Integrative Treatments for Lyme Disease: Map Your Road to Recovery

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The latest estimates show that 450,000+ people will get Lyme disease each year in the U.S. This tick-borne illness has been on the rise for the past decade with case numbers continuing to skyrocket. 

Why such a sharp spike? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the increased prevalence of Lyme reflects improvements in disease reporting, as well as other enhanced surveillance methods. There is also increased recognition of Lyme pathology within conventional medicine and more sensitive detection methods.

Lyme Signs and Diagnosis

Lyme is caused by a tick infected with the spirochete bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, transmitted to humans through a tick bite.1,2 The diagnosis is usually confirmed through a combination of lab tests and symptoms, including:

  • Butterfly or bull’s eye rash following a tick bite, between 3 to 30 days after a bite (note: not everyone develops a rash) 
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Neck stiffness
  • Neurological problems

Even with advancements in diagnosis, confirming the presence of Lyme disease can still be difficult, in part because one of Borrelia’s strategies is to suppress immune function. This means someone may not be able to mount the appropriate immune response needed to show up on test results.

Is Increased Exposure to Blame?

Some entomologists and infectious disease researchers believe the steady escalation in new Lyme cases is due to increased exposure. More robust tick populations, weather changes producing longer tick seasons, and other related factors are contributing to a rise of Lyme disease and related co-infections

New data suggests that multiple species of insects may serve as vectors for this disease. Whereas it was once believed to be isolated to the black-legged tick/deer tick, new findings indicate that Lyme disease may also be transmitted by other species of ticks, spiders, mosquitos, and other insects.  

The Terrain: A Map to Treatment 

One theory regarding the rise in Lyme disease, shared by many functional medicine practitioners, is that our collective health terrain has been progressively overwhelmed with ongoing exposure to pro-inflammatory stimuli. Just as we’re seeing an increase in autoimmune diseases, allergies and other conditions involving dysregulated immune response, Lyme disease is also gaining ground, following the path of a perfect storm — elevated burden of environmental toxins, rising stress levels, and numerous other inflammatory instigators are all exponentially compounding each other.  

When practitioners speak of “addressing the terrain,” they’re referring to the overall health of the patient — including genetic predisposition — and the patient’s unique relationship with their environment. By using the terrain theory with integrative medical approaches that strategically address preexisting cofactors, we can peel back the layers and help restore health to the whole body.  

Successful integrative protocols for Lyme disease involve the combination of dynamic approaches, including:  

  • Addressing underlying conditions that lead a person to develop Lyme disease — through detoxification, immune support, and anti-inflammatory approaches 
  • Attacking the bacterial spirochetes and co-infections 
  • Modulating inflammatory-immune responses to the bacterial toxins

The Presence of Co-Infections

One of the major and often overlooked issues in Lyme disease are specific co-infections that frequently come along with Borrelia. Bacteria and parasites such as Ehrlichia, Babesia, and Bartonella often accompany the Lyme spirochete inhabiting the insect, and thus they can also be transmitted during a bite. These microbes can contribute to more aggressive symptoms and need to be properly identified and addressed as well.  

Overcoming Treatment Barriers

Standard allopathic treatment for Lyme disease is antibiotic therapy, starting immediately after an infection occurs or is suspected. Antibiotic treatment usually lasts 3–4 weeks following the initial infection.  

However, there’s a significant issue with this approach: Many people who contract Lyme disease don’t realize it until months or sometimes years later, when chronic symptoms emerge as the body reacts to the biotoxins produced by the infection. Also, several other conditions overlap with chronic Lyme symptoms, so patients can be misdiagnosed with other conditions (e.g., fibromyalgia).

Post Lyme Disease Syndrome

devastating. The condition manifests as aches and flu-like symptoms, moderate-to-severe pain and muscle stiffness, extreme fatigue, rashes and other skin problems, allergic reactions, neurodegeneration, brain fog, depression, digestive complications, cardiovascular problems such as blood pressure imbalances and irregular heartbeat, and more. 

When Lyme disease reaches the chronic stage, antibiotics are often ineffective in getting rid of the infection. That’s partly because the bacterium that causes Lyme,as well as other co-infections, burrows within tissues once an infection takes hold. They often hide within the nervous system, including the brain. 

Anti-inflammatory therapies that cross the blood-brain barrier are particularly important for reducing neurological symptoms of Lyme and other diseases. Pure honokiol, a highly active biphenyl derived from Magnolia officinalis bark has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, it and has proven useful in this area of treatment.3

Biofilms and Lyme

Biofilm structures may be another strategy that Lyme bacterium uses to hide. Biofilms are protective barriers secreted by multi-species microorganism colonies — including candida and other fungi, pathogenic bacteria, and other microbes — that have been shown to be highly resistant to treatment. A growing body of evidence suggests that Borrelia can form biofilm matrixes in the body, shielding itself from antimicrobial therapies and immune surveillance.4 

The multitargeted strategy of breaking up biofilms with biofilm-degrading enzymes; applying antimicrobial agents, following with detoxification binders and lastly, probiotics, holds potential as a dynamic approach to help eradicate persistent infections, including Lyme disease.

The Toxic Metal and Mold Problem

Toxic heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, and others) are persistent in our environment. Repeated exposure can result in elevated body burden of toxic metals that impair detox pathways, fuel inflammation, damage DNA, scramble cell signals, and suppress immune function.  

Other environmental toxins, including agricultural chemicals and pesticides and mold and fungal toxins, can have similar impacts.  

Patients with an elevated toxic body burden and suppressed immunity are more susceptible to Lyme disease, allowing Borrelia and other infections a much stronger foothold. And because Lyme fuels chronic inflammation and toxic body burden, Lyme symptoms are often much worse in patients who are already challenged by ongoing inflammation and elevated neurotoxins, creating a vicious cycle where detox capacity and immune function are further degraded.  

Gene expression can play a role in evaluating individual response to Lyme disease. Patients with certain genes such as HLA DRB1 15, DQ 6 and/or other HLA genes, can be much more sensitive to neurotoxins including mold/fungus, toxins produced by bacterial infections, heavy metals, environmental pollutants, and more.5 For these patients, antibiotics don’t work as well in the preliminary stages either. These and other genetic predispositions can make it much more difficult for patients with Lyme disease to successfully detoxify, while exacerbating the symptoms of Lyme disease.

Safe, Effective Detox

Safe, gentle detoxification of heavy metals, toxins, and especially mold, remains one of the frontline integrative strategies in Lyme treatment.  

Published clinical studies demonstrate that the researched form of the supplement, Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP), safely removes toxic metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic from the body without removing essential minerals. 

This form of MCP has also been shown to successfully reduce chronic, systemic inflammation by blocking a pro-inflammatory protein in the body called galectin-3.6-8 Elevated levels of galectin-3 drive cytokine cascades that promote inflammation, fibrosis, biofilm establishment, and suppressed immunity, while fueling the progression of chronic diseases — including cancer and heart disease— through multiple mechanisms. Clinically studied MCP is the most-researched galectin-3 blocker and is increasingly applied in the treatment of Lyme disease and other pro-inflammatory conditions.  

Supporting the body’s detox systems, particularly phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification pathways, is also essential. For this, botanicals including milk thistle seed, dandelion, ginkgo, as well as N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), alpha lipoic acid and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) are important. Alginates, derived from brown seaweed, also have detoxifying, immune-enhancing, and anti-inflammatory properties. These and other natural detox agents help support the body’s ability to safely metabolize and remove toxins from tissues and circulation.

Antimicrobial and Immune Support Therapies  

Herbal medicines: Targeted antimicrobial nutrients, botanicals, and antioxidants can help treat infection while also modulating immune and inflammation responses. Garlic and its derivative, allicin, is a treatment often used for addressing Lyme disease.9 Other botanicals — including curcumin from turmeric, cat’s claw, boswellia from frankincense, astragalus, and prickly ash bark — can also be helpful in addressing infection.10 One formula consisting of a combination of artemisinin, whole herb Artemisia annua, and an Artemisia annua extract, is recommended because it may be more effective and better tolerated than the single ingredient artemisinin, which is commonly used in Lyme disease treatment.  

IV vitamins: I also recommend IV glutathione with phosphatidylcholine (PC), as part of a modified “Lipid Exchange Therapy” for neurological conditions, including Lyme. PC helps dislodge toxins from cell membranes, followed by glutathione, which helps the body to neutralize and excrete the toxins. Vitamin C IVs are also helpful for addressing infection, inflammation, and immunity.

Essential oils: Some compelling new research points to the benefits of botanical essential oils in treating Lyme disease. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University found that among 34 essential oils tested at different concentrations against Borrelia, three stood out with similar or better efficacy than antibiotic therapy — cinnamon, clove bud and oregano. While this is preclinical in-vitro (cell culture) data, results are encouraging as they highlight the potential for additional integrative approaches to help prevent and treat Lyme disease.11

Restoring Health with Apheresis

There are several integrative strategies that can strengthen the immune system, fight infectious agents, remove toxic compounds, support the body’s detox pathways, and modulate inflammatory responses. Together with proper support for neurological function and other key organ systems that may be affected by Lyme, we can gradually work to restore health in the face of this debilitating disease.  

One treatment we’re seeing success with at my practice, Amitabha Medical Clinic & Healing Center, is therapeutic apheresis. This treatment is similar in some ways to dialysis — it works by removing inflammatory compounds from the circulation. Three to four liters of blood are removed from the body, drawn through the apheresis machine, and then filtered through specific columns. The cleaned blood is returned to the patient in a continuous circuit. This filtration procedure effectively reduces circulating levels of pro-inflammatory compounds, including oxidized LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol, fibrinogen, C-reactive protein (CRP), galectin-3 (Gal-3), and others.  

Apheresis offers an immediate and significant reduction in blood viscosity and a significant decrease in toxic congestion, making it a useful treatment for individuals with chronic Lyme disease and other pro-inflammatory conditions. 

If you have concerns about Lyme disease, it’s critical to work with a Lyme-literate health provider. Lyme disease can be complicated by numerous factors, but with strategic approaches that combine multiple modalities and therapeutic targets, you can gain momentum on your healing journey and reach your goal of greater health and vitality — naturally.

References 

  1. Nicolson, G.L. Diagnosis and Therapy of Chronic Systemic Co-infections in Lyme Disease and Other Tick-Borne Infectious Diseases. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients 2007;285:93- 1
  2. Winston, RH. Tick-Borne Diseases Their Effective Treatment, Including the Use of Botanical and Complementary Therapies. Medical Herbalism 2006;15(1):1-93.
  3. Woodbury A, et al. Neuro-modulating effects of honokiol: a review. Front Neurol., 11 September 2013 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2013.00130
  4. Sapi E, et al. Evidence of In Vivo Existence of Borrelia Biofilm in Borrelial Lymphocytomas. Eur J Microbiol Immunol (Bp). 2016 Mar; 6(1): 9–24.
  5. Shoemaker, RC. (2005) Mold Warriors: Fighting America’s Hidden Health Threat. Louisville, Kentucky: Gateway Press. 
  6. Eliaz I, et al. The effect of modified citrus pectin on urinary excretion of toxic elements. Phytother Res. 2006 Oct;20(10):859-64.
  7. Zhao Zy, et al. The role of modified citrus pectin as an effective chelator of lead in children hospitalized with toxic lead levels. Altern Ther Health Med. 2008 Jul-Aug;14(4):34-8.
  8. Martinez-Martinez E, et al. Galectin-3 pharmacological inhibition attenuates early renal damage in spontaneously hypertensive rats. J Hypertens. 2018 Feb;36(2):368-376.
  9. Duke, J. Herbs with Anti-Lyme Potential. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients 2007;285:114-128 
  10. 1 Vojdani, A., et al. Novel Diagnosis of Lyme Disease: Potential for CAM Intervention. Evid Based 
  11. 11. Feng J, et al. Selective Essential Oils from Spice or Culinary Herbs Have High Activity against Stationary Phase and Biofilm Borrelia burgdorferi. Front. Med., 11 October 2017 | https://doi.org/13389/fmed.2017.00169

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