What is Lyme Disease?
Have you gone hiking, or traveled to a region that is known to have ticks? Are you feeling under the weather but are wavering between convincing yourself that you just have the flu and asking yourself if you have Lyme disease? In this guide we will walk you though what Lyme disease is, steps for identifying it, and lyme disease treatment options. Let’s get started . . .
Lyme is the most common vector-borne disease. If you’re wondering what that means, a vector-borne disease is an infection transmitted by infected arthropods such as mosquitos, ticks, sand flies and black flies.
Lyme disease is an acute infection that, barring immediate diagnosis and treatment, can become systemic. It is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, a syphilis-like spirochete transmitted by tick bite. The bacteria has an uncanny ability to evade detection and to resist many antimicrobial defenses that help us manage most infections. Diagnosis is difficult. Treatment can be a relative breeze if caught early but can become challenging if it evades detection. Not many people diagnosed with Lyme remember getting a tick bite. Some experience rashes, others do not.
Next, let’s look at what the history of Lyme disease is and how our understanding of the condition has grown over time.
The history of Lyme disease was researched and documented in this study. This is what was found:
1970’s: Lyme disease was first recognized after an epidemic of juvenile arthritis cases in Lyme Connecticut.
1982: Willy Burgdorferet identified the spirochetal bacteria, or what is known as Borrelia burgdorferi. It is the infectious aspect of Lyme disease.
Since then, Lyme Disease has become endemic throughout the world. Wondering where in the world Lyme disease is most prevalent, and what the relevant statistics are in each part of the world? Let’s find out . . .
Where is Lyme Disease Most Common in the World?
A study called: Brave New Worlds: The Expanding Universe of Lyme Disease documents the spread of Lyme disease. It found that Lyme disease rates have risen around and the world. It is also a condition that is appearing in areas of the world that has not reported in the past. Also, the study documented the percentages of Lyme disease prevalence in different areas of America as well as other areas of the world. This is what it found . . .
Here are statistics of Lyme disease and trends in relation to different regions of the United States:
Northwest: Lyme disease experienced a trend where it quadrupled in the number of cases (247 cases to 993) between 2005 and 2015 — particularly in the state of Maine.
Midwest: The Great Lakes may serve as a partial barrier to the spread of Lyme disease. However, the condition has also experienced an increase in reported cases.
Southeast: There are cases of Lyme disease in this area of the country. It is spreading but the instances of Lyme disease cases are thought to be brought over from travelers.
Texas: Texas is considered a low-risk area of the country for contracting Lyme disease. Although it is still possible.
West: Due to the weather in this region of the country, tick season is year round. However, the number of Lyme disease cases were documented as being stable for the decade between 2005 to 2015.
To start, there are 13 states in America where 95% of reported Lyme disease cases are reported:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
Here is what is known about Lyme disease trends in Europe and Asia:
Europe: There are not many organizations tracking Lyme disease in Europe. There has been an increase and spread of Lyme disease throughout England, Wales, and Scotland.
Asia: China and Japan are the two countries in Asia that have documented and reported cases of Lyme disease. The challenge with accurate numbers of Lyme disease is that their understanding of Lyme disease is being developed as well as how to treat it in that region of the world. Lyme disease is not a condition that has always been prevalent in Asia.
Ticks themselves do not give you Lyme disease. It is the Ixodidae family type of ticks that are transmitters of Lyme disease through Lyme borrelia. There are three different Lyme borrelia genospecies that exist throughout the world.
1. B. burgdorferisensu also known as B. burgdorferi
2. B. garinii
3. B. afzelii
The sole cause of Lyme disease cases in the United States, Canada, and North America as a whole is B. burgdorferi. On the other hand, all three strains, or types, are known to be the leading causes of Lyme disease cases throughout Europe.
Wondering if you are experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease? Let’s take a deeper look. . .
Symptoms of Lyme disease may be masked or further complicated by co-infections, since ticks are often laden with multiple different pathogens with symptoms of their own, making a proper diagnosis can be very tricky.
Lyme disease is also a condition that can be misdiagnosed as one of the following conditions:
If you think you may have Lyme disease, talk with your physician. You may also take our Lyme Disease self-assessment quiz.
There are 6 different infections that can simultaneously occur when Lyme disease is present, including:
4. Relapsing fever
6. Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF)
This is because ticks are often infected with multiple microbes. People usually get exposed to more than one organism from a tick bite. These other microbes may act very differently from Lyme and require different treatment.
Both the borrelia spirochetes and coinfections produce toxins, so there’s also a toxinogenic effect.
Borrelia, sometimes called a stealth infection, has an uncanny ability to resist many antimicrobial defenses.
“Adding to the complexity it can live inside or outside the cell,” explains Dr. Mark Pettus, Director of Medical Education, Wellness and Population Health at Berkshire Health Systems in western Massachusetts.
“It can exist as a spore, which is a much more protective life form. It can also exist in biofilm, a mucoid, polysaccharide substance that we manufacture in our gut. The biofilm shields borrelia from our immune system and from antibiotics.”
Your specific genetic makeup will not cause Lyme, but it may contribute to an improved ability to ward off or heal more rapidly from the disease. For example, genes can influence both your body’s ability to produce cytokines, important signaling molecules in our immune system, and to effectively detoxify.
How people regulate their emotions can have an impact on the immune system’s ability to defend against Lyme disease and other conditions. Here is a list of four emotional factors that can all have a damaging effect on our immune systems, leaving us more vulnerable to acquiring infections and prolonging healing:
3. Negative emotional patterns
The good news? Holistic health and mental health professionals can help! Seeking assistance to develop greater self-awareness and wisdom along with learning effective treatments and skills, can lead to better balance in your emotional life.
Changes in the environment are bringing more of us in closer contact with ticks. Environmental changes expected to happen in our lifetimes that tend to increase tick populations, human contact with ticks, and the spread of Lyme disease includes:
1. Accelerated deforestation
2. Urban expansion adjacent to forests
3. Climate-induced habitat change
Functional medicine and other holistic practitioners treat Lyme the same way they would any chronic illness: by looking at root causes and the individual’s terrain (or overall level of wellness), assessing factors including inflammation, hormones, genetics and epigenetics (gene expression), diet and exercise, stress levels and emotional health. The healthier the person who acquires the initial infection, the greater the ease with which they may heal. Different soil and different terrain lead to different outcomes.
While acknowledging and respecting the steep challenges and difficulties some people experience with Lyme disease, holistic practitioners offer practical and hopeful perspectives that empower patients with greater self-awareness, knowledge of health fundamentals, and self-care skills that aid in recovery or living with Lyme.
Dr. Andrew Wong says, “The biggest thing for me with Lyme is—do you treat the leaves of the tree—i.e. the bugs?—or do you treat the roots? I help my patients shift their consciousness about it. We nurture a belief in using their own nature to balance their systems—improving sleep, nutrition, and life_style factors—making sure they have supportive relationships—to increase their control over their own health. That’s healing.”
Dr. Andrew Wong says, “Names can be very powerful. If someone receives a diagnosis of heart disease, depression or cancer — or Lyme disease — that’s a label, with a whole set of stigmas and fears.
I help shift my patient’s point of view, from 'I have this thing called Lyme disease', to 'I’m going to take charge of my own health'. A big thing happens when you focus on treating the roots of the disease rather than blasting the bugs. The body starts to get the message that healing is possible. Patients actually feel it. That’s when things accelerate, and the body starts to heal itself.”
If you get diagnosed with Lyme disease, it’s not just about the bug. It’s even more important to evaluate, modify and optimize the overall state of your health. Your immune system has to be strong enough to fight off bugs, but also recognize self from non-self, and not mistakenly attack itself, which occurs in autoimmune disorders.
Some people have genetic factors that make it harder to detoxify the system, and epigenetic, or life_style factors, such as chronic stress, sleep issues, gut permeability, hormone imbalance, or candida (fungal overgrowths) may play a role. How well is your system working? How well can it respond to physical stress?
“Patients need a multifactorial strategy,” Dr. Pettus explains. “You often have to use multiple antibiotics. They’re synergistic. One will get inside the cell wall. One will get inside the cell. One will alter the internal pH. You need to break down the biofilm, so in addition to antibiotics, a lot of people are researching botanicals. A lot of people need at least 4 weeks of antibiotics. Including non-pharmaceutical antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory approaches is also a really important part of treatment. People may need months or even years of antimicrobial botanicals.”
Someone who is doing really well overall with their health may handle an infection with greater ease. They might get a tick bite, be treated, and have the infection clear after a few weeks.
Someone else may have slower detox pathways for:
3. Chronic stress
4. Heavy metals toxicity
This may set someone up to have persistent Lyme disease and take longer to heal.
Having a strong immune system will help your body to defend against Lyme disease. Although there is not a particular diet that has been designed for Lyme disease. Many dietary changes are recommended when a person aims to build up their immune system.
In general, implement a diet that supports eating:
• Nutrient-dense foods
• Whole foods
• Anti-inflammatory foods
• Antioxidants foods
• Essential fatty acid rich foods
• Healthy Fats
It is also recommended that that people set aside foods that trigger digestive difficulties. Since everyone’s dietary needs are different and based on many factors, including your current health status and genomics, your holistic doctor or nutritionist will be your best guide to a personalized nutrition and supplement plan.
Cleaning up as many toxic elements in your environment as possible may make a huge difference in treating Lyme. Cleaning up internal and external toxicity can be essential in supporting healing. Cleaning and removing the following six elements can help support a body’s immune system to fight the condition of Lyme disease:
3. Heavy metals
4. Electromagnetic radiation
5. Air pollution
6. Toxic water
The role of stress is, as always, so influential. Stressful events or ongoing stress can cause an exacerbation of Lyme symptoms. People say, “I was doing fine until my boyfriend broke up with me...I went home for the holidays and got stressed out by family members (plus I was eating lots of bread).” People tend to know what their triggers are. Avoiding known triggers and moderating stress is a key ingredient for healing.
Lyme disease and persistent Lyme is a challenge that a Lyme-literate holistic health professional is best equipped to help you with. Functional and integrative medicine doctors and other holistic professionals specializing in Lyme would be great partners through the process. The following list includes five additional supportive therapies:
These five supportive therapies will not resolve Lyme disease on their own. Antibiotics are needed to treat the condition. However, when Lyme disease is treated with a combination of antibiotics and one or all of the five supportive therapies, it can help heal your immune system, foster emotional stability, and reduce stress levels.
Looking for a Lyme-literate holistic health professional for treating Lyme disease? Or a practitioner who can be beneficial through a supportive therapy? Find the best fit for you through DaoCloud.
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The following experts reviewed and contributed to this article:
Andrew Wong, MD, Functional Medicine Doctor
Mark Pettus, MD, Director of Medical Education, Wellness and Population Health at Berkshire Health Systems in western Massachusetts
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