- Kim is 37 and lives in a high-rise in New York City
- For about a year she felt foggy, tired, and plagued by headaches.
- She was also experiencing joint pain that traveled from ankle to shoulder to knee.
- She tried anti-inflammatories but it only masked the problems.
- Her doctors were unable to find the cause of her issues.
It’s not uncommon for people to turn to functional medicine to deal with headaches and inflammation but there was something that made me think there was something else at play in Kim’s case.
The biggest clues were that aside from the pain, she also said she didn’t feel like herself. I knew that we had to get to the source of the inflammation and the roving joint issues.
My suspicion was Lyme disease but Kim is a city girl and hadn’t been hiking in areas where she might have been exposed. I needed to investigate whether this might be the cause of her issues as it certainly seemed to explain the collection of concerns.
Dr. Darin Ingels is an expert in Lyme disease and a respected thought leader in natural medicine. He’s the author of “The Lyme Solution: A 5-Part Plan to Fight the Inflammatory Autoimmune Response and Beat Lyme Disease”. His practice deals with chronic immune dysfunction and he’s been successful in using natural methods to reduce the symptoms of Lyme (including his own).
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease (also known as Lyme Borreliosis) is a bacterial infection transmitted primarily by Deer ticks. It’s unique because it has the capacity to penetrate different parts of the body in a way that other bacteria can’t. This means, it can travel around the body and it can be difficult to treat. Lyme is also known as the great mimic because the symptoms of the disease can look like many other illnesses and traditionally, doctors have found it very hard to diagnose. Also, there are upwards of 300 different strains of Lyme disease worldwide, with about 100 strains in the U.S.
Know Your Ticks
There are many different types of ticks and the one that most commonly carries Lyme disease is the deer tick. If you find a tick on you, it’s helpful to know what kind of tick it is. Here are a few pictures to help you identify them.
Deer Tick (adult)
Photo: Flickr Fyn Kynd
If You Find a Tick
If you find a tick crawling on you, brush it off. If it hasn’t bitten you, then you are unlikely to have been infected. However, you should do a full tick check since you now know you’ve been in an area where ticks are. When a tick bites you, it stays attached while it feeds. The disease is transmitted from the saliva it secretes into your bloodstream while it is drinking your blood. If you find a tick that is attached to your skin, remove it using tweezers and a magnifying glass, pinching as close to the bite as possible and pulling the tick out slowly. Avoid the instinct to squash it or scratch it away. Gentle, intentional removal will decrease the amount of the bug’s fluids that enter your system. If possible, save the tick (in a plastic bag with a moist cotton ball so it doesn’t dry out) and bring it in for testing.
Not Just Ticks
Lyme disease is most commonly caused by a bite by a carrier known as a deer tick but it’s not just ticks that transmit the bacteria. Some research suggests that mice, rats, and squirrels may also be carriers. Many people write off the possibility of having contracted Lyme because they haven’t been in nature or in a region that is known for having infected ticks. There is also some research being done about the possibility that Lyme disease may be transmitted by mosquitoes, horseflies, fleas, and through the exchange of human body fluids. None of these have been proven conclusively.
Where in the World are Lyme-Infected Ticks?
Another factor that can cause doctors to write off the possibility of Lyme is location. For a long time, Lyme was primarily found in ticks located in specific regions of the US (the Northeastern and Midwestern states) but in the past few years, infected ticks have been found in every state – including Alaska.
There are some tell-tale signs of Lyme infection, the most significant of which is the appearance of a red bulls-eye like rash around the bite area. This is called erythema migrans and is the most conclusive symptom because it only occurs with Lyme. However, not everyone who gets Lyme disease will develop this rash so doctors have to rely on a collection of other symptoms. These symptoms may include fever, chills, joint pain (that may travel from one area to another), Bell’s palsy, swelling of the lymph nodes, sleep disturbances, headaches, and general flu-like symptoms. Over time, symptoms can progress into neurological symptoms like balance problems, coordination issues, fatigue, brain fog, sensitivity to light and short term memory loss potentially leading to cognitive decline.
Diagnosis of Lyme disease is tricky because unless the patient has (and sees) the erythema migrans mark, the symptoms could be a myriad of other things. Often a patient is initially misdiagnosed and it’s not until the collection of symptoms are considered that Lyme is tested for. The CDC recommends testing for a specific antibody through a blood test to begin. If this antibody is not present, then they will determine it’s not Lyme. If it is present, then they move to additional blood tests.
False Negatives and False Positives for Lyme Disease
One of the issues with the traditional Lyme screening method is that the antibody test is just proof that you’ve been exposed. And, there have been issues with that test returning false negatives too because it only picks up 40 – 50% of the people who have it. The challenge with this is that for people dealing with false negative results, the traditional medical system can no longer move forward in diagnosing.
Functional Medicine Approach to Diagnosis
Many functional medicine practitioners skip the initial antibody test and go straight to the other blood tests. There are a variety of labs that will conduct different types of tests that can help confirm a Lyme infection. However, many of these lab tests are not covered by medical insurance. It’s important to do multiple different tests because of how many different strains of Lyme there are. See the references section below for a list of labs.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection so the traditional course of action is to treat it with antibiotics. Often the prescribed length of prescription is not enough to permanently kill off the bacteria (which can go into remission or dormant). During the time of dormancy, antibodies can continue to change. Dr. Ingels says that it’s not uncommon for Lyme disease symptoms to reappear after some time of dormancy. This is what happened to him. The traditional approach is to attack it again with more (sometimes different) antibiotics. Chronic use of antibiotics may cause severe side effects that can lead to other health issues.
Natural Approach to Treatment
There is no consensus on the treatment of Lyme disease and so it comes with some controversy. Dr. Ingels doesn’t say that people should not take the antibiotics, but he does believe that there are lifestyle and diet changes that can help keep symptoms at bay. He is also a proponent of the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach using herbs and acupuncture. However, he notes that everyone is different and it may not work for some. The main idea behind the natural approach is to support the immune system so it’s better equipped to fight the disease and decrease the symptoms. This allows the whole person to heal. He believes that a shift needs to happen away from just trying to kill the bug with antibiotics.
Don’t Give Up Hope
While Lyme disease can be incredibly frustrating (from diagnosis to treatment), Dr. Ingels says you have to be your own health advocate. If doctors are telling you it’s not Lyme and you feel strongly that it could be, get a second opinion, do more testing and seek out a natural medicine practitioner who specializes in Lyme. Lyme can trigger an autoimmune response and develop into series neurological issues if left untreated so be persistent and don’t give up hope of finding the right treatment plan for you.
I sent Kim to be tested for Lyme. She tested positive for the antibodies and several co-infections.
She embarked on a course of antibiotics but also worked to rebalance her body to help fight the inflammation and calm down the immune response. We also worked on issues in her gut and supported her liver and gallbladder to make sure she was detoxifying well. After 3 months on both protocols, she started to feel better and was able to come off the antibiotics. We continued to support her system with herbs, diet and lifestyle shifts and 3 more months later, she reported feeling back to normal. It’s important for Kim to keep her stress in check and maintain a healthy lifestyle to keep her immune system strong.
Eliminating Health Mysteries
For Kim we were able to put together all of the clues, find a solution and help her regain her health. Could Lyme disease be the missing clue for you or someone in your life?
Labs Mentioned by Dr. Ingels:
High Dose Probiotics https://www.completenutritionandwellness.com/shop/11strain-probiotic-50-grams.html
Meditation Online Course for Stress here
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