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What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – And How To Manage It

Exactly what causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is unknown, however, autoimmune conditions are the result of genetics, environmental toxin exposure, and microbiome dysbiosis. GBS is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks part of its own nervous system. In many cases, this happens after a viral or bacterial infection such as Campylobacter jejuni, Zika virus, and COVID-19. Other triggers may include surgery, certain medications, or a blood transfusion. In some cases, Guillain-Barre syndrome can develop after a person has been vaccinated.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder in which a person’s own immune system damages their nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. This causes damage to the myelin sheath, a protective covering that encases nerve cells, resulting in inflammation and weakness. It usually begins with the sudden onset of weakness and tingling in the legs, followed by rapid progression upwards to the arms and upper body. In most cases, the symptoms can last from a few weeks to several months and can vary from mild to life-threatening.1

GBS is thought to be caused by an abnormality in the immune system that causes it to attack the nerves instead of fighting infection. Treatment includes supportive measures such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and psychological support. In severe cases, treatments with intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) or plasma exchange may be necessary. While there is no cure for GBS, most people make a full recovery within a few months to a year. However, some people may have long-term complications that can affect their day-to-day life.2

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – 3-Legged Stool

Guillain-Barre syndrome has three main aspects that support its development, genetic factors, environmental factors, and microbiome dysfunction. Similar to other autoimmune conditions, all three factors need to be in play in order for the disease to develop. This is what I call the 3-legged stool behind autoimmune conditions.

Read more about what causes autoimmune conditions.

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – Genetics

Genetics plays a role in increasing a person’s risk of developing Guillain-Barre syndrome. A number of genetic variants have been associated with GBS, including mutations in genes involved in nerve structure and function, inflammation pathways, and immunity responses.

Studies suggest that some people carry genetic variants that increase their risk of developing Guillain-Barre syndrome after a particular infection. Inheriting certain genetic variants may only predispose someone to developing GBS, rather than causing it directly. This means that other factors must be present for GBS to develop.

Furthermore, not everyone with the genetic variants associated with GBS will go on to develop the condition. Similarly, it’s possible for people who don’t carry any of these variants to still be diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome. For this reason, genetics only play a small role in causing GBS.3

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – Campylobacter jejuni

Campylobacter jejuni is the most common cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome. Campylobacter jejuni is a type of bacteria that lives in food, soil, and water and is often found in undercooked poultry or other foods contaminated with fecal matter.4

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – Zika Virus

The Zika virus has been known to cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). The exact mechanism by which the Zika virus might trigger GBS still remains unknown. However, researchers believe that it could be due to the virus’s ability to enter and damage nerve cells, increase inflammation in the body, or stimulate a response from the immune system. Studies have also suggested that infections with certain types of Zika virus may be more likely to cause GBS than others.5 6

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome - Zika Virus

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – Botulism

Botulism is a rare but serious form of food poisoning caused by toxins found in certain foods. These toxins can disrupt the nervous system and cause paralysis, which can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). Botulism is caused by a group of toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum, a type of bacteria found in soil and certain foods. These toxins can be consumed when food is improperly canned or stored at room temperature for too long. In some cases, eating contaminated food may cause a person to develop GBS.7

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – Medications

Guillain-Barre syndrome can be triggered by certain medications, such as penicillin or anticonvulsants.8

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – COVID-19

Recently, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been identified as a possible trigger for Guillain-Barre syndrome in some cases. While it is not yet known definitively if COVID-19 can cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome, it is important to be aware that the virus has been identified as a potential trigger.9

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – Gangliosides

Gangliosides are molecules found on the surface of nerve cells. They play a role in allowing nerves to communicate with one another, and they also regulate how well immune system responses work. In Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), researchers have found that there is an abnormal accumulation of gangliosides in the peripheral nervous system.10

The overabundance of these molecules in the nerves may be responsible for triggering an autoimmune response, leading to the destruction of healthy nerve tissue and the development of GBS. This is generally due to a previous infection or exposure to certain substances that cause an abnormal immune reaction.

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome - Gangliosides

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – Vaccination

Guillain-Barre Syndrome has been linked to certain types of vaccines, such as those given for influenza, hepatitis A and B, and meningitis. It is generally accepted that the vaccine stimulates an abnormal response of the body’s immune system, which then attacks its own nerves. Specifically, certain vaccines trigger anti-GM1 ganglioside antibodies after inoculation, resulting in GBS.11

The 1976 swine flu vaccination has been linked to an increased risk of developing Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). While it is a rare reaction, GBS cases increased by more than 700% following vaccination with the swine flu vaccine.12 13

What Causes Autoimmune Conditions – Environmental Toxins

Environmental toxins, such as pesticides, heavy metals, and industrial chemicals, can trigger an autoimmune response in those who are genetically predisposed to developing the condition. These toxins can interfere with communication between cells and weaken the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to attack from its own antibodies. In some cases, environmental toxins may even act as a trigger for autoimmune conditions, such as lupus or multiple sclerosis.

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – Exposure To Heavy Metals

Recent studies have shown that exposure to heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, may be linked to the development of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). Lead is considered a neurotoxin and has been linked to GBS through multiple pathways. One pathway involves an autoimmune reaction triggered by lead exposure, which can trigger the body’s immune system to attack its own nerves. Lead can also interfere with nerve signal transmission, which may lead to the development of GBS.14

Read more about how toxic lead is.

Mercury poisoning has also been linked to GBS, though it is not yet fully understood how mercury affects the nervous system in this way. Exposure to mercury can cause damage and inflammation to the peripheral nervous system, leading to GBS.15 16

Read more about the damaging heavy metal mercury.

Removing Heavy Metals From The Body – Oral DMSA

Oral DMSA (Dimercaptosuccinic Acid) therapy is an effective and safe method of removing heavy metals from the body. The primary function of DMSA is to bind with heavy metals in the body, including lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. It then carries these metals out through the kidneys as waste. DMSA therapy is non-invasive and generally well tolerated, making it a preferred method of heavy metal removal over more invasive options such as intravenous chelation therapy.

Read more about removing heavy metals from the body.

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – Microbiome Dysbiosis

Recent research has linked Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) to changes in the microbiome, which is the collection of microscopic organisms living inside and on our bodies. Scientists have found that people with GBS often show a decrease in certain types of beneficial bacteria and an increase in harmful bacteria than healthy individuals.17

These changes in the microbiome can affect the immune system, making it more likely to attack healthy cells. This can lead to the development of GBS. Scientists believe that changes in the microbiome may be due to genetics, environmental factors such as infections or stress, and/or a combination of both.

Some researchers theorize that antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections may also contribute to GBS by disrupting the normal balance of the microbiome. Studies have shown that antibiotics are associated with an increased risk for GBS, especially when used in high doses or over long periods of time.18

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome - Microbiome Dysbiosis

What Causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome – And How To Manage It

Managing Guillain-Barre Syndrome is focused on relieving symptoms and preventing complications. Treatment may involve medications, physical therapy, and supportive care. Medications used to treat GBS include intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), plasmapheresis (plasma exchange), corticosteroids, and other immune-modulating drugs. Physical therapy helps to strengthen weak muscles and improve coordination.19 20

Like other autoimmune conditions, reducing the chance of developing Guillain-Barre Syndrome with natural means involves reducing exposure to environmental toxins and removing these toxins from our bodies. 

Read more about the link between heavy metal toxicity and autoimmune conditions.


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2 Willison HJ, Jacobs BC, van Doorn PA. Guillain-Barré syndrome. Lancet. 2016 Aug 13;388(10045):717-27. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)00339-1. Epub 2016 Mar 2. PMID: 26948435.

3 Khanmohammadi S, Malekpour M, Jabbari P, Rezaei N. Genetic basis of Guillain-Barre syndrome. J Neuroimmunol. 2021 Sep 15;358:577651. doi: 10.1016/j.jneuroim.2021.577651. Epub 2021 Jul 1. PMID: 34246981.

4 Finsterer J. Triggers of Guillain-Barré Syndrome: Campylobacter jejuni Predominates. Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Nov 17;23(22):14222. doi: 10.3390/ijms232214222. PMID: 36430700; PMCID: PMC9696744.

5 Shahrizaila N, Lehmann HC, Kuwabara S. Guillain-Barré syndrome. Lancet. 2021 Mar 27;397(10280):1214-1228. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00517-1. Epub 2021 Feb 26. PMID: 33647239.

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7 van Nes JJ. Botulism and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Lancet. 1987 May 2;1(8540):1033. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(87)92299-9. PMID: 2883369.

8 Stricker BH, van der Klauw MM, Ottervanger JP, van der Meché FG. A case-control study of drugs and other determinants as potential causes of Guillain-Barré syndrome. J Clin Epidemiol. 1994 Oct;47(10):1203-10. doi: 10.1016/0895-4356(94)90108-2. PMID: 7722555.

9 Florian IA, Lupan I, Sur L, Samasca G, Timiș TL. To be, or not to be… Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Autoimmun Rev. 2021 Dec;20(12):102983. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2021.102983. Epub 2021 Oct 28. PMID: 34718164.

10 Willison HJ, Kennedy PG. Gangliosides and bacterial toxins in Guillain-Barré syndrome. J Neuroimmunol. 1993 Jul;46(1-2):105-12. doi: 10.1016/0165-5728(93)90239-u. PMID: 8360325.

11 Suresh K, Mereddy P, Lanciano N, Alam MDU. Anti-ganglioside Complex IgM Antibodies in Multifocal Motor Neuropathy Post-influenza Vaccination. Cureus. 2022 Mar 7;14(3):e22918. doi: 10.7759/cureus.22918. PMID: 35399455; PMCID: PMC8985558.

12 Israeli E, Agmon-Levin N, Blank M, Chapman J, Shoenfeld Y. Guillain-Barré syndrome–a classical autoimmune disease triggered by infection or vaccination. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2012 Apr;42(2):121-30. doi: 10.1007/s12016-010-8213-3. PMID: 20890797.

13 Schonberger LB, Bregman DJ, Sullivan-Bolyai JZ, Keenlyside RA, Ziegler DW, Retailliau HF, Eddins DL, Bryan JA. Guillain-Barre syndrome following vaccination in the National Influenza Immunization Program, United States, 1976–1977. Am J Epidemiol. 1979 Aug;110(2):105-23. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a112795. PMID: 463869.

14 Gaioli GM, González DE, Areny G, Grela M, Amoedo D. Metales pesados en el ambiente: smdrome de Gmllam-Barre like [Heavy metals in the enviroment: Guillain-Barre like syndrome]. Arch Argent Pediatr. 2020 Feb;118(1):e48-e52. Spanish. doi: 10.5546/aap.2020.e48. PMID: 31984709.

15 Pigatto PD, Scaioli V, Guzzi G. Guillain-Barré Syndrome After Exposure to Mercury. J Child Neurol. 2020 Jan;35(1):84-85. doi: 10.1177/0883073819872913. Epub 2019 Sep 27. PMID: 31559911.

16 Yawei C, Jing S, Wenju S, Yupeng L, Ping Z, Liping H. Mercury as a cause of membranous nephropathy and Guillain-Barre syndrome: case report and literature review. J Int Med Res. 2021 Mar;49(3):300060521999756. doi: 10.1177/0300060521999756. PMID: 33769115; PMCID: PMC8168032.

17 Brooks PT, Brakel KA, Bell JA, Bejcek CE, Gilpin T, Brudvig JM, Mansfield LS. Transplanted human fecal microbiota enhanced Guillain Barré syndrome autoantibody responses after Campylobacter jejuni infection in C57BL/6 mice. Microbiome. 2017 Aug 8;5(1):92. doi: 10.1186/s40168-017-0284-4. PMID: 28789710; PMCID: PMC5547673.

18 Levison LS, Thomsen RW, Sindrup SH, Andersen H. Association of Hospital-Diagnosed Infections and Antibiotic Use With Risk of Developing Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Neurology. 2021 Feb 9;96(6):e831-e839. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000011342. Epub 2020 Dec 14. PMID: 33318166.

19 van Doorn PA. Diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Presse Med. 2013 Jun;42(6 Pt 2):e193-201. doi: 10.1016/j.lpm.2013.02.328. Epub 2013 Apr 28. PMID: 23628447.

20 Liu S, Dong C, Ubogu EE. Immunotherapy of Guillain-Barré syndrome. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2018;14(11):2568-2579. doi: 10.1080/21645515.2018.1493415. Epub 2018 Jul 12. PMID: 29953326; PMCID: PMC6314401.

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