Is Lyme Disease Behind Your Fatigue?

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In my practice, it’s not unusual to meet with patients who have already seen ten or more different physicians. They come to me because they’re exhausted and ache all over. Sometimes they have swollen joints, a fever, stiff neck, or mysterious problems like brain fog, mood swings, or trouble moving certain muscles. Often, they’ve been misdiagnosed with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia.

Some of these patients have not improved after treatment. So they’re not only sick but frustrated as well, wondering if they’ll ever find a solution to what ails them. Even after what seemed like successful treatment, patients sometimes suffer recurring symptoms, as my patient Jeanette experienced.

Many doctors simply write off these patients, telling them their ailment is psychosomatic. In other words, they’re not really sick, they only think they are.

That’s why I want to talk to you about Lyme disease, an under-the-radar condition that conventional medicine tends to classify as a fantasy ailment, if it’s acknowledged at all.

The truth is, Lyme disease is at epidemic levels in this country — children and older individuals are especially vulnerable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness (transmitted by an insect) in the United States, infecting approximately 325,000 people each year.

That’s a staggering figure — more than the number of people afflicted with West Nile virus, bird flu, and AIDS each year combined! As far as I can tell, not much is being done about it. That’s why I’m offering suggestions for dealing with the disease and tips for preventing it.

Lyme Disease Basics

Lyme disease is caused by bites from insects — usually deer (or black-legged) ticks — infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Deer ticks are nearly invisible, a fraction of the size of the common (and far less worrisome) dog tick. They are found worldwide, and experts predict the tick population growth this year will be one of the worst on record. Other insects, including bedbugs, can carry the bacterium. In a controversial finding, it may also spread like STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) via bodily fluids. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a healthy immune system.

Often, a target-shaped rash (known as erythema migrans or EM) develops after the bite. The rash may begin as a small red dot that expands to other areas of the body during the following days or even weeks. At this point, people may think they have the flu because early signs of Lyme disease are similar:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Stiff neck

Caught early on, Lyme disease is fairly easy to cure with a four- to six-week course of antibiotics. The problem is diagnosing it. Not everyone infected develops the rash, and only 20 to 50 percent experience flu-like symptoms, which usually disappear. But when “the flu” suddenly returns or more serious symptoms develop, the disease might have become chronic, making it more complicated to cure, with symptoms lasting for six months or more. Chronic Lyme disease is properly known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS).

The symptoms of PTLDS may include:

  • Heart palpitations or related problems
  • Meningitis
  • Arthritis
  • Bell’s palsy (a type of facial paralysis)
  • Memory loss
  • Muscle problems
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Depression, anxiety, mood swings
  • Sleep issues
  • Painful and/or swollen joints

Because these symptoms mirror various autoimmune disorders, diagnosing Lyme disease is challenging. To make matters worse, no definitive test exists. The ELISA test, for example, is accurate about 65 percent of the time; the accuracy of other tests is even lower. I’ve seen patients who were told their Lyme disease tests were negative — even though they had all the classic symptoms and even remembered the tick bite!

Find a Physician

With a disease this complex and stealthy, there is no simple one-size-fits-all cure. If you think you may have Lyme disease, I urge you to find a physician who has experience dealing with it. Ask your local hospital to recommend doctors who treat infectious diseases; then check with each doctor’s staff about their experience with Lyme disease. Following are some of the treatments a physician may recommend:

  • Intravenous and oral antibiotics
  • Intravenous vitamin C, glutathione, magnesium and/or hydrogen peroxide
  • Acupuncture
  • Meditation
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
  • Colonics

These remedies require time and patience. So whatever you do, don’t give up — especially if you have an advanced case of the disease, which can be very difficult to eliminate.

Do Your Homework

  1. If you’re being treated for Lyme disease, support your body’s healing efforts by practicing my six steps to good health:Eat nutritious whole foods.Start with a detoxification and help rebuild immunity with a good “greens” supplement. In addition, change your diet to real food rather than fast food or processed meals — and avoid the following:
    • Gluten (a protein in wheat)
    • Dairy
    • Sugar
    • Corn
    • Coffee and caffeine
    • Frozen foods
    • Alcohol
    • Soda
  2. Drink plenty of fresh, filtered water.
  3. Get plenty of deep, restful sleep.
  4. Exercise moderately but regularly.
  5. Practice stress management.
  6. Take appropriate nutritional supplements but be cautious of any drug interactions.

With Lyme disease, our focus is treating the infection and inflammation while boosting the immune system and minimizing symptoms. I’ve selected the following supplements to target specific symptoms my patients frequently experience. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, and that’s why I encourage readers to work with a knowledgeable physician who can recommend more specific nutrients.

Again, if you are currently taking prescription medication, please ask your doctor or pharmacist about drug/supplement interactions before taking any of these nutrients.

Supplements for Infection and Inflammation:

Garlic: Add fresh garlic (which can tackle microbes head on) to your food or take enteric-coated supplements designed to survive the digestive process. I recommend 300 mg twice daily with meals. Garlic may interact with blood thinners and other medications, so talk to your physician before taking it.

Omega-3 fatty acids: The good fats are ideal for treating inflammation. Omega-3s in farmed fish may contain toxic chemicals, so opt for wild-caught varieties but only once or twice per week. Purified or molecularly distilled omega-3s are a better choice, especially those in Calamarine, a purified and stable oil in capsule form. Take 1,000 mg twice daily. For vegetarians or those with seafood allergies, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are good alternatives. I recommend one to two tablespoons of flaxseed oil daily.

Bromelain: This pineapple enzyme is both an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. It helps remove damaged tissue, reduces swelling, and enhances tissue repair. It also assists with protein digestion. Bromelain thins the blood, so avoid it if you take blood thinners. Otherwise, try 500 mg three times daily with or following a meal.

Supplements for Immunity:

Astragalus: This herb helps maintain a healthy immune system and supports the liver, our primary organ of detoxification. Studies show that astragalus increases production and activity of white blood cells that target dangerous microorganisms. Try 500 mg three times daily.

Andrographis paniculata: Shown to alleviate cold symptoms, this herb powerfully affects the immune system. I recommend 400 mg of a standardized extract twice daily for no more than three months at a time. Avoid andrographis if you have an autoimmune disorder (such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis), ulcers, or digestive problems like heartburn, as it may upset the stomach.

Probiotics: The antibiotics that treat Lyme disease kill off both good and bad bacteria in our intestines. Probiotics help rebalance intestinal flora after antibiotics treatment. Probiotics strengthen the immune system, provide B vitamins, manage hormones, lower cholesterol, and aid digestion. Look for a product that contains at least 10 billion live organisms per dose. A typical dose is one capsule daily with a meal.

Echinacea purpurea root: For Lyme patients, the most effective form of Echinacea purpurea that I’ve found is its root. It is available in both a tincture and a capsule form. Echinacea battles microbes and pumps up the immune system — very useful for treating Lyme disease. I recommend 900 mg twice daily with food. If you are allergic to daisies and related plants, do not take Echinacea. Talk to your physician or pharmacist before taking Echinacea if you are taking a prescription medication.

Vitamin C: Sometimes administered intravenously to Lyme disease patients, vitamin C taken orally can stimulate immunity. I recommend starting with 1,000 mg in divided doses daily and gradually increasing to 5,000 or 6,000 mg each day. Vitamin C is water soluble, and the excess is excreted in urine, so overdose is not an issue. It may cause diarrhea or loose stools, so lower the dose as needed.

Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa): Herbalists use cat’s claw to treat both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It also supports the immune system and is useful in treating Lyme disease. Look for a product that is free of TOA (tetracyclic oxindole alkaloid), and take two grams two to three times daily with food. Cat’s claw is also available in tea form.

Supplements for Pain:

Vitamin D3: A majority of Americans are deficient in vitamin D3, a vitally important nutrient for overall good health. Your body produces vitamin D through sun exposure on bare skin that is free of sunscreens and lotions. I recommend 10 to 20 minutes a day. In addition, you can supplement with 1,000 IUs of vitamin D3 daily.

Ginger: This powerful antioxidant reduces inflammation, with minimal side effects. You can also cook with ginger, drink ginger tea, or add a few slices of ginger root to a glass of water. If you prefer supplements, try 250 to 500 mg three times daily. If you are taking blood thinners or daily aspirin, ginger may cause excessive bleeding, so speak with your physician before consuming it.

Curcumin: Like ginger, curcumin is derived from the spice turmeric, an effective anti-inflammatory that eases joint pain. Try 500 mg once daily with or following a meal.

Supplements for Mental and Emotional Support:

Alpha lipoic acid (ALA): A powerful antioxidant, ALA eases depression, improves memory, and supports healthy brain functions — often problems areas for individuals with Lyme disease. Try 1,500 mg daily.

SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine): SAMe not only fights depression but also alleviates joint pain and inflammation. Start with 400 mg daily. If you aren’t noticing improvement after a week or so, increase the dosage gradually. Up to 1,600 mg daily is considered safe. Individuals with Parkinson’s, diabetes, and bipolar disorder should consult their physicians before taking SAMe, as it may affect these conditions.

Stay Well with Simple Prevention

Since it’s easier to avoid Lyme disease than to cure it, I recommend that everyone consider the following preventive measures:

  • Minimize skin exposure. Dress in long pants that can be tucked into boots, and wear a long-sleeved shirt.
  • Use an insect repellant made with lemon or clove essential oils. Avoid products containing DEET or permethrin because of safety issues.
  • Avoid areas where ticks could hide, such as high grass and weeds. Stick to well-worn trails.
  • Check for ticks after being outdoors. Thoroughly inspect your (and your companions’) skin, hair, and clothing for ticks. These tiny insects can be extremely difficult to see. Further protect yourself by showering or bathing after being outside.
  • Try taking 1,000 mg daily of the herb astragalus to rev up your immune system and to minimize symptoms if you are bitten.
  • Take 1,200 mg of supplemental garlic, which repels ticks.
  • Protect your pets (primarily dogs, since cats rarely develop Lyme disease). Brush or comb their coats frequently. If your dog suddenly develops a limp, particularly on a front leg, have your veterinarian check for Lyme disease. Quick treatment can spare your dog from needless suffering. Lyme disease is not transmitted from animal to human or vice versa.

Regular readers know that I often recommend spending time outside. Please don’t avoid nature because of possible tick exposure. Being outdoors not only gives you an opportunity to get some vitamin D-producingsun but also enhances healing. Outsmart ticks and other insects with my prevention tips, and enjoy your summer!

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