Lyme’s disease is without a doubt one of the more complex of medical diagnoses. Clouded by a widely variable set of symptoms, unreliable diagnostic tests, unique microbiological features of the bacteria and many unanswered scientific questions, there exists no medical consensus on the appropriate approach for treatment. The rate of infection is rapidly increasing and, though many might disagree, it appears that the bacteria are spreading far beyond its origin, the American northeast. Cases reported in BC are on the rise. Although there is growing awareness of Lyme throughout the world, many physicians are not aware of the complexity of this condition, while many patients are led to believe that these symptoms are unexplainable or worse, ‘all in their head’.
What happens in Lyme’s disease?
The bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) enter the body via an infected deer tick, enters the bloodstream and circulates until a collagen-rich site is found. The most common sites are the joints, meninges of the brain, eye, skin and heart tissue. The locations with the largest population of the bacteria determine which symptoms become most severe. Seemingly, 2 people infected with the Lyme bacteria can have completely different symptoms. The more common symptoms include an initial rash, skin discolouration, joint pain/swelling that comes and goes, nerve pain, muscle weakness, sudden hearing loss, visual abnormalities, memory problems, depression, headache, disorientation, extreme irritability and fatigue, Bell’s palsy, abnormal heartbeat and far too many more to list.
Being diagnosed with Lyme’s disease.
When the ‘characteristic rash’ (known as a bull’s eye rash) occurs in only one-third of patients and when the tick itself is often never seen, there remains no means to reliably and consistently diagnose Lyme. Conventional blood tests have poor accuracy especially in the first month after infection and should not be relied on. More advanced tests are considerably better, yet still miss the diagnosis more often than anyone would like. Generally, diagnoses are made by clinical signs and symptoms and by ruling out other possible causes.
Treating Lyme’s disease.
The goal of treatment is four-fold: killing the bacteria, stimulating the immune system, supporting collagen tissue and relieving the associated symptoms. There is no single treatment plan; instead, one is derived from the likely duration of infection as well as the presenting symptoms.
Antibiotics drugs are regularly needed, often 2 or 3 in combination. Achieving high concentrations of the drug is essential and for this reason daily intravenous dosing is becoming the mainstay. Due to the Lyme bacteria’s exceptional ability to hide within the body, antibiotics are necessary for a much longer period than usual; ranging from 4-6 weeks in early infections and 4-6 months in chronic cases. Side effects to these antibiotics are possible; these including change in vision, stomach upset and liver damage. With long-standing Lyme, toxic by-products from the bacteria begin to accumulate and medication is used to aid in the excretion of the toxin. This process is called chelation therapy.
Herbal products are available adjuncts to the antibiotic treatments. These plant extracts are potent and contain a wide variety of compounds that work in combination to kill the Lyme bacteria while antibiotics are single compounds. For this reason, bacterial resistance to herbal extracts rarely occurs. Some specific herbs have been shown in scientific trials to be effective at killing the bacteria when the antibiotics have failed. The key herbs used to aid in killing the bacteria and strengthening the immune system are: Cryptolepis, Sida, Alchornea, Astragulus, Polygonum, Uncaria and Andrographis. These herbal products are often needed for equally long durations to eradicate the infection.
There exist a wide variety of herbs, nutritional supplements and alternative therapies capable of addressing the particular symptoms that arise due to the Lyme infection. Vitamin C is used to aid in healing the collagen tissue of the joints. Nutrients including resveratrol, zinc and selenium are used in addressing the neurological complications of the infection. Regular massages are useful to stimulate movement of lymph, which tends to accumulate with chronic infections. Continually combating the inflammation that arises from the infection can be addressed with dietary changes and particular herbs.
Although Lyme disease can be a challenging and often frustration infection to beat, there exists an ever-growing body of research surrounding this condition. An aggressive and holistic treatment that aims to kill the bacteria and support the body as early as possible ensures the highest chances of fully eradicating Lyme’s bacteria from the body.