There are many different treatment options available for Lyme disease, ranging from antibiotics to herbs to oxygen therapies. Yet despite all these different options, Lyme disease is notoriously challenging to treat. In this 10-week series, I am going to go over 10 barriers to recovery from Lyme disease. Each Wednesday (I know, I’m already a day late this week!), I will post one of the 10 things that I think hold people back.
In my experience, treating the actual pathogens, the bugs themselves, is just a part of the puzzle. There are many other things that need to be considered, and woven together into a holistic approach to treatment. No one person is the same, no person has the same set of symptoms or underlying stressors on their body – it must all be tailored to you as an individual.
The following guide outlines 10 things that need to be addressed along with an antimicrobial protocol, for true treatment success to occur. They are not the only 10 things, they are just a sample of things. Don’t feel overwhelmed by this – not everything needs to be tackled at once. Not all of these may apply to you. Some you may be taking care of already. Use this information as a guide of things to discuss with your doctor to make sure your treatment is inclusive.
Remember, you can recover from Lyme disease. It takes time, commitment and perseverance, for sure. But it can and will be done.
Here are the 10 things that I’m going to cover. I’ll be posting one each week, so make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter (which you’ll be able to do at the bottom of this article) so they automatically get emailed to you:-
#1: Untreated Co-infections
#3: Heavy Metals
#4: Methylation Defects
#5: Adrenal Health
#6: Thyroid Health
#7: Thought Patterns
#9: Mold Toxicity
#10: A Toxic Environment
So let’s get started.
#1: Untreated Co-infections
As you probably know by now, Lyme disease by definition is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. There are, however, several other bugs that we need to be concerned about, the main ones being Babesia, Bartonella and Erhlichia. We call these the co-infections of Lyme, because they can be transmitted by the same tick bite as the Borrelia bacteria.
In my opinion, undiagnosed and untreated co-infections are one of the biggest hindrances to recovery. So often, when people get tested for Lyme disease, it often is only for the Borrelia itself. Treatment then involves antibiotics that target this particular pathogen. The problem is, those antibiotics don’t necessarily address the co-infections too. This is particularly true of Babesia, which isn’t even a bacterium, but a protozoa. Thus treatment regimens really need to be tailored not only to the Lyme, but also to which co-infections are present.
Dr. Horowitz, in one of his lectures at the ILADS conference a couple of years ago, stated that 20 years ago his Lyme patients were predominantly infected with Borrelia and nothing else. Today, he estimates that 80% of his patients are infected with at least one co-infection. Based on my own clinical experience, I would agree with that estimate.
Part of the challenge with this issue is testing for co-infections. Granted, large labs such as Labcorp and Quest (in the US) can test for co-infections, but the testing is not highly sensitive, and misses a lot of positive cases. In fact, as much as I love IGeneX and value their more sophisticated testing methodology, there are many times where I see what I
believe to be false negatives on their reports too. It’s not that the testing is poor, it’s that the immune suppression from the chronic infections make antibody levels lower than they need to be to register a positive result.
I diagnose co-infections clinically, based on the patient’s symptom picture. A negative lab report does not rule out the presence of a co-infection. As I mentioned, Babesia and Bartonella, in my opinion, are the most common co-infections, that will not be treated “by accident” by the Lyme treatment. Ehrlichia is more susceptible to the antibiotics that are used to treat Borrelia, so to me it is less of a concern. There are some hallmark symptoms I look for with Babesia and Bartonella.
Babesia loves the head and neck, so I look for blurry vision, ringing in the ears, head pressure, dizziness and sore/ crackly neck. Also shortness of breath or “air hunger”, night sweats, temperature regulation problems, nausea, easy bruising, vivid dreams/ nightmares, insomnia and fatigue.
With Bartonella I will look for pain in the soles of the feet, pain around the rib cage, strange stretch-mark-like stripes on the body and scratches on the skin that can’t be accounted for. Then I’ll look for severe neurological issues that are out of proportion to the musculoskeletal – seizures, OCD-type behavior, severe anxiety and panic attacks, and so on. Major GI pain and dysfunction tend to be Bartonella related.
You can see that these are quite different to the classic Lyme symptoms of fatigue, joint and muscle pain, brain fog, numbness/ tingling in extremities, facial palsy and so on.
The other question that arises with the co-infection issue is what to treat first. It has been thought in the Lyme community that Babesia always need to be treated first. I believe that the dominant infection needs to be treated first. If I have a patient who is a poster child for Bartonella, and their Bartonella symptoms are causing them the most problems, then I’ll go after Bartonella first. Often, though, Babesia is the dominant infection based on their symptoms, so we’ll start out their treatment addressing Babesia. This is not to say that co-infections and Borrelia can’t be treated at the same time, but it is a question of where to start, and how to best combine medications, herbs and therapies that give priority to the co-infection.
I believe that you can treat Lyme until the cows come home, but if co-infections are present and not addressed, you will make a slower and more limited recovery.