By Dr. Mercola
Ticks can spread a number of diseases, including human babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Lyme disease, which has become one of the most serious and controversial epidemics of our time.
According to preliminary statistics1 released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year, approximately 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed in the US each year.
This is about 10 times higher than the officially reported number of cases, indicating that the disease is being vastly underreported. Since national surveillance began in 1982, the number of Lyme cases reported annually has increased nearly 25-fold.2
The Oscar shortlisted documentary Under Our Skin,3 exposes a hidden story of "medical and scientific malfeasance and neglect," as thousands of people with Lyme disease go undiagnosed, or get misdiagnosed each year. Many who suffer the troubling effects of Lyme disease are simply told that their symptoms are "all in their head."
As the film follows patients fighting for their lives and livelihoods, it brings into focus a haunting picture of a health care system that is all too willing to put profits ahead of patients. The featured version is the newly released Director's Cut, which includes 15 minutes of restored footage, re-edited scenes, and character updates.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease refers to illnesses transferred by insects. Although many still attribute transmission exclusively to ticks, according to Dr. Deitrich Klinghardt, one of the leading authorities on Lyme disease, the bacteria can also be spread by other insects, including mosquitoes, spiders, fleas, and mites.
Ticks are blood suckers, and prefer dark, crevices such as your armpit or behind your ear, or your scalp. Once it attaches itself and starts feeding on your blood, it will at some point "spit" its bacterial load into your blood stream. If it carries an infectious organism, the infection will spread to you via this salivary emission.
Common side effects of tick bites include an itchy "bull's eye" rash, pain, fever, and inflammation. Symptoms of Lyme disease typically start out with unrelenting fatigue, recurring fever, headaches, and achy muscles or joints.
The disease may progress to muscle spasms, loss of motor coordination, and even intermittent paralysis, meningitis, or heart problems. For a more complete list of symptoms, refer to the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance.4 Lymedisease.org has also created a printable Symptom Checklist.5
Interestingly, a recent paper published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology6, 7 argues that ticks should be reclassified as venomous, noting that many of its salivary proteins, and their known functions, are similar to those found in scorpion, spider, snake, platypus, and bee venoms. An estimated eight percent of tick species are in fact capable of causing paralysis with a single bite.
The most simple presentation is the orthopedic forms of Lyme disease as they're typically more superficial, affecting the larger joints. When the microbes and the associated immune reactions are situated in the connective tissue, the infection presents as a "vague, dispersed pain," which oftentimes ends up being misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia by conventional doctors.
Lyme disease, just as syphilis was, is also known as "the great imitator,"8 as it mimics many other disorders, including multiple sclerosis (MS), arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, ALS, ADHD, and Alzheimer's disease.
The Lyme Paradox
Despite debilitating symptoms, many Lyme patients outwardly appear completely healthy, which is why Lyme disease has also been called "the invisible illness." People with Lyme often "look good," and their blood work appears normal, but their internal experience is a different story altogether.
As a result, many patients simply end up being referred to a psychiatrist. Doctors have even been known to accuse Lyme patients of being attention seekers, fabricating their illness...
A big part of the problem is that Lyme disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose using conventional lab tests. One of the reasons blood tests are so unreliable as indicators of Lyme infection is that the spirochete has found a way to infect your white blood cells.
Lab tests rely on the normal function of these cells to produce the antibodies they measure. If your white cells are infected, they don't respond to an infection appropriately. Interestingly, the worse your Borrelia infection is, the less likely it will show up on a blood test. In order for Lyme tests to be useful, you have to be treated first. Once your immune system begins to respond normally, only then will the antibodies show up.
This is called the "Lyme Paradox"—you have to be treated before a proper diagnosis can be made.
I recommend the specialized lab called Igenex because they test for more outer surface proteins (bands), and can often detect Lyme while standard blood tests cannot. Igenex also tests for a few strains of co-infections such as Babesia and Erhlichia.
That said, a negative on the Igenex test for these co-infections doesn't necessarily mean you are not infected, there are many more strains than they can test for.
There's great variation in the presentation of the disease as well, depending on where you contracted it, and whether or not you have any other coexisting infections. The only distinctive hallmark unique to Lyme disease is the "bull's eye" rash, but this is absent in nearly half of those infected. Fewer than half of Lyme patients recall a tick bite. In some studies, this number is as low as 15 percent.
The History and Discovery of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease was named after the East Coast town of Lyme, Connecticut, where the disease was first identified in1975.9 The disease was initially referred to as "Lyme arthritis" due to the presentation of atypical arthritic symptoms. By 1977, the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis, also known as the deer tick) was linked to transmission of the disease.
Then in 1982, Willy Burgdorferi, PhD, discovered the bacterium responsible for the infection: Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria are released into your blood from the infected tick, while the tick is drinking your blood. We now know there are five subspecies of Borrelia burgdorferi, more than 100 strains in the US and 300 worldwide, many of which have developed resistance to our various antibiotics.
Borrelia burgdorferi is10 is a cousin to the spirochete bacterium that causes syphilis. In fact, they look very similar under a microscope, and both are capable of taking different forms in your body (cystic, granular, and cell wall deficient forms), depending on what conditions they need to accommodate. This clever maneuvering helps them to hide and survive. B. burgdorferi's corkscrew-shaped form allows it to burrow into and hide in a variety of your body's tissues, which is why it causes such wide-ranging multisystem involvement.
The organisms may also live in biofilm communities—basically a colony of germs surrounded by a slimy glue-like substance that is hard to unravel. All of these different morphologies explain why treatment is so difficult, and why recurrence of symptoms occurs after standard antibiotic protocols.
Ticks can also simultaneously infect you with a number of other disease-causing organisms, such as Bartonella, Rickettsia, Ehrlichia, and Babesia. Any or all of these organisms can travel with Borrelia burgdorferi (the causative agent of Lyme) and each organism causes a different set of symptoms. Many Lyme patients have one or more of these co-infections, which may or may not respond to any given treatment.
The Ongoing Lyme Controversy
The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) publishes guidelines for a number of infectious diseases, one of which is Lyme. IDSA's 2006 clinical practice guidelines for Lyme disease11 claim that Lyme is very rare, and easily cured with two weeks of antibiotics, requiring 28 days in rare cases. They also claim there is no scientific evidence for chronic Borrelia infection. However, the literature choices they list in their reference section reflect a clear bias. Of the 400 references they cite, half are based on articles written by their own people. Their literature review in no way represents the total body of science related to the study of Lyme disease.
IDSA's guidelines have sweeping impacts on Lyme disease medical care. They are commonly applied by insurance companies to restrict coverage for long-term treatment and strongly influence physicians' treatment decisions. Insurance companies have denied coverage for long-term treatment, citing these guidelines as justification that chronic Lyme disease is a myth.
Opposing the IDSA is the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), the members of which argue that Lyme disease is far more prevalent than previously recognized, in large part due to inaccurate laboratory tests. They also insist that many patients suffer long-term consequences, and require far longer treatment than recommended by IDSA.
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal has been a strong advocate for people with Lyme disease.12 In 2007, while he was Connecticut Attorney General, Blumenthal conducted an antitrust investigation into the IDSA's panel members and 2006 Lyme disease guidelines. His investigation found rampant conflicts of interest in the IDSA, with numerous undisclosed financial interests among its most powerful panelists. Some of them had financial interests in diagnostic tests, vaccines, and insurance, for example.
IDSA agreed to create a new panel to review the ethics of the 2006 IDSA panel, overseen by Blumenthal's office. Eight hours of testimony13 from both sides of the fence were heard by the newly formed panel on July 30, 2009. Unfortunately, it didn't lead to any changes. The Final Report14 published on the IDSA site concluded that the original guidelines were "based on the highest-quality medical/scientific evidence available," and that the authors "did not fail to consider or cite any relevant data." As a result, chronic Lyme patients continue having to fight for their right to treatment. You can find suggestions for how to respond to insurance denials based on IDSA's guidelines on LymeDisease.org's website.15
Take Prevention Seriously
Considering the difficulty of diagnosing and treating Lyme disease, taking preventive measures16 should be at the top of your list:
- Avoid tick-infested areas, such as leaf piles around trees. Walk in the middle of trails, and avoid brushing against long grasses path edgings. Don't sit on logs or wooden stumps
- Wear light-colored long pants and long sleeves, to make it easier to see the ticks
- Tuck your pants into socks, and wear closed shoes and a hat—especially if venturing out into wooded areas. Also tuck your shirt into your pants
- Ticks, especially nymphal ticks, are very tiny. You want to find and remove them before they bite, so do a thorough tick check upon returning inside, and keep checking for several days following exposure. Also check your bedding for several days following exposure
As for using chemical repellents, I do not recommend using them directly on your skin as this will introduce toxins directly into your body. If you use them, spray them on the outside of your clothes, and avoid inhaling the spray fumes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list17 indicating the hourly protection limits for various repellents. If you find that a tick has latched onto you, it's very important to remove it properly. For detailed instructions, please see LymeDisease.org's Tick Removal page.18 Once removed, make sure you save the tick so that it can be tested for presence of pathogenic organisms.
Dr. Klinghardt's Treatment Protocol for Lyme Disease
Doctors who believe chronic Lyme to be a reality will typically rely on long-term use of antibiotics. While this treatment can be effective, there are many reasons to opt for alternatives such as those detailed in my interview with Dr. Klinghardt, as antibiotics will disrupt your gut flora, thereby exposing you to a whole host of other pathologies. Dr. Klinghardt's basic treatment strategies are summarized below. His full treatment protocol is too complex to include here, but if you want details, I recommend reading our 2009 article that focuses on those specific Lyme treatment strategies. You can also visit Dr. Klinghardt's website, where he posts his more current treatment protocols and recipes. In summary, there are five basic steps to his protocol:
- Evaluation of all external factors. External factors include electrosmog, EMF, microwave radiation from wireless technologies, and molds. (For more information on mold, go to Ritchie Shoemaker's website19).
- Remediation and mitigation of external factors. Once external factors have been assessed, they're remediated and mitigated. (Please refer to our previous article on mold remediation.) To mitigate microwave radiation, Dr. Klinghardt recommends shielding the outside of your home with a graphite paint called Y Shield. Inside, he uses a special silver-coated cloth for your curtains. Patients are instructed to remove all cordless telephones and turn off all the fuses at night, until they have recovered from Lyme disease.
- Addressing emotional issues. Emotional components of the disease are addressed using Energy Psychology tools, including psychokinesiology (PK), which is similar to the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), but more refined and advanced.
- Addressing parasitic, bacterial, and viral infections. Dr. Klinghardt addresses the parasites first, followed by the bacteria and the viruses. The "Klinghardt antimicrobial cocktail," which includes wormwood (artemisinin), phospholipids, vitamin C, and various herbs, is an integral part of this treatment. He addresses viral infections with Viressence (by BioPure), which is a tincture of Native American herbs.
- Addressing other lifestyle factors. Nutritional considerations and supplements are addressed.
Also, the following table lists a variety of different treatment strategies that have been found to be useful in Lyme disease by those embracing natural methods.
Probiotics to improve immunity and restore microflora during and after antibiotics Curcumin is helpful at reducing neurological toxins and brain swelling Astaxanthin to neutralize toxins, improve vision, and relieve joint pain, common in Lyme Whey protein concentrate may help with nutrition, often poor in Lyme patients who don't feel well enough to eat properly Grapefruit seed extract may treat the cyst form of Borrelia Krill oil to reduce inflammation Cilantro as a natural chelator for heavy metals Serrapeptase helps to break biofilms Resveratrol may treat Bartonella, a co-infection and also helps detoxification GABA and melatonin to help with insomnia Artemisinin and Andrographis, two herbs that may treat Babesia, a common co-infection CoQ10 to support cardiac health and reduce muscle pain and brain fog Quercetin reduces histamine (often high in Lyme) Transfer factors can help boost immune function
In Dr. Klinghardt's experience, the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society (ILADS) is by far the best and most responsible group. The following are some other resources you might find helpful. For more, see the Resource page on UnderOurSkin.com:20
- Tick-Borne Disease Alliance (TBDA). Under the "Diagnosing TBDS" tab, you can find a listing of medical professionals knowledgeable in the treatment of Lyme
- Lyme Disease Association, Inc.
- Leading Lyme disease expert Joseph J. Burrascano, MD, wrote what is essentially a manual for managing Lyme disease, entitled Advanced Topics in Lyme Disease, which is worth adding to your resource files. Realize that his treatment focus is long-term antibiotics, which I believe should not be your first choice. Nevertheless, there is some good information in this publication.