Chronic Lyme Disease and Coinfections (Dr. Rade specialty area)

Naturopathic Management of Chronic Lyme Disease

 

What is Chronic Lyme Disease?

Chronic Lyme Disease – more accurately referred to as “persistent Borreliosis” or “Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome” is an infectious disease initiated by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.  It is associated with a vast milieu of symptoms that can mimic conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, autoimmune disorders, chronic pain syndromes and neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis.  The most common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue

  • Pain (joints, muscles, nerves, etc.)

  • Neurological symptoms (numbness, tingling, spasms, etc.)

  • Cognitive symptoms (“brain fog”, loss of memory, anxiety, depression, etc.)

  • Cyclical symptoms (periods of symptom improvement and worsening), usually with general worsening over time

…however this is by no means a comprehensive list and every chronic Lyme patient is unique.

 

What about the co-infections?

Lyme is also frequently associated with so-called co-infections: other microorganisms that can infect the patient in addition to Borrelia.  This can occur at the same time as the Borrelia infection or the microbes can infect the host while s/he is immunocompromised by the Lyme.  The co-infections can include Bartonella, Babesia, Erlichia, Anaplasma, Mycoplasma, Cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr Virus, HHV-6, nanobacter, and others.

 

For some patients, the co-infection(s) may indeed be the ONLY infection(s) (i.e. Lyme may actually be cleared from the system, or was never present at all – this can help to account for why we see so many false negatives in Lyme testing).  This can be very difficult to definitively determine clinically because the co-infection microbes can present with identical symptoms to Lyme (which are non-specific to begin with).  Generally, though, the co-infections can present with specific attributes that suggest their presence to a clinician.

 

Examples:

  • Babesia: cherry angiomas (red dots) on the abdomen, issues with breathing (inability to take a deep breath or “air hunger”), cyclical fevers or sweats, headaches

  • Bartonella: purple or red streaks on the abdomen (like scratches), mottled rashes, easy bruising, enlarged lymph nodes, anxiety, burning pains, headaches

 

Are there definitive tests available?

No test is 100% definitive, and for many years that was painfully true with regards to assessing for Borrelia and coinfections.  Fortunately, many advances have been made in this area and we can run assays for these microbes with much greater accuracy.  Some testing methods include:

 

ELISA testing: this is the method employed in standard medical algorithms.  While research indicates that it should be quite accurate in assessing acute Lyme disease, other research suggests that it is not accurate in assessing for persistent Borreliosis

 

Western Blot testing (IgM, IgG): this testing method appears to be better than the ELISA test at picking up a diagnosis of persistent Borreliosis, however some patients do not make these antibodies to the Borrelia bacteria and thus will not test positive even if the infection is in their bodies.  The other limitation of this test is that it only determines that a patient has been exposed to the microbe – it does not guarantee an active infection is present.

 

PCR Testing (“DNA Testing”): this is a gold standard in microbiology since it actually searches for microbial DNA…and if the DNA is present then it confirms microbial presence (and thus, presumably, an active infection).  The challenge has been that running this test on blood samples is not very sensitive (i.e. there is a high rate of false negatives).  However, recent advances using “provoked” PCR testing on urine samples has proven to have much higher sensitivity rates.  Indeed, this is now one of our preferred methods to assess for Borrelia and coinfections.

 

Armin Labs Ellispot Testing (“T-cell Testing”): this is a versatile testing method from Germany which is used to assess an immune system response to infection that is different from the Western Blot or ELISA antibody testing.  Trials suggest that this method has a much better sensitivity (accuracy) than Western Blot testing.  A positive T cell response also indicates the presence of an active infection.

 

The necessity of testing and the specific test to run is highly patient-specific and is something that needs to be determined by a Lyme-literate clinician.

 

In the absence of a positive lab result, what can we do?

One glaring disadvantage of the above testing methods is that none of them are covered by the Canadian health care system.  Unfortunately, that sometimes means that patients cannot afford to run a test to confirm his/her diagnosis.  In such cases – presuming that Lyme or a coinfection appears to be afoot – we can start with a “therapeutic trial” to see if symptoms improve or change in a way that suggests we have the right diagnosis.  Indeed, this method typically shows us results one way or the other within about one month’s time (i.e. if the patient feels better it strongly suggests an infection; if they feel no change it’s less likely to be Lyme).

 

What are the treatment options?

There are many.  Some clinicians and patients report cures with pharmaceutical drugs like antibiotics alone.  Others cure these infections with herbs alone.  Others state that mind-body work or homeopathy or Rife machines or detox protocols or intravenous silver or one of many, many other therapeutic interventions cure Lyme.  Having treated several hundred patients with chronic infection to date and having traveled across North America and to Europe and spoken to many very smart doctors and other therapists, I have learned that these infections can be successfully treated in a number of ways.  I have also learned that no one therapy works for every case.

 

In my experience some cases are very easy (e.g. I’ve had patients who were only sick for a few months who are 100% symptom-free within a matter of weeks of taking some Lyme-killing herbs), some cases are very challenging (e.g. I’ve had patients who needed Lyme-killing herbs, detox support, IV therapy, immunotherapy, methylation support supplements, dietary changes and more to get 100% well), and the majority of cases are somewhere in between.  Persistent Borreliosis and coinfections are insidious and it requires a thorough and deft clinician to determine the most effective and efficient protocol for each patient.

 

What are the naturopathic/integrative medical treatment options?

There are many.  The treatments that I have found to be most effective with my patients include (please note that patients do not require all of the following treatments – a specific protocol must be tailored for each individual):

  • Herbal Therapy: I rely heavily on the brilliant work of herbalist Stephen Buhner (who has written several books on Lyme and coinfections that are very accessible for the general public).  Herbs can be used to:

    • Kill infection

    • Retrain the immune system to work properly

    • Heal damaged organs, glands and tissues (muscles, nerves, etc.)

    • Address symptoms to bring patients relief while waiting for the infection to resolve

  • Immune system enhancement/“waking it up”: Lyme has devised many ways to evade the immune system while still wreaking havoc on the body.  In addition to herbs, other targeted therapies can really “wake up” the immune system and get it properly patrolling the whole body.  Three advanced treatments include:

    • Autonosode therapy: a simple, in-office procedure that improves the ability of the immune system to scour the body’s connective tissues and nervous system for Lyme (places it frequently hides to evade the immune system)

    • Sinus Ozone therapy: in-office treatment of the sinuses with procaine and ozone strongly enhances overall immune system function and directly kills Lyme in one of its main reservoirs in the body (i.e. the sinuses)

    • Low Dose Immunotherapy: an at-home treatment that helps to reduce the inflammatory effects induced by infection (please see the write up on our website for more details and a link to my YouTube video on the topic)

  • Adrenal Gland Support: our adrenal glands control our energy levels and get depleted in the face of stress.  Chronic infection is incredibly stressful on the body and thus the adrenals are virtually always depleted in these patients.  Support with strong doses of herbs and adrenal gland extracts help improve energy levels and mental function quickly.

  • IV therapy: in many cases in our experience, IV therapy acts as a “kick starter” of the therapeutic protocol…essentially we see faster rates of improvement in patients who can utilize them.  Common prescriptions are for intravenous ozone therapy, high dose nutrient infusions (known as a “Myer’s Cocktail”), intravenous laser therapy and intravenous detoxification agents.

  • Addressing biofilms: biofilms are a protein-sugar coating that can form on the lining of the intestines, blood vessels, sinuses and other areas of the body are effectively act as hiding places for persistent infectious microbes.  Cases that plateau when only using a “killing microbes” approach frequently need to address biofilms to improve further.

  • Reducing EMF exposure: EMFs (electromagnetic fields) can significantly aggravate symptoms of infection in some patients, especially issues with brain fog and insomnia.  Reducing exposure during sleep can be crucial to improve recovery time in susceptible individuals.

  • Dealing with other issues as they arise: in my experience, patients who are actively killing Lyme may begin to have other issues arise.  Sometimes they start actively clearing heavy metals (indicated by developing headaches, a metallic taste in the mouth, aggravation by strong scents/chemicals, etc.) or start clearing past emotional issues.  Sometimes old symptoms from years before come to the surface again.  As these issues arise they must be dealt with to help the Lyme to be cleared as efficiently as possible.

  • Other therapies: many other therapies can potentially be useful in anti-Lyme protocols, including bee venom therapy, detoxification protocols, supporting methylation cycle issues, etc.  As indicated above, the treatment regimen must be specific to each patient’s case. 

© 2012 by Dr. Bryan Rade ND and Dr. Taryn Deering ND