Understanding Lyme Disease
Updated: Aug 25
People around the world understand that insects carry disease. Mosquitos make most of the headlines, especially in developing countries. Malaria, Yellow Fever, and Zika are all very real risks in many parts of South America, Africa and Asia.
Here in North America, those diseases are fairly contained. Yet while mosquitos are more of an annoyance, tick-borne diseases, including babesiosis, anaplasmosis and most commonly, Lyme Disease – grow every year. I have spent the majority of my medical career learning about the underlying bacterial infection (Borrelia burgdorferi), the signs of Lyme Disease, and most importantly how to treat Lyme Disease.
One Bacteria, Two Diseases:
Broadly speaking, there are two stages to Lyme Disease: “Acute” and “Chronic”. Though they are the same bacteria, they may as well be totally different pathogens.
The major symptoms of acute Lyme Disease are:
1) The quintessential “bulls-eye rash”
2) Flu-like symptoms
If you’re lucky enough to spot Lyme during its acute phase, treat it with a 30-day round of antibiotics (not a one-day course, not a 14-day course, but a full 30). And of course, you’ll want to wrap the antibiotics with system-supporting supplements like a good probiotic, a liver/detox support supplement, an immune-boosting supplement, and a good multi-vitamin.
Here’s the problem, while the bull-eye rash is widely understood as the tell-tale sign of Lyme Disease, it actually appears in less than 50% of patients. And those flu-like symptoms? They can be easily mistaken as… the flu. Many in the medical community dismiss these symptoms. But pay attention! Are you getting the flu in the middle of the summer (with a fever, aches, chills, etc...)? If that seems odd, you may want to get tested for Lyme.
If the initial infection goes untreated, that’s when Acute Lyme transforms into the complex and dangerous monster called Chronic Lyme.
When an acute tick bite goes unnoticed the bacteria starts to wander. It travels throughout the body, finding homes in the brain, the gut, the joints. It can do this because Borrelia can twist itself into many different shapes, forms, and even sizes. It can mimic almost any chronic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or chronic fatigue syndrome. If your doctors are looking for any of those diseases, they won’t find them. Sadly, many patients go undiagnosed for years, or even decades. I usually see them after years of frustration with symptoms that don’t show up on lab results.
Brain fog: an inability to find words or think clearly about subjects patients know well.
Joint pain: Lyme will sometimes feel like arthritis. The dead give-away is that the joint pain mysteriously migrates from joint to joint.
Severe Fatigue: This fatigue is not the satisfying ‘I’m tired from a long day’ type. It is a draining, all-consuming level of tired that hits quickly. It feels more like a, “I just took a shower and now I need to sit down to rest because that wiped me out."
Depression: This one is particularly heartbreaking. Most outsiders chalk up a patient’s depression to them complaining excessively about their other symptoms (creating its own depressive spiral, ironically). The reality is that brain inflammation caused by the Lyme bacteria is actually irritating the neural network and causing a depressive response. Depression is the brain's physiological response to the inflammation much like a stomach ache is the stomach's physiological response to eating an entire tub of ice cream. Only this one won't go away with an antacid.
There is hope!
How to Treat Lyme Disease:
Chronic Lyme is a complex issue that requires medical detective work and time to unravel. No two cases are identical. Finding a Lyme-Literate MD is the best option. But if there isn't one of those in your area, Integrative and Functional MDs are specially equipped to help dig down into ALL of your symptoms, figure out the patterns and connections and develop solutions that build you back from the foundation up.
The good news is that once identified, there are several treatments, including many natural treatments for Lyme, that can help fight off the bacteria while boosting your own immune system. At Case Integrative Health we frequently use a combination of treatments.
For example, we use antimicrobials like minocycline and disulfiram, as well as antimicrobial herbs like cat’s claw and Japanese knotweed. Our Lyme-fighting tool kit also includes IV ozone and ultraviolet light and other nutritional IVs. More recently, we're seeing incredible results with peptides targeted at increasing the body's own immune response.
Natural supplements play a large role in helping to halt and reverse some of the damages done by the bacteria. Coupled with the treatments above, we recommend probiotics to support the gut and rebuild the microbiome. We take a multi-faceted approach to treating this infection or infections (as Lyme often brings its buddies with it) and more importantly, we use a multi-faceted approach to healing.
There is no cure for Lyme Disease. But by creating plans to combat a patient’s individual constellation of issues, we can push Lyme into full remission.
And maybe someday we can downgrade tick-bites from dangerous to a nuisance - just like those pesky mosquitos.