For the last year I feel like I’ve been a detective. To some it may seem as though I’m jumping from one health concern to another, trying on diagnoses and changing things up too much. But I assure anyone who doubts me that every step I’ve taken has been necessary. And in life I completely believe in serendipity and synchronicity. Everything that I’ve read or seen or heard has brought me to this point. I’m grateful for my excellent memory and my ability to stay positive and open-minded through just about anything. I hope that this story will encourage you to keep peeling back the layers of your own health mysteries and drawing connections. I hope that for others, my revelation will bring the same eureka moment that it did for me.
Last week I got some kind of bladder or urinary tract infection (UTI). I’m a woman, so they happen – though I can probably count on my hands how many I’ve had in my lifetime. I did an at home test kit, which came up positive and then went to my doctor the following day to give a sample. The labs took 24 hours and I proceeded to wait in extreme discomfort for the next day. That night the pain was so bad that I couldn’t sleep. At 3 am I finally got up, desperate for relief. The local urgent care centers were closed and I despise emergency room waits. My thoughts drifted to the package of antibiotics I had in my medicine cabinet, expired by now but still kept around in case of an emergency. They were leftover from our year-long trip around the world in 2011. The doctor had prescribed them in case of diarrheal illness but had also told me that they could double as UTI medication whenever I needed it.
Trying not to wake my husband I fumbled into the bathroom and shone the light of my cell phone over the packet. Noroxin, 400mg. My husband and I only got sick once on our trip and that was in Peru – we had to take both medications the travel medicine specialist had advised: Fasigyn (tinidazole) and Noroxin (norfloxacin). Norfloxacin. Hang on a minute. The four letters jumped out at me, reminding me of something I kept seeing in the various health groups of which I’m a member. Flox. People being floxed. Floxies. I dropped the packet.
Not only did we take the norfloxacin on that trip, I took it on at least one other occasion that I could remember. After we used it all up on our Peruvian adventure, I refilled the prescription in Colombia so we had more just in case. I can’t remember if I used it again on that trip but I do know that last year, right after my miscarriage, I took it again for what I was almost positive was a UTI. I had a horrible experience with my doctor in Norway, who yelled at me because I didn’t feel my Norwegian was good enough for a doctor’s visit to confirm my pregnancy and check my thyroid levels (she spoke fluent English). After the miscarriage there was no way I was going back to her. There was a month wait to get a new GP and private doctors in Norway are expensive and not included in the healthcare system for which we paid dearly. So I went for my UTI pills, having never heard of fluoroquinolone antibiotics, or even MTHFR, before.
It was after this that I started to feel like my body was crashing. I leapt from conclusion to conclusion. It was the miscarriage sending my hormones into a tailspin. Then it was MTHFR and the large doses of folic acid and cyanocobalamin I had been ignorantly poisoning myself with for the last year. The adrenal fatigue must have come from my years of undermedicated thyroid problems. My infertility must be caused by the toxins and latent viruses I had in my body. The neuropathy and tinnitus are from the MTHFR (that one came from my doctor). I realize now that the cause of most of these problems can almost certainly be attributed to one thing.
I was floxed.
Poisoned By Our Antibiotics?
Fluoroquinolones are a class of broad-spectrum antibiotics that have been around since the 1980s. Commonly prescribed for a wide array of illnesses, these drugs work like chemotherapy agents, disrupting DNA and destroying cells. They are fluorinated quinolones, meaning they administer the potent neurotoxin fluoride directly to your body’s tissues. I find it ironic that as someone who goes to great pains to avoid consuming fluoride because of my hypothyroidism, I unwittingly consumed huge doses of this chemical when I took the antibiotics. Fluoroquinolones are known to cause mitochondrial damage and oxidative stress, which can lead to a host of illnesses, including chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s and obesity. But the adverse reactions don’t stop there. A horde of symptoms have been reported by those suffering from Fluoroquinolone Toxicity, from somewhat minor disturbances to complete debilitation. They can be found in oral medications, ear drops, eye drops and even veterinary medications.
Fluoroquinolones can damage the peripheral nervous system, central nervous system, musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, skin and senses. Reactions can happen right away or can be delayed, sometimes for years after the person stopped taking the antibiotic. People also seem to have a “tolerance threshold,” with the cumulative effects of taking the drug over time leading to toxicity at any moment. The person becomes a ticking time bomb and if he or she does not become aware of the susceptibility or danger of the drug, the results can be disastrous. It is for this reason that these particular antibiotics should only be used in severe, life-threatening emergencies. Unfortunately they are often prescribed for more benign illnesses like UTIs and sinus infections, which will respond well to less dangerous antibiotics. A full list of fluoroquinolone antibiotics may be found here.
As my realization sunk in, I began to think about how many other people could be suffering from the variety of symptoms caused by these drugs and have no recollection of ever taking them. Think about it. Do you remember the name of every drug you’ve ever been prescribed? Particularly when considering hospital and emergency room visits. These days I avoid prescription drugs at all cost but that wasn’t always the case. And I know I’m far from the norm. Most people do not question their doctors. The first person I thought of as I waded through the list of adverse side effects was my grandmother, who has been suffering from severe insomnia, pain, tachycardia and acid reflux for a while now. She’s had every test and none of the doctors can figure out what is wrong aside from “old age.” I gave her a call.
“I’ve taken lots of Cipro,” she told me.
We began to talk about it. My great aunt, her sister, also has been having similar unexplained issues. And has also taken Cipro along with corticosteroids. Full doubt invaded my mind that it is just my long untreated MTHFR causing me to suddenly have neuropathy and tinnitus. There was no reason for me to have had such severity of fatigue last year or any of my other symptoms except for a drug reaction, knowing now that I took a drug that is known to cause those problems. Discovering and addressing my MTHFR no doubt hastened my recovery, lending even more credibility to the notion that a potent toxin caused my issues. To refresh, they were: fatigue, magnesium deficiency, tinnitus, brain fog, tingling and numbness in my hands (diagnosed neuropathy), anemia, insomnia, tachycardia, mitochondrial DNA damage (diagnosed by a research clinic I attend) and blood pressure fluctuations. All on the list of adverse reactions from fluoroquinolones.
Aside from causing mitochondria damage and severe oxidative stress to the body’s cells, it is thought that fluoroquinolones also interfere with the glutamate and GABA balance. Taking certain other drugs along with these antibiotics seem to worsen the effects. In particular, medications with methylxanthine derivatives and NSAIDs like fenbufen or BPAA can exacerbate toxicity in the central nervous system. These antibiotics actually carry black box warnings for tendinopathy (tendon rupture) and peripheral neuropathy since 2008 and 2004 respectively, though many doctors don’t seem to take them seriously. For some real-life stories, check out the comments in the linked article or at the website Floxie Hope.
So what happens when mitochondria become damaged? For floxed patients, the symptoms often manifest as other illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)/myalgic encephalopathy (ME) or autoimmune diseases. The symptoms vary from person to person but the cause is generally difficult to diagnose by standard medical tests. These patients might wonder for years what ailment is taking their lives away from them. And the fact that the mitochondria are involved has much to do with this variance in symptoms.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the case of Justina Pelletier, a 15-year old mitochondrial disease patient who is ensnared in a custody battle between her parents and Boston Children’s Hospital. The hospital wants custody because they accuse Justina’s parents of medical abuse, claiming that her symptoms are psychosomatic while the parents avow that the child needs care for her mitochondrial disorder.
Mitochondrial dysfunction is denied in many cases by the medical establishment, yet it is a real and prevalent threat to a person’s health. Mitochondria produce more than 90% of the energy in our cells by making adenosine triphosphate (ATP). So it makes sense that one of the marks of mitochondrial dysfunction is fatigue. They have their own DNA (mtDNA) and are responsible for several other essential processes. This can be a chronic, genetic disorder leading to a number of symptoms and predisposition to serious illnesses, or it can be instigated by drug reactions and other agents of mitochondrial damage. This radio program explains it quite well:
This article from Collective Evolution divides mitochondrial diseases into three categories. The first consists of widely verified and acknowledged disorders, the second are more controversial and overlooked illnesses such as CFS/ME, fibromyalgia, Gulf War Syndrome, autism and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and the third are indirectly related to the mitochondria. For everyone, the decay of mitochondrial DNA is a key component in the aging process and the progression of degenerative illnesses such as
…schizophrenia, bipolar disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, migraine headaches, strokes, neuropathic pain, Parkinson’s disease, ataxia, transient ischemic attack, cardiomyopathy, coronary artery disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetes, hepatitis C, and primary biliary cirrhosis.
Genetics do play a role in mitochondrial disorders and also in a person’s susceptibility to having an adverse reaction to fluoroquinolone antibiotics. Obviously, MTHFR, with its tendency to reduce detoxification and glutathione levels will be a player here. Just this week, however, Sterling Hill Erdei of MTHFRSupport.com reported that they are finding a correlation between G6PD SNPs that cause interactions with fluoroquinolones and anti-malarial drugs. According to the article:
Many of the floxies are clotting and having reactions to anything liposomal, phosphatidyl, lecithin and even lipid related. Many floxies are having panic attacks, seizures, hallucinations, blood clots, strokes and other neurological symptoms, in addition to increased joint and muscle pain, worsening fatigue, and gastrointestinal disturbances after taking anything in the category above.
The Way Forward
Researchers are looking into ways of reversing mitochcondrial DNA damage but at the moment there is no “cure” for fluoroquinolone poisoning. Raising the body’s antioxidant levels can go a long way towards mitigating the toxicity and oxidative stress that results from taking one of these drugs. This explains why I had a breakthrough and about 85% improvement of my symptoms when I started to raise my glutathione levels. Today I have only very mild tinnitus and my numbness has diminished almost completely.
I am new to the world of fluoroquinolones so I turn to the blog, My Quin Story for a list of tips for those who have been floxed. As I gather more information in the future about this issue I will be sure to include it in upcoming blog posts.The more I read and study about MTHFR and related health conditions the more I realize that it is very rarely the direct cause of anything. It plays a very large part in allowing other pathogens, chemicals and imbalances to harm us more significantly, but it does not work alone. An agent of chaos, yes, but not its master. So I encourage everyone, whether you’ve been floxed or not, to keep digging into the root causes of the health problems that ail you. Search until you find definitive answers. They may surprise you.
Have you been floxed?