What You Should Know About Lyme
By Steve Sadlon, LAc
The culprit is a spiral-shaped bacterium or spirochete, the same sort of organism that is responsible for syphilis. It is spread by the bite of ticks—in our part of the country, by the black-legged or deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). And, when it infects humans, the result is Lyme Disease, a nasty infection that can spread to the joints, the heart, and the nervous system.
Lyme was first described by physicians in the 1900s. It got its name in the late 1970s, after an outbreak around Lyme, Connecticut. Today, the biggest concentration of infections is still in the mid-Atlantic region, but Lyme is the fastest-growing tick-born disease in the United States and Western and Central New York are seeing more cases every year. We need to be prepared. Lyme is no longer a disease that only affects people in Connecticut or Long Island. It’s a growing health threat right here at home.
Be especially vigilant in May, June, and July, when deer ticks are most numerous.
By far the best way to deal with Lyme Disease is prevention. Take precautions to minimize the chance you’ll be bitten by a deer tick. Wear long pants and long sleeves if you’re walking in brushy or grassy areas or through leaf litter. Tuck your pant legs into your socks. Inspect your skin carefully after you’ve been hiking or working outdoors if you remove a tick within 24 hours, you lower the risk of contracting Lyme.
But what if the worst happens and you get infected?
Lyme Disease affects different people in different ways. The most common symptoms include a rash, fever, headache, and chills. But the bacterium that causes Lyme can evade the body’s immune system response. When this happens, patients suffer more serious long-term symptoms, such as joint or muscle pain, secondary skin lesions, and even auto-immune, neurological, or cardiovascular issues.
Symptoms can arise within a few days—or may not show up for weeks. The effects of Lyme can last for years. And because the symptoms vary from person to person, and mimic so many other conditions (from arthritis to Lou Gehrig’s Disease) practitioners don’t always recognize that Lyme is the culprit. This places patients at even greater risk, since delaying treatment may be associated with the more serious effects of the disease, such as heart damage or autoimmune responses. In another of Lyme’s many strange twists, co-infections are surprisingly common with this disease. As many as 39 percent of people with Lyme may be co-infected with other tick-borne diseases.
Mainstream medicine’s approach to Lyme is antibiotics.
However, it’s important to consider a broader approach to treating Lyme for several reasons. Lyme affects so many of the body’s systems, from the joints and muscles to the nervous system—and the consequences of an infection can be life-changing. Patients should muster every weapon they have to ensure they eradicate the infection entirely.
In addition, the Infectious Disease Society of America doesn’t recognize chronic Lyme Disease: it believes that a standard course of antibiotics always cures Lyme. For this reason, many physicians don’t recognize the symptoms of long-term Lyme infection, or know how to treat it.
Fortunately, patients suffering from Lyme infections have other options.
By supporting a patient’s immune system, for instance, alternative practitioners can help the patient’s own body overcome the infection. Good nutrition is crucial. One study found an association between Lyme and magnesium deficiencies, for instance. Patients should consult their practitioner about testing to determine whether a nutritional supplement protocol is needed.
Some herbs show promise in fighting long-term Lyme infection. One study found that after taking Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa), 85 percent of the study subjects no longer tested positive for the Lyme-causing bacterium. Echinacea can help with immune system function.
Because Lyme is caused by a bacterium similar to the one that causes syphilis (it has even been called Deer Syphilis) practitioners find herbs used traditionally for syphilis are also effective against Lyme. One of these is Sarsaparilla. Another herb once used by Native Americans to treat syphilis is Teasel.
Chinese medicine offers some additional options. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs, for instance, will re-balance the body’s qi, helping the body more effectively fight the infection. Acupuncture points used to treat Lyme include Large Intestine 11, Stomach 36, and Spleen 6.
Treating Lyme Disease can be challenging. Fortunately, with the right combination of conventional and alternative therapies, it’s possible to tackle even the more persistent Lyme infections and fully restore patients to good health.