.
Another problem with testing is that there are other stealth microbes that can be associated with chronic infections with similar symptoms. The list of knowns includes Yersinia enterocolitica, Chlamydophila pneumoniae, Chlamydia trachomatis, Campylobacter jejuni, and the Lyme coinfections including babesia, bartonella, ehrlichia, and anaplasma (multiple species of each).
Complete testing for the full range of stealth microbes can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Possibly the best course of action is assuming mycoplasma and other stealth microbes are there. Stealth microbes only cause problems when immune function is suppressed. Addressing the causes of the underlying Chronic Immune Dysfunction is the most effective solution for overcoming infections with stealth microbes.
Overcoming Chronic Mycoplasma Infection
The nature of mycoplasma makes it very resistant to conventional therapies. Mycoplasma does not have a cell wall, rendering several classes of antibiotics as completely ineffective. Other classes of antibiotics provide limited benefit in acute infections, but little benefit for chronic systemic infections.
The best alternative is supporting the natural healing potential of the body. Artificially created food products, petrochemicals and other toxics, artificial sources of radiation, and the stress of modern life disrupt immune function and allow stealth microbes like mycoplasma to flourish. Minimizing these factors is an essential step for controlling the present epidemic of chronic diseases like Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, fatigue syndromes, and autoimmune diseases.
Adequate nutritional support is very important for chronic mycoplasma infection. Replacing the nutrients that mycoplasma scavenge is essential for recovery. Sometimes this is challenging because of damage to the gut. Food sensitivities, including lectin sensitivities must be addressed. The recovery diet must be rich in healthful fats, protein, and low in carbohydrate. Natural anti-inflammatory substances, such as ginger, that suppress mycoplasma and heal the gut are important.
Natural herbal therapy is the best therapeutic alternative for chronic mycoplasma. Herbs(especially medicinal mushrooms) suppress cytokine cascades, reduce inflammation, restore normal immune function, and suppress a wide range of stealth microbes.
Dr. Rawls is a physician who overcame Lyme disease through natural herbal therapy. You can learn more about mycoplasma in Dr. Rawls’ new best selling book, Unlocking Lyme.
1. K Waites and D Talkington, Mycoplasma pneumoniae and its Role as a Human Pathogen, Oct 2004, Clinical Microbiology Reviews
2. Hakkarainen, Turrunen, Miettinen, Kaitik, and Jannson, Mycoplasmas and Arthritis, Ann Rheu Dis, 1992, Oct 5 (11): p. 1170-1172
3. Baseman, Joel, et.al., Mycoplasmas: Sophisticated, Reemerging, and Burdened by Their Notoriety, CDC, Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vol 3, No.1, Feb 1997
4. Leslie Taylor, ND, Mycoplasmas – Stealth Pathogens (Review article), Jan 2001
5. Razin, Yogev, Naot, Molecular Biology and Pathogenicity of Mycoplasmas, Microbiol Mol Biol Rev, 1998, Dec; 62(4): p. 1094-1156
6. J Rivera-Tapia, N Rodriguez-Preval, Possible role of mycoplasmas in pathogenesis of gastrointestinal diseases, Rev Biomed 2006 17: 132-139
7. Berghoff, W, Chronic Lyme Disease and Co-infections: Differential Diagnosis, Open Neurol J., 2012, 6, p. 158-178
8. Gilroy, Keat, Taylor-Robinson, The Prevalence of Mycoplasma fermentans in patients with arthritides, Rheumatology, Vol 40 (12), p. 1355-1358
9. Zhang et al, Mycoplasma fermentans infection promotes immortalization of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells in culture, Blood 104 (13), p. 4252-4259
10. Walter Berghoff, Chronic Lyme Disease and Co-infections: Differential Diagnosis, Open Neurol J, 2012, 6: p. 158-178
11. Buhner S H, Healing Lyme Disease Coinfections, Healing Arts Press, Copyright 2013