Lyme disease is one of the most difficult health conditions to diagnose and treat, and also one of the most dangerous, due to the wide range of health complications it can cause, including heart disease. Although mainstream, conventional health experts consider Lyme disease to be both rare and relatively new (it's officially said to have first been discovered near Lyme, Connecticut in 1977), they are wrong on both counts. In actuality, Lyme was first identified in 1883, in the town of Breslau, Germany. Holistic health practitioners recognize that the spread of Lyme disease has become epidemic, but is often un- or misdiagnosed because of how often its symptoms masquerade as other health conditions. For this reason, many health experts now refer to Lyme disease as the "great imposter," a term first used to describe syphilis, which similarly can be mistaken for a wide range of other health conditions. If left untreated, Lyme disease inevitably spreads into the joints and nervous system, where it can cause a wide variety of serious health problems.
Although Lyme disease is identified by conventional physicians as an initial rash, known as erythema migrans (EM), which affects the skin in a "bull's-eye" pattern, only 30 to 40 percent of adults with Lyme disease, and less than 10 percent of infected children, exhibit the rash. Moreover, in many cases, particularly among African Americans and others with dark skin, the EM rash may go unnoticed, due to its lightness, or it may be mistaken for a bruise. Further compounding the problem is the fact that, although the EM rash will typically manifest within a few days of infection, in other cases it may not appear for months, by which time Lyme disease can have spread throughout the body.
The majority of people with Lyme disease, because they do not exhibit the EM rash, typically are unaware that they have the illness. Instead, they, as well as their physicians, mistake it for other types of chronic, degenerative disease. Diseases that Lyme is often mistaken for include chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism and other thyroid problems, multiple sclerosis (MS), Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), and various types of environmental illness. It is not uncommon for Lyme disease to lead to depression, and in some cases, extreme emotional dysfunction and hopelessness.
Caution: Lyme disease, in order to be treated effectively, requires the attention of a professional health care practitioner who employs an integrative treatment protocol that combines the best of conventional medicine with natural cures. A list of such leading Lyme experts, as well as organizations dedicated to providing accurate information about Lyme disease, can be found at the end of this article. If you suspect you suffer from Lyme disease, seek immediate medical treatment.
Symptoms of Lyme disease occur over three stages: localized disease, disseminated early disease, and disseminated later disease. In the first, or localized disease stage, the only visible manifestation of Lyme disease, if any, is the EM rash without other symptoms. In the disseminated early disease stage, which is caused as the Bb spirochete starts to spread throughout the body, the primary symptom is widespread inflammation that is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms. In the final, or disseminated later disease stage, which typically occurs three months after a person first contracts Bb, but can sometimes not manifest until much longer than that (in some cases as long as 15 years or more), the primary symptoms are organ damage and impairment of other body systems. What follows is a more complete list of symptoms for each of the three stages of Lyme disease.
Localized Symptoms: The primary initial symptom of Lyme disease is the EM rash, which, if present, will occur at the site of the tick or insect bite. Other symptoms at this stage can include minor aches and pains, headache, and fever.
Disseminated Early and Later Disease Symptoms: Symptoms of Lyme disease in both the early and late stages of dissemination can vary. They include chronic fatigue, headache, weakness, muscle aches and pain, back pain, joint pain and swelling (similar to arthritis), chills, fever, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, facial paralysis, swollen lymph glands, enlarged spleen, profuse perspiration, irregular heartbeat, convulsions, vision problems, memory and cognition problems, cranial and Bell's palsy, impaired muscle coordination, gait problems, stabbing pains along the extremities, diminished reflexes, brain and spinal cord infection, bladder and kidney problems, infertility, liver problems (including, in some cases, hepatitis), and skin disorders.
Lyme disease in these two stages can also result in mental health problems, including depression, mood swings, dementia, personality changes, hallucinations, panic attacks, impulsive violence and verbal aggression, paranoia, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and suicide. It can also cause or play a role in bipolar disorder (manic depression) and neurological disease.
When diagnosed at a very early stage, Lyme disease can be cured by a course of oral antibiotics, such as doxycycline. When treatment is delayed, the results can be disastrous, since in its later stages, "Lyme also includes collateral conditions that result from being ill with multiple pathogens, each of which has a profound impact on the person's overall health," states Joseph J. Burrascano, Jr., M.D., of East Hamptom, New York. "Together, damage to virtually all bodily systems can result."
Lyme disease is caused by a microorganism known as Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), a type of spirochete (so named because of its slender, spiral shape) that was first isolated and identified by Willy Burgdorfer, Ph.D., M.D. in 1982. Conventional wisdom holds that Lyme is solely transmitted by ticks. This is false. In addition to ticks, Lyme can also be spread by a variety of other insects, including fleas, flies, mites, and mosquitoes, as well as by human-to-human contact (including breast feeding), and by blood transfusion. Unpasteurized goat or cow milk can also transmit Bb infection. It is important to realize that Lyme disease is not a simple infection, but rather a serious, complex illness that can often consist of other co-infections in addition to Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), especially the parasitic pathogens Babesia and Ehrlichia.
Diagnosing Lyme Disease
Accurately diagnosing Lyme disease is extremely difficult. Compounding this problem is the fact that both positive and negative findings do not necessarily mean what one might expect. For example, it is entirely possible to test positive to Lyme disease and not have it, since at some point in the past, you may have been exposed to Bb, resulting in the creation of antibodies by your body in order to fight it. If the antibodies were able to do their job effectively (a possibility in people with healthy immune systems), the Bb would have been eliminated and the positive reading would simply be reflecting the presence of Bb antibodies. Conversely, diagnostic testing measures for Lyme disease do not always detect Bb, leading to negative test results although Lyme disease is actually present.
Conventional Testing Methods for Lyme Disease: The most common conventional testing methods used to diagnose Lyme disease fall into two categories: antibody and direct detection.
Antibody tests include the Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test, an automated and standardized procedure that uses enzymes to detect Bb antibodies, and the ELISA "capture test," which uses two different methods to detect Bb antibodies, and is considered more sensitive than the more commonly available version of the ELISA test.
Another antibody test is known as the Indirect Fluorescent Antibody (IFA) test, which was the original test used to diagnose Lyme disease, and is still used by some labs despite its high risk of error. In this test, fluorescent dye is added to a slide containing a blood sample mixed with a dead Bb specimen. The slide is then placed under a microscope under fluorescent or ultraviolet light. If a green color appears, it is considered a positive reading.
With both the ELISA and IFA tests, a positive reading usually results in a follow up Western blot test, which also carries a high risk of inaccuracy, given the fact that as many as 40 percent of people with Lyme disease ever exhibit antibodies for Lyme. Other antibody tests, which also carry the risk of misdiagnosis, include the Borreliacidal antibody test (BAT), the immune complex test, the prevue test, and the C6 Lyme peptide test.
Direct detection testing methods for detecting Lyme disease include culturing, staining, antigen tests, and the Polymerase Chain Reaction test (PCR).
Alternative Testing Methods for Lyme Disease: An increasing amount of physicians, especially those in the field of holistic and alternative methods, are turning to two nontraditional testing methods despite the fact that neither test has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The tests were developed by Joanne Whitaker, MD, and Linda Mattman, PhD, respectively. Dr. Whitaker's test is known as the Rapid Identification of Bb (RIBb). It involves a highly purified fluorescent antibody stain that is specific for Bb, making it capable of determining whether Bb is present within 30 minutes after the test is performed. Such a rapid test result is key to making an accurate diagnosis in time to begin a proper treatment protocol before Lyme disease progresses throughout the body.
The test developed by Dr. Mattman is a culture test that also employs a fluorescent antibody staining technique. This allows health practitioners who use it to observe live cultures under a fluorescent microscope. According to Dr. Mattman, when a person is ill, his or her antibodies become entangled in the body's tissues, forming what is known as an immune complex that cannot be detected by conventional blood and antibody tests. This is why conventional tests for Lyme disease so often result in false negatives. Both the RIBb and Mattman tests look for Bb directly, instead of antibodies to it, in much the same way that tuberculosis is diagnosed.
A third diagnostic test that is becoming increasingly popular in the United States originated in the Netherlands, where it was developed by internationally renowned holistic physician C.J.M. Broekhuyse, MD, founder and director of Vegsii Research. Dr. Broekhuyse has a keen interest in Lyme disease because he was infected with it many years ago, and did not become aware that he was until many years later, largely due to the ineffective conventional medical tests for detecting it. Dr. Broekhuyse now devotes much of his time helping others recover from Lyme disease. In the process of doing so, he has developed a blood test that screens not only for Bb, but also for Ehrlichia phagocytophila, and protozoa similar to the malaria organism called Babesia microti, making it highly effective for determining if Lyme disease is present. Dr. Broekhuyse's test is now available to people in the United States through Vonner Health Services, a company dedicated to helping people cope with Lyme disease and a wide variety of other illnesses caused by bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections.
Electrodermal Screening (EDS): Another test often employed by alternative physicians to detect Lyme disease is electrodermal screening. Electrodermal screening (EDS) is a noninvasive diagnostic technique that measures the electrical output of specific points on the hands, face, or feet that correlate to acupuncture meridian points at the beginning or end of energy meridians. The electrical signals given off at these points provide information about the health status of the body's organs and organ systems, and can also be used to detect the presence of toxins, energy and hormonal imbalances, and harmful microorganisms. In the hands of a highly skilled EDS practitioner, EDS can often detect evidence of Lyme disease, even when other sophisticated testing methods fail to do so. This is because both health and disease are first and foremost the result of balanced or imbalanced energy.
The Lyme Disease Questionnaire: According to Joseph Burrascano, MD, a leading expert in the treatment of Lyme disease, "No currently available test, no matter the source or type, is definitive in ruling out infection with the pathogens associated with Lyme disease, or whether these infections are responsible for the patient's symptoms. The entire clinical picture must be taken into account, including a search for concurrent conditions and alternative diagnoses, and other reasons for some of the presenting complaints." To address these issues, Dr. Burrascano developed an in-depth list of diagnostic criteria and an exhaustive symptom checklist to help patients and their physicians make a more accurate diagnosis of Lyme disease. His Lyme disease questionnaire is made available by the Lyme Disease Network, a national clearing house for information about Lyme Disease.
You can find Dr. Burrascano's symptom checklist (a.k.a. Risk Profile) by going to their website site, using the following link: www2.lymenet.org/domino/file.nsf/UID/guidelines (You will need to scroll down.) Though the questionnaire is not meant to be used as definite diagnostic criteria, it can help determine if you have Lyme disease. The more yes answers you have, the more likely it is that Lyme disease is present.Treatment
In the initial stage of Lyme disease, a four-week course of antibiotic treatment can often be enough to eradicate the Bb pathogen and prevent it from spreading through your body. However, such a course of treatment can only work if it is started immediately following infection, something that many times is not possible, given how difficult Lyme disease is to detect. Even when it is possible, the following natural cures should be used in conjunction with antibiotics in order to protect yourself against the side effects of such drugs, and to boost your recovery once the Bb pathogen is eliminated.
For cases of Lyme disease that escape early detection and have spread past the infection site to other areas of the body, a much more comprehensive treatment plan is required. Alternative physicians agree that the primary treatment for Lyme disease is antibiotics. They caution, however, that the accepted "standard" antibiotic therapies are insufficient, both in terms of the duration of antibiotic treatment (often four weeks is not enough) and the type of antibiotic employed. According to Dr. Joanne Whitaker, a former Lyme disease patient herself, the type of antibiotic used must be one that is capable of penetrating through the blood brain barrier and specific to the cell wall of the organs that are affected by Bb.
Other Lyme experts advise that there is no adequate conventional treatment model. Proper treatment must be tailored to the specific needs of each patient and devised according to the severity of symptoms and the spread of Bb. In many cases, antibiotics administered intravenously are necessary, and often for a duration much longer than the standard four weeks of antibiotic treatment recommended by conventional physicians. Each stage of a patient's treatment must also be properly monitored so that the health care practitioner can best determine what to do next. Overall, the success or failure of the treatment program depends on a number of factors, including when treatment begins, the strength and amount of Bb that has been disseminated in the body, the areas of the body in which infestation occurs, and the potency of the antibiotic in comparison to the sensitivity of the strain of Bb that it is treating.
While alternative physicians agree that antibiotic therapy should be the first step in treating Lyme disease, they do not rely on antibiotics alone. Natural cures employed by alternative physicians in conjunction with antibiotic therapy for Lyme disease include:
Diet: Healthy eating is of primary importance. Avoid any and all alcohol and sugars, including sugar replacements such as maple, agave or brown rice syrup, and all other types of sweeteners with the exception of stevia or mesquite meal powder. (See glossary for descriptions.) Sugar in all its many forms feed the bacteria associated with Lyme disease, and also contributes to candidiasis, a co-factor illness that is often found in patients with Lyme disease.
Be sure to drink plenty of fresh, filtered water throughout the day. Emphasize a diet of organic, whole foods, with plenty of fresh vegetables. Include a wide variety of antioxidant rich foods, such as bell peppers, carrots, celery, dark-green leafy vegetables, such as kale, collards, mustard greens, cilantro, parsley, spinach, tomatoes, and yellow squash. Choose fruit carefully and if you have Candidiasis, only eat green apples and an occasional grapefruit. You can eat seasonal fruit in moderation, and enjoy cherries, mangos, melons, plums, red grapes, and berries of all types, along with fiber rich apples and pears.
Complex whole grains are recommended, as are almonds, yams, lentils, and squash, because of their ability to help balance internal pH levels. Choose organic free-range meats, poultry and wild caught fish, and eat plain, organic yogurt to help supply your gastrointestinal tract with healthy intestinal flora. Organic egg yolks are good because they are rich in carotenoids, a class of antioxidants.
Avoid all commercial, processed, fried, and non-organic food, as well as coffee, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, food dyes, milk and dairy products (with the exception of organic, preferably raw, yogurt or kefir), wheat and wheat products, and refined carbohydrates. Do not eat saturated, trans-, hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated fats and oils. Instead choose from virgin coconut butter/oil, extra virgin olive oil, high lignin flax seed oil, and unrefined hemp seed, walnut, and sunflower oils.
In addition, undergo testing for potential food allergies and sensitivities and avoid those foods to which you test positive. Consider a rotation diet or elimination diet in order to further reduce the likelihood of food allergies.
Nutrition and diet are key players in the healing and elimination of imbalance and disease. For a complete, nutrition packed, whole foods eating plan, read the Natural Cures Healing Food Plan. Also, for some plagued with Lyme Disease, a raw food diet could be extremely beneficial; for others, raw food may not be the best choice. Each person responds differently based on their individual chemistry and the depth of the condition being healed. To learn more, read about the Raw Food Diet. Numerous books are available to give you a bigger overview of how eating raw and live foods might be the perfect healing path. (See the recommended books section.) You can print out these full articles on the different diets for easy reference.
Dr. Broekhuyse's Target Pack: One of the most promising natural remedies for Lyme disease is a combination herbal remedy developed by Dr. C.J. M. Broekhuyse, founding medical director of Vesgii Research in the Netherlands, known as the Target Pack. This approach involves taking a series of proprietary formulas, developed by Dr. Broekhuyse, over a three phase period that typically lasts between 16 and 20 weeks. The Target Pack has been a great success with thousands of European patients with Lyme disease, and is now available to people in the U.S. and Canada through Vonner Health Services. The Target Pack works by deburdening and destressing the internal environment of the body from undesirable toxins and microbes, including the pathogens known to cause Lyme disease. In the process, it also balances the immune system and replenishes healthy gastrointestinal flora, as it targets and eliminates Bb and other Lyme pathogens, as well as various other unhealthy microbes. In the vast majority of cases, patients report complete recovery from their symptoms after only one course of all three phases of the treatment protocol.
Herbs: Other herbs that can help speed recovery from Lyme disease include astragalus, gingko biloba, ginseng, and maitake and reishi mushrooms. Cordyceps, a Tibetan herb noted for its high antioxidant properties and ability to increase stamina and overall energy, is also highly recommended. Another helpful herb is Laryx, which can boost immune function.
Lifestyle and Stress Reduction: It is essential that people with Lyme disease get plenty of rest and minimize stress. Avoid overwork and personal interactions that can cause you to feel stressful. At the same time, try to exercise regularly throughout each week, at least three times a week for 30 minutes each session. One of the easiest and most enjoyable forms of exercise is brisk walking. Not only does walking provide physical health benefits, it can also soothe away daily stress and improve your mood.
To further improve your ability to manage stress, consider making relaxation exercises a daily part of your life. These include prayer, meditation, guided imagery and visualization, and breathing exercises. Counseling and joining a support group can also be highly beneficial.
Nutritional Supplements: Useful nutrients for dealing with Lyme disease include vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin B1, biotin, inositol, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, essential fatty acids (especially omega-3 oils), calcium pantothenate, magnesium, and zinc, in addition to a daily multivitamin/multimineral formula. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is also recommended due to its ability to improve stamina, energy levels, and resistance to infection. (Avoid CoQ10 if you are taking the medication atovaquone, also known as Mepron.) Other helpful nutrients include acidophilus, to counteract the side effects of antibiotics within the gastrointestinal tract, the amino acid L-carnitine, and thymus gland extract.
Some holistic physicians report that high doses of vitamin C administered intravenously can be very effective in dealing with Lyme disease. Such treatment must be administered by a skilled, nutritionally-oriented physician.
Transfer Factor: Transfer factors are tiny protein molecules that are much smaller than antibodies. They act as messengers for the immune system's production of white blood cells in response to attacks on the body by invading microorganisms, including Bb. More importantly, transfer factors can literally teach the immune system to recognize such pathogens, so that they can be dealt with more effectively. In the case of Lyme disease, the recognition of Bb by the immune system is vitally important, because if Bb is not recognized, it is able to spread more easily throughout the body, making its eradication immeasurably more difficult. According to Dr. Joanne Whitaker, antigen-specific Transfer Factor is the most effective type of transfer factor for dealing with chronic Lyme disease. Taken orally, it can quickly improve the immune system's ability to track and eliminate Bb.
Alternative Professional Care: The following professional care therapies can also be useful for treating Lyme disease: Acupuncture, Biofeedback Training, Bodywork (especially Bowen Therapy because of its ability to balance and restore proper function of the autonomic nervous system, thereby improving the function of all other systems of the body), Detoxification Therapy, Energy Medicine, Environmental Medicine, Naturopathic Medicine, Orthomolecular Medicine, Oxygen Therapy (ozone therapy, intravenous hydrogen peroxide therapy, and ultraviolet blood irradiation), and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).