Fighting a Fungal Infection?

What is the long-term prognosis for allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis? Does it shorten your life? Is there anything holistic I can do to kill the fungus in my lungs and avoid taking steroids? Are there foods I should avoid? Who can help me?

– July 12, 2004

Aspergillosis is a fungal infection that usually affects the lungs, but can also settle in the ear canal or the sinuses. Sometimes the infection causes no symptoms and is discovered only with a chest x-ray. But the disease can cause alarming symptoms such as coughing up blood, fever, chest pain and difficulty breathing. The fungus that causes the disease is very common and is associated with decaying organic matter – it is found in compost heaps, air vents and airborne dust; it has even been isolated in swimming pools and saunas – but it doesn’t usually affect healthy people. You are more vulnerable to aspergillosis if you have a weakened immune system. Infections can be quite serious and hard to treat, even fatal. However, if the infection is localized to a single spot in the lung, it usually progresses slowly. Because pulmonary aspergillosis can be a very serious infection, you should be treated by a pulmonologist, a doctor who specializes in lung diseases.

Treatment requires powerful antifungal drugs, such as amphotericin B, itraconazole, or voriconazole. Some forms of aspergillosis are resistant to these drugs. In these cases, a new antifungal drug called caspofungin is available. Occasionally, aspergillosis results in a “fungus ball,” typically growing in a cavity in an upper lobe of a lung. If fungus balls in the lungs grow near large blood vessels, you may need surgery to remove them.

Because aspergillosis is a potentially fatal disease, I recommend allopathic medicine for primary treatment. Make sure your doctor tests you for any underlying disease of the immune system. As adjunctive treatments you might try garlic, astragalus and a probiotic. Fresh, raw garlic has powerful antifungal properties. Eat 2-3 cloves (not heads) a day. Mash or chop it finely and mix it with food or cut it into chunks and swallow the chunks like pills.

Astragalus is a good general immune-system booster. Get a standardized product and follow dosage on label or take two capsules twice a day. You can stay on it indefinitely.

Taking an acidophilus culture (it contains the lactobacillus bacteria that make milk sour) may help change the chemistry of your tissues, making them more resistant to the fungi. You can get acidophilus in health food stores, usually prepared in a milk or carrot juice base. I recommend products containing lactobacillus GG, such as Culturelle.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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