By Dr. Mercola
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),1 an estimated 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, and the prevalence is rising.
Since national surveillance began in 1982, the number of annual Lyme cases reported has increased nearly 25-fold.2 The disease is also spreading out geographically.3
Between 1993 and 1997, 43 counties across the US had a high incidence of Lyme disease. By 2012, the number of hotspots had skyrocketed to 182. As reported by Time Magazine:4
"'Lyme disease is not only becoming more rampant in its normal hotspot of the northeast United States, it's spreading across the country,' a new report5 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.
'Over time, the number of counties identified as having high incidence of Lyme disease in the northeastern states increased more than 320 percent,' researchers write...
They also note that the disease is appearing in states where it has never been recorded before. One big reason why Lyme disease is spiking, according to the CDC report: climate change."6
Eliminating Predators Have Allowed Lyme Disease to Spread and Become More Prevalent
While deer usually gets the blame for spreading tick-borne disease, rodents are actually the primary threat. According to Richard Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at a Lyme disease research center:7
"The resurgence of deer population is an overblown factor. Our research suggests that white-footed mice are more important numerically. Basically, mice are a fantastic host for both the tick and [the bacteria that causes Lyme]."
Ticks are not born with the Lyme spirochetes. It picks up the bacteria when feeding on an infected host.8 Ostfeld's research indicates that white-footed mice infect 75-95 percent of larval ticks that feed on them, while deer only infect about one percent.
Urban sprawl and hunting has eliminated many of the mice's natural predators, allowing populations to grow, and with them comes infected ticks. This year, ticks are epidemic in certain areas of the US, including Illinois.
The CDC has identified high-risk counties in 17 states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease refers to illnesses transferred by biting or blood-sucking insects. The bacterium responsible for Lyme infection is Borrelia burgdorferi, 9 a "cousin" to the spirochete bacterium that causes syphilis.
Many still attribute transmission of Lyme disease exclusively to ticks (in the US, the black-legged deer tick, Ixodes scapularis; in Europe, the castor bean tick, I. ricinus.).10
But according to Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt — one the leading authorities on Lyme disease — the bacteria can also be spread by other biting or blood-sucking insects, including mosquitoes, spiders, fleas, and mites.
Common side effects of tick bites include an itchy "bull's eye" rash, pain, fever, and inflammation.
However, you don't have to get the hallmark "bull's eye" as this rash occurs only in about half of those infected, so absence of such a rash does not exclude the possibility of a tick bite. Symptoms of Lyme disease typically start out with:
- Unrelenting fatigue
- Recurring fever
- Headaches / migraines
- Achy muscles and/or joints
If left untreated, 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.11 Lymedisease.org has also created a printable Symptom Checklist.12
The B. burgdorferi spirocheteis shaped like a corkscrew, which allows it to burrow into and hide in a variety of your body's tissues. It can also live intracellularly (inside your cells), which allows it to evade antibiotics.
For this reason, some doctors recommend giving antibiotics along with Plaquenil in order to change the intracellular pH.13 The organisms can also take up residence in biofilms, or in an encoated "cyst" form.
All of these different morphologies and clever evasion capabilities explain why Lyme infection can cause such wide-ranging multisystem involvement and why treatment is so difficult.
This also explains why recurrence of symptoms can still occur after standard antibiotic protocols. Complicating matters further, ticks can also infect you with a number of other disease-causing organisms, such as Bartonella, Rickettsia, Ehrlichia, and Babesia.
These organisms can travel with Borrelia burgdorferi (the causative agent of Lyme) and each organism causes a different set of symptoms. According to Dr. Klinghardt, many Lyme patients have one or more of these co-infections, which may or may not respond to any given treatment.
The Lyme bacterium has yet another stealthy survival mechanism. While most bacteria need iron to survive, the Lyme bacterium has adapted to survive without iron, using manganese instead.
This allows it to evade your body's natural immune system defenses that destroy pathogens by cutting off their iron supply.14
If you're looking for a film about Lyme disease I recommend UNDER OUR SKIN. This film has changed the landscape of the Lyme epidemic, bringing unprecedented awareness in an engaging and accessible way. UNDER OUR SKIN exposes a hidden story of medical and scientific malfeasance and neglect.
Why Lab Tests Are Unreliable for Diagnosing Lyme Disease
The simplest presentation of Lyme disease is the orthopedic forms, which typically affect 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. In fact, Lyme disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose, and doctors quite often get it wrong.15
Lyme is known as "the great imitator," as it can mimic many other disorders, including multiple sclerosis (MS), arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, ALS, ADHD, and Alzheimer's disease.16 When nothing unusual shows up on blood tests, some patients are even told their problems are "all in their head," and may be referred to a psychologist.
One of the reasons blood tests are so unreliable as indicators of Lyme infection is that the spirochete is capable of infecting 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 will not 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 actually have to be treated first. Once your immune system begins to respond normally, only then will the antibodies show up on a blood test. 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 does not necessarily mean you are not infected, as there are many more strains than tests can currently detect.
The Controversy over Treatment for Chronic Lyme
While most doctors now acknowledge that Lyme disease is real, controversy still remains over whether or not Lyme can persist and become chronic — and if so, whether extended, long-term treatment with antibiotics is effective.17 Doctors who belong to the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) do not believe in chronic Lyme and typically will not treat a Lyme patient beyond four weeks.
Doctors belonging to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society18 (ILADS), on the other hand, do believe Lyme can persist and are willing to treat you beyond the four- week period. Insurance companies typically will not pay for extended use of antibiotics though, as they follow the guidelines of the IDSA.
Personally, I find it baffling that physicians would deny the possibility of ongoing infection when these organisms are known to operate by stealth, and are capable of evading detection and most standard treatment protocols. I can tell you first hand, from my experience with my girlfriend Erin who was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2013 after suffering from a range of hard-to-pin-down symptoms for 14 years, chronic Lyme does exist.
The good news is that no matter how long you've had it, there is hope for a full recovery. A new Lyme research center attached to the rheumatology division at Hopkins Bayview Medical Center has also been created, specifically to investigate chronic Lyme. As reported by BDN Maine News:19
"Dr. John Aucott, a leading Lyme researcher tapped to direct the Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center... said his new affiliation with Hopkins will bring fresh attention, and resources, to the issue. He and others will look to determine if the infection is hiding or, as he hypothesizes, is developing into a new disorder, possibly an autoimmune one like rheumatoid arthritis. He and others will explore if there is a genetic component, an underlying condition or other bacteria or viruses involved."
Total Video Length: 1:35:03
Download Interview Transcript
I personally do not believe that long-term antibiotic treatment is a wise choice for most chronic Lyme sufferers. I recommend exhausting every natural alternative before resorting to long-term antibiotics as it will seriously impair your gut microbiome. They also leave you open to yeast or fungal co-infections, which are already common in the disease.
Eliminating the beneficial bacteria in your gut with antibiotics will also seriously impair your natural immune function, and may raise your risk of antibiotic-resistant infection, which could be life-threatening. A gentler solution to conventional antibiotics is the Nutramedix line of herbal antimicrobials. This was developed by one of my alternative medicine mentors, Dr. Lee Cowden, and is often termed the "Cowden Protocol."
It is not thought to cause resistance because this protocol cycles various herbal antimicrobials. The use of antifungals like fluconazole and nystatin may be appropriate and helpful when a secondary yeast infection is present. Ideally, you would focus on boosting your immune function with a healthy diet and antioxidants such as astaxanthin. A compounded drug called low-dose naltrexone (LDN), known to help your body fight harder, may also be beneficial.
Below is a summary of Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt's basic treatment strategies. For more comprehensive details on his full treatment protocol, please see this previous article: "Dr. Klinghardt's Treatment of Lyme Disease." You can also visit Dr. Klinghardt's website,20 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, see Ritchie Shoemaker's website21).
- 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.
Nutritional Supplements That May Be Useful in the Treatment of Lyme Disease
The following table lists a number of nutritional supplements found to be useful in the treatment of 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
- International Lyme and Associated Disease Society (ILADS)
- 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.
- 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 there.
Considering how difficult it is to diagnose and treat Lyme disease, I strongly recommend taking preventive measures22 to prevent infection in the first place. This includes the following recommendations:
- 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, 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. Ticks must typically remain attached for at least 24 hours for the Lyme disease bacteria to be transmitted into your blood stream, so early removal is important.
- If you have Japanese barberry on your property, you may want to consider getting rid of it. As noted in a recent Forbes article:23
"This popular shrub has pretty red color and is easy to grow — so much so that it is invasive, choking off native plants in its path. Deer favor native shrubs, leaving the thorny barberry alone.
And the microclimate around the barberry also favors the tick's reproduction and that of the white footed mouse, an intermediate host in the transmission cycle, resulting in an aptly described 'tick nursery.' So rid your property of barberry and go with native plants as much as possible."
I do not recommend using chemical insect repellants 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 list24 indicating the hourly protection limits for various repellents. Also beware of using toxic insect repellants on your pets. Misuse of Spot-On flea and tick products can be lethal. For safer alternatives, see Dr. Karen Becker's recommendations.
If you find that a tick has latched on, it's very important to remove it properly. For detailed instructions, please see Lymedisease.org's Tick Removal page.25 Once removed, make sure you save the tick so that it can be tested for presence of pathogenic organisms.