Overuse of Antibiotics, Compromised Immunity and the Psoas

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In writing about caring for loved ones, I documented a healing journey with my mother’s cousin after her cancer diagnosis. Not at peace with the radiation, chemo and colostomy offered her by conventional medicine, Rose was motivated to look for alternative approaches to healing cancer. She chose to follow Chris Wark’s Square One Healing Cancer Coaching Program, mastered my liver/colon detox and coffee enemas, and added ozone therapy with daily rectal ozone insufflation. And she walked every day to keep the blood and lymph moving; she walked on the beach, in the park, and bounced on a rebounder. She got plenty of sunshine for Vitamin D. As a result of her efforts, Rose dumped almost 10 lbs of toxic waste from her body, healed her chronic constipation and indigestion, and she looked great and felt strong. She seemed to be healing well until…wham. Rose was back in the hospital for a psoas muscle abscess that none of us saw coming.

When Rose landed in the hospital, new images showed the cancer had not spread, the cancer did not metastasize, the tumor had even shrunk by half a centimeter, and the rectal wall tissue where the tumor was located had become smooth instead of irritated. Furthermore, there was no bowel perforation from the tumor, or fistula. Rose had a different problem—she had an intra-abdominal infection of the muscle that connects the low back to the femur, and extends through the pelvis and abdomen .

It took a painful two weeks, several doctors, and two different hospitals to diagnose a hard-to-diagnose and often misdiagnosed psoas abscess. Once it was found, doctors put in a drainage tube, and Rose began a 3-week IV antibiotic treatment. Rose had been describing intense hip pain, but nothing was wrong with her hip. It was a relief to finally know what was causing her pain, but we were all surprised. Rose's chronic infection seemed to come out of the blue without warning signs, such as a fever. It took us weeks to cognize what she was experiencing. 

Rose was immune compromised. She had no fever because her immune system was not able to respond to the infection.

Suddenly Rose’s lifelong history of antibiotics use was up in everyone's consciousness. In retrospect, it had been excessive. Amoxicillin was her go to for every cold and flu since she was a child, and later in life she had a history of elective surgeries that each required antibiotics, some a lot of antibiotics, like double knee replacements. Rose had no immune system left. As a result, antibiotic-resistant pathogenic bacteria had cultured inside her abdomen. 

Psoas abscess is typically associated with some of the most antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria known—including mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (a form of gut tuberculosis), staphylococcus aureus (known as MRSA when antibiotic resistant) and e. coli. MAP, Staph and e. coli are all common in the environment, partly due to unsanitary factory farming—including dirty dairy and cattle farms that rely on antibiotics to clean up the mess, partly due to overuse of antibiotics at home, and partly due to overuse of antibiotics in hospitals that correspond to an increase of elective surgeries and surgeries in general. For Rose it was double knee replacement surgery. For a younger woman it could be a medically unnecessary C-section. For another woman it might be breast implants. For a lot of people, it’s a gallbladder surgery—the most common surgery among Americans (that’s another blog). Whatever the surgery was, it came with antibiotics. A lot of them.

In the U.S., some children are born into antibiotics. Pregnant and nursing mother’s should be especially careful, as they can transfer toxic doses of antibiotics to newborns and infants. This explains why psoas abscess has been found in children too, often misdiagnosed as septic arthritis of the hip. Psoas abscesses are often found both after or before a diagnosis of a cancer, Crohn’s or diverticulitis. In other words, chronic antibiotic-resistant infections and cancer have something in common. They can both show up in someone who is immune compromised.

The correlation between antibiotics and immune compromise has not gone unnoticed by folks in medicine. Everyone from the CDC to the World Health Organization has documented and warned against the overuse of antibiotics in human medicine and agriculture, and the consequences of culturing more and more antibiotic-resistant strains that are harder and harder to treat. The correlation of antibiotic overuse and cancer has been well documented.

If you are a person who knows you’ve already taken too many antibiotics in your life, I hope you’re still reading. Because becoming immunocompromised from antibiotic overuse can start a cascade into a variety of chronic conditions. Including chronic infections. Including cancer. Including ulcerative colitis. Even including diabetes. Even dementia.

Why the psoas muscle? Because this muscle is easily injured over a lifetime, making it susceptible to infection when the immune system breaks down. It is surrounded by venous and lymphatic fluids that pathogenic bacteria travel in, and is physically proximal to the intestines that can become infected and inflamed from insults to the gut microbiome. Also known as the iliopsoas, this key muscle connects the top of the femur with the entire lumbar spine up to the 12th thoracic vertebrae. It is the muscle that allows us to stand up vertically and walk upon the Earth. To lift our legs. To bend over without falling. It is a muscle that we easily overuse and strain, and equally underuse by sitting too much, allowing it to become atrophied and undeveloped and even more susceptible to injury. It is connected to the diaphragm, and so to our breathing. And it creates the pelvic shelf that our internal abdominal organs rest on. It’s the support structure for the gut.

The psoas muscle is also the carrier of so many of our emotional memories and traumas. It is tied to fear and anxiety—part of our fight or flight response. So it is connected to all the times we had to run for our lives, or stand our ground, or clench on impact. The times we were cradled and open and loving, and then were betrayed or violated. Traumatic births. Sports injuries. Car crashes. Falls. There are so many ways to bruise, strain and tear our psoas muscle—physically, emotionally and psychically. Because they’re all connected.

Be gentle with yourself as you move your pelvic bowl through spacetime. It’s a gentle fragile bowl of bone with legs—allowing us to walk and run through the landscapes of our lifetime. What a miracle is in the pelvis and abdomen, and the unbelievably strong psoas muscle is part of that miracle. If you sit too much, stand up or lie down and do some psoas strengthening and stretching exercises. Take a walk.

And if you overuse antibiotics so you can keep running around instead of slow down and heal what ails you, let go of the attachment to antibiotics as your first defense or as a cure all. Learn the natural remedies and prevention practices you are supposed to use before getting to systemic antibiotics that damage our healthy microbiome and breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Take care of yourself, because intra-abdominal psoas abscesses, like intestinal and colon cancers and ulcerative colitis, are on the rise among the immune compromised. And in a culture that overuses antibiotics, immune compromise is becoming an all too common state of being.

Choosing to heal without antibiotics is a personal decision and healing journey that each of us may have to make when we become ill and are offered a prescription. Learn about building natural immunity in our Natural Immunity List. You can also read about my personal journey healing with ozone and Beta 1,3D Glucan rather than antibiotics for a dental abscess in another blog post, “Healing without Antibiotics.”