Lyme disease is a tick-transmitted, spirochetal inflammatory disorder causing a characteristic rash that may be followed weeks or months later by neurologic, cardiac, or joint abnormalities. The disease was first recognized in 1975 because of a close clustering of cases in Lyme, Connecticut. It has since been reported in 49 states, but more than 90% of cases occur from Massachusetts to Maryland, and in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and in California and Oregon. According to the CDC, California is now 3rd most common state of new cases. Lyme disease also occurs in Europe, across the former Soviet Union, and in China and Japan. Onset is typically in the summer and fall, and most patients are children and young adults living and playing in heavily wooded areas (i.e. Hiking, Camping, etc.).
There are five groups of symptoms in Lyme disease. The hallmark and best clinical indicator of this disease is erythema migrans which develops in at least 75% of patients. This begins as a red macule or papule between the third and 32nd day after being bit by the tick (or mosquito). The erythematous area expands, often with central clearing, up to a diameter of 50cm. Soon thereafter, 50% of untreated patients develop multiple, smaller lesions without indurated centers.
The 2nd group of symptoms are flu-like. These include malaise, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, stiff neck, and muscle-joint pain. These symptoms are characteristically intermittent and changing, and malaise and fatigue may linger for weeks.
The 3rd group of symptoms are neurological abnormalities, such as lymphocytic meningitis, meningoencephalitis, and cranial neuritis. These only affect 15% of patients.
The 4th group of symptoms are myocardial abnormalities, such as A-V block. These only affect 8% of patients.
And the 5th group of symptoms all have to do with arthritis. Sixty percent of Lyme’s disease sufferers develop intermittent swelling and pain of the large joints, especially the knees, within weeks to months of onset. Affected joints are painful , swollen, hot, but rarely red. Baker’s cysts may form and rupture. About 10% of patients develop chronic knee involvement.
THE PROBLEM WITH DIAGNOSING LYME DISEASE
The Western medical diagnosis of Lyme’s disease inpatient’s with typical erythema migrans in an endemic area usually does not require laboratory conformation. However, this disease must be distinguished from a host of others, including Reiter’s syndrome, Bell’s palsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Multiple Sclerosis. Cryoprecipitates and circulating immune complexes often occur early, and the ESR may be elevated. Hematocrit and WBC’s are usually normal. Rheumatoid and antinuclear bodies are rarely present. X-ray findings are usually limited to soft tissue swelling.
The Western medical treatment of Lyme disease rests mainly on the administration of various antibiotics (for approx 4 weeks) depending on the presence or absence of the above five classes of abnormalities.The treatment of Lyme disease early (acute stage) with antibiotics will usually yield a complete cure. The problem unfortunately is that the standard tests to diagnose Lyme disease (western blot test) usually are negative even when infected until about week 3, because it takes that long for the body to make antibodies for the bacteria. By then the spirochetes have burrowed into the system and joints and treatment is no longer an easy one. Many patients infected with Lyme are reassured by their doctors that they are negative for Lyme disease and that they have nothing to worry about. This can be problematic because if left untreated can be become resistant to antibiotics and become a debilitating and even fatal disease.
Chronic Lyme disease is much more complicated to treat and can hope for complete resolution well beyond the period of antibiotic treatment which may last anywhere from 21-30 days. The options at this point are aspirin and other NSAID’s for symptomatic relief, harsh pharmaceuticals like Neurontin which have severe side effects and/or long term antibiotic treatment both in oral or IV forms. Complete heart block may require a temporary pacemaker. Aspiration of synovial fluids and crutches may be used for tense knee joints.
HOW CAN CHINESE MEDICINE HELP TREAT LYME DISEASE
An alternative approach may provide a complete remission with traditional Chinese medicine. Lyme disease falls under the classification of "Gu syndrome" in Chinese medicine. The Chinese have successfully treated Gu syndrome diseases for thousands of years (syphilis, treponema, leptospirosis, lyme disease) with herbal medicine which is effective at leaching out all the spirochetes that borrow inside the system and are a challenge to eradicate by antibiotics alone and the herbal medicine is milder allowing for long term treatment (typical treatment length can range from 6 months to 3-5 years). The diagnosis in Chinese medicine is categorized as a type of internal wind hiding beneath a mountain which makes it very resistant to Western medical treatment. The bacteria encapsulate themselves in a type of glue called biofilm which make it resistant to antibiotics. It is also very important in treating Gu syndrome to treat both the pathogen as well as supporting the bodies immune system at the same time. Furthermore, the success of treatment depends on keeping the pathogen guessing by modifying the herbal formula every 6 weeks to 6 months in order to prevent bacterial resistance and autoimmune reactions.
Chinese medicine always treats the presenting picture so there is no standard protocol for treatment. Every patient is treated based on their unique symptom picture and constitution which changes as time progresses.
Besides herbal medicine other modalities are a crucial part in the recovery of the patient:
Acupuncture helps boost the immune system, relieves pain in the joints and muscles and can help with the chronic fatigue and emotions as depression often is a challenge with Lyme patients.
Cupping therapy is also very helpful at relieving pain in the large joints, and spine and muscles and helps detox the body of toxins.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NUTRITION IN LYME PATIENTS
A healthy diet is important for everyone but for someone with Lyme Disease it becomes crucial to eat right. The body is taxed with extra stressors when we dont feed it the right foods and hormones can become unbalanced as the adrenals are expected to take on the extra load. Cortisol levels and hence blood sugar levels fluctuate and the thyroid (our immune system center) can become deficient. Thats why it is important to eat as clean and supportive to the body as possible to support the immune system and not the parasite that just gets fed and becomes stronger when we cave to the sugar cravings.
While each patient will receive a personalized nutrition plan, a few basic concepts apply to all those who suffer from Lyme disease.
1. Eat Anti-inflammatory and stay away from pro-inflammatory foods
2. Eat foods that support the immune system not suppress it.
3. Eat foods that promote a healthy digestive system
4. Support hormone balance through the diet (as well as iodine)
5. Eat a detoxifying diet and eat as organic as possible and staying away from intake of chemicals.
6. Eat an alkaline diet and stay away from Oxalic acid containing foods.