Latest posts by Jessica Peatross, MD (see all)
This, in my opinion, may be one of the most controversial topics in all of mainstream medicine. If you are a healthcare worker reading this post, it may go against everything you have ever been taught about this supposedly “rare” and “easy to treat” infection. If you have ever been diagnosed with Lyme disease, this will be an extremely beneficial article for you to read. So without further ado, lets jump right in to the important stuff.
What is Lyme disease?
The disease is caused by a spiral-shaped bacteria (spirochete) called Borrelia Burgdorferi, named for the man who discovered it. It is most commonly carried by the Ixodes, or deer tick that is commonly found in the south, northeast, midwest and west coast. However, at least 9 known species of ticks can carry the spirochete that causes Lyme. Up to 50% of patients that test positive for Lyme do not recall a tick bite. Early stage Lyme disease results in a prognostic rash called erythema migrans. It is the famous bullseye rash of Lyme disease, however nearly 50% of patients never see that rash either. More typically, there are variations of rashes that appear, but because Lyme disease has vague symptoms, it and the odd rashes are often dismissed. New studies are linking Lyme disease to a sexually transmitted disease.
In one study presented at the annual Western Regional Meeting at the American Federation for Medical Research, researchers tested semen and vaginal secretions from three groups. The first group was the control WITHOUT Lyme. The second group was random subjects who tested positive for Lyme and the third group were heterogenous married couples who tested positive for Lyme. All controls’ secretions tested negative, as expected. However, all women with with Lyme tested positive for Borrelia in the vaginal secretions. Half of the men tested positive for Borrelia in their semen samples. In fact, one couple had the exact same strain of the Lyme spirochete in both their genital secretions. What is super interesting is the fact that a similar spirochete causes the STD, syphilis! More research is needed to tease out the importance of these findings.
New findings are also showing diversity in the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease. A recent study in the Lancet Infectious Disease found a new type of Borrelia besides the normal Burgdoferi. The researchers propose to name the new species Borrelia mayonii.
“Lyme-causing bacteria are complex for another reason: Even within a single species of Borrelia, diversity flourishes. Contrary to what has long been believed, B. burgdorferi can genetically recombine to create different strains that behave uniquely inside the human body. Some strains seem more likely to remain in the skin whereas others are more likely to invade the nervous system or heart. Some strains are also more commonly found in certain parts of the country.”
It is a very versatile and intelligent bacteria!
Patients often go weeks, months or even years suffering with little help from the medical community. I myself have heard the stories. A recent 50 year old patient of mine was ridiculed for years. He was told he was crazy, a liar or just plain depressed. He was so exasperated and on the defensive when I met him that he barely knew how to respond to a doctor that listened to him. He broke down and cried in my office. This is not the way healthcare should be.
How Do I Know If I Have Lyme?
As previously stated, Lyme disease can come with a plethora of symptoms. It is often confused with neurodegenerative conditions like multiple sclerosis or autoimmune conditions like Lupus. It is sorely underdiagnosed and undertreated. In fact, the leading Lyme regulatory board, the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA), sets guidelines for Lyme patients nationally by quoting their own performed research and published studies. This is a conflict of interest. They are assuming with a very narrow scope that their studies, funded by the government or pharmaceutical companies are the epitome of Lyme research. They therefore recommend a 2 week course of antibiotics, usually with Doxycycline, to eradicate a muysterious and often hidden pathogen that can continue to elicit immune responses in the body.
Symptoms can range from:
- racing heart beat
- severe fatigue
- blurry vision
- brain fog
- mood swings
- sleep disturbances
- skin conditions
- joint and arthritis-type pain.
With such a vague constellation of symptoms and no sensitive and specific testing for Lyme, many patients go undiagnosed for years. Couple that with inaccurate recommendations from the IDSA and doctors who don’t believe Lyme can become chronic, and you have yourself of epidemic of suffering patients with nowhere to turn.
Why Is Lyme So Difficult to Diagnose?
Difficulty with diagnosis is one of the main reasons that Lyme disease remains largely a medical mystery. So whats up with Lyme and its inconclusive tests? The Borrelia pathogen is quite sneaky. It produces a thick biofilm that it hides in, thereby tricking the body’s immune system. This biofilm also surrounds the cells in the body and prevents proper absorption of needed minerals and vitamins from food. A lot of Lyme symptoms are due to toxic by products produced by Borrelia but missing nutrients are also a cause of not being able to overcome the disease.
Borrelia Burgdorferi, the responsible bacteria in most cases, can also burrow deep within tissues and cartilage. It is a corkscrew shape that also it to bore into the body and hide! It can also wall itself off with the biofilm, while staying hidden from all antibiotics. On top of presenting with confections, this makes it very tricky to properly diagnose, and especially treat Lyme patients.
Moreover, besides the fact that Lyme hides in a biofilm, new studies are hinting at the fact that persistent Lyme may be due to a subpopulation of Borrelia Burgdorferi that are “persister cells” that are alive but go dormant–sorta like Epstein Barr virus. This occurs because, more often than not, antibiotics are not given long enough to kill off all of the bacteria. They are kept at bay, but can persist with virulence after the antibiotics are stopped. These persisters than “awaken” once the antibiotics are out of the system. Another theory is the post inflammatory state that Lyme may produce once the infection is treated. It is suspected that some of the Lyme bacterium (like its flagella) may cause inflammation by cross reacting with the myelin on the nerve sheaths, therefore causing demyelination and a myriad of central nervous system symptoms.
Get the Proper Testing
Tests are often inaccurate as sensitivity depends on how long the individual has been infected and on the type of clinical manifestations. For example, if the patient has just been infected, it will take 4-6 weeks for detectable antibodies to appear in the blood. As mentioned above, there are also new strains being discovered that aren’t even on the Lyme panel yet.
ELISA and Western Blot are the most common tests ordered to diagnose Lyme. However, ELISA is anything but sensitive and accurate. Both measure antibodies to Lyme disease that appear in the blood but they can only test if the patient has been exposed to Borrelia. They do not test for continued active infection because once antibodies form, they are there for life and just show that at some point in time, the body was exposed. But how does one tell if the infection is still present? ELISA and Western blot should both be ordered. There is also another new test that is ONLY positive in HIV and Lyme disease. It is the CD-57 test. The Natural Killer white blood cells that seek out and destroy pathogens are lowered to below 60 in those with active Lyme. Some say a positive test should be less than 80 to achieve more accurate results. Culturing Lyme is considered the “gold standard” but has shown little promise until recently. At week 16 of infection, 94% of patients tested positive while the control group remained negative. Borrelia cultured was confirmed by immunostaining, PCR and DNA sequencing. Wow that’s a lot huh?
Be sure you ask your healthcare professional to test for coinfections as well. Many patients are often coinfected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, caused by the Ehrlichiosis or further tick borne illnesses. I almost always see Lyme together with Epstein Barr Virus or Cytomegalovirus, which remain dormant in the body and release toxic by-products which chronically lower immunity.
Richard Horowitz told me that he has seen more than twelve thousand patients, all of whom have a tick-borne ailment. Whenever possible, he avoids antibiotics, although sometimes they are necessary.
“Most of my patients do not present simply with Lyme,” he said. “They almost always have multiple co-infections. That means they have a suppressed immune system with complex symptomology. Thirty days of doxycycline”—the most common drug used to treat Lyme—“just isn’t going to cure this. Each of these pathogens requires different regimens.”
Horowitz offers a complex combination of dietary restrictions and supplements to help “detoxify” the body and starve the bacteria. He argues that organized medicine, by relying on a few double-blind trials, focusses only on borrelia and Lyme. “But we know the ticks can spread many pathogens. More than half of my patients present with babesiosis,” he told me. (It causes symptoms similar to those of Lyme, though it more frequently begins with fevers and chills.) The incidence of babesiosis, which is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells, has been increasing dramatically in the Hudson Valley, according to research done by Wormser. “That infection has to be treated in an entirely different way from Lyme, and together they cause far more harm than either one does alone,” Horowitz said. “I have never understood why that is a controversial assertion.” (2)
The Best Treatment for Lyme
So if you meet the criteria for Lyme, what can you do to get rid of it?
1. It is imperative to cut out processed foods, GMO, pesticides, and unhealthy food out of the diet.
As most of our immune cells reside in the gut, you are only as healthy as your gut is! Eat healthy, organic and whole foods from the earth that your ancestors would recognize. Many specialists also suggest a ketogenic diet with no carbs but I stand by the fact that no one is the same and what works for one person may not work well for another. Healthy fats like olive and coconut oil, nuts and avocados are important to add in for energy and utilization. Be sure to add in digestive enzymes as well as a quality probiotic. I like Renew or Prescript Assist probiotics.
2. Be sure to add in parasite and bacteria killing herbs.
Herbs like berberine, caprylic acid, wormwood, black walnut hull, and garlic. My supplement, Microbiome Master (you can purchase it here) Microbiome Master is specifically formulated to contain candida, lyme, SIBO, and parasite fighting herbs that would be needed along with a strict diet.
More great options to add with Microbiome Master include: colloidal silver, zinc, magnesium, ginger, turmeric and don’t forget the digestive enzymes again! (they’re really important). No alcohol!
3. PK protocol
This is a new series of intravenous support that has been successful at eradicating Lyme and invented by Dr Patricia Kane. It also treats autism, ALS, Alzheimers, cancer, MS and Parkinsons. The first IV is a biofilm buster which removes the sticky biofilm around the cells where the Lyme hides. The second IV involves replacing an important aspect of the cellular membrane, called phosphatidylcholine so that it stabilizes the weakened cell. Glutathione, the master antioxidant, as well as folinic acid, are often used in conjunction.
The PK protocol requires a ketogenic diet to be successful. Keep this in mind. I have personally seen it work for patients!
Even Lyme literate docs will often throw in antibiotics as Lyme disease often requires a multifaceted approach for success. Keep in mind that the 2 week recommendation will do little to successfully treat Lyme disease and often over a month of antibiotics are needed along with herbs, supplements, readdressing diet and gut health along with supportive immune IVS.
If you have Lyme, there are some great documentaries and Lyme literate doctors out there. Dr Dietrich Klinghardt is a famous Lyme literate doc who appears in the eye opening documentary, “Under Our Skin.”
I suggest that everyone take their health in their own hands and become their own best doctor through proper education of this elusive pathogen.
2. The Lyme Wars: www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/07/01/the-lyme-wars