Lyme Disease
A Brief Look at Lyme Disease and Treatment Options

by Kamau Kokayi, MD
Kamau Kokayi bw

It is early summer and you awake one morning with a headache, a stiff neck and achy joints, and you just can't seem to shake the fatigue. A week or even a month earlier you may have noticed a circular reddish rash that surfaced around what looked like an insect bite, spread for a few days, and then disappeared. Perhaps you didn't, though. You've spent a lot of time in the outdoors, raking in the yard near the brush and trees on your property, or perhaps hiking in the woods. Late spring or early summer is not the usual time to be coming down with the flu, but your symptoms surely seem flu-like, and all you wish to do is find relief from the headache, the aches and pains in your knees, neck, and back, and so you go back to bed.

While Lyme disease may not be in the forefront of your mind if you see yourself in this scenario, this description accurately describes what many who contract the tick-borne infection experience before seeking help. If the flu-like symptoms emerge soon after noticing a red bullseye-shaped rash—a central reddish-purple spot surrounded by a margin of clearer skin and then another red margin—and you've been outdoors where deer are frequent visitors, there is a good chance that Lyme borreliosis, and one of several coinfections, could be the culprit behind what you are feeling. If so, you would be well advised to seek the help of a physician knowledgeable in Lyme disease for immediate confirmation and treatment. The sooner, the better.

Lyme—A Complex and Wily Disease

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases considers Lyme borreliosis the most prevalent tick-borne disease in the United States. It has reached endemic proportions in at least 10 states and is believed by some Lyme experts to be vastly underdiagnosed by health care professionals unaware of either the increasing prevalence of Lyme or the complexities of diagnosing the disease.

The organism that causes Lyme borreliosis, Borrelia burgdorferi, is a spirochete, a spiral-shaped bacterium that has evolved characteristics allowing it to avoid the host's immune system and infiltrate hard-to-reach compartments of the host body. As if co-conspirators, the tick that carries B. burgdorferi, while biting its host, releases proteins that thin the blood and down-regulate the immune response intended to destroy invading bacteria. The spirochetes that survive the immune assault and succeed in infecting the host cloak themselves with proteins on their outer surfaces that act like camouflage, evading detection of the immune system defenses and infiltrating beyond the circulatory system into the extracellular matrix of connective tissue, into the nervous system, heart, liver, spleen, retina, and even the brain.

If treated with antibiotics soon after infection, statistics show there is a good chance the bacterial infection that causes the disease can be completely erased and the disease cured. However, Lyme in many cases is not so easily defeated and if undertreated, or, as is common, left untreated, this infectious disease has the wherewithal to become chronic, attacking the joints, nervous system, and even the heart with debilitating, life-changing consequences.

One of the most vexing complexities of Lyme disease has to do with the reemergence of symptoms after having been treated and believed to be cured. A sinister, clever "trick" common to the Lyme spirochete is to encase itself in a protective cyst in hard-to-reach places resistant to antibiotics, thereby making the microorganism capable of a prolonged latent stage in disease progression. This ability suggests a likely cause of persistent infection in the patient. Once established, the spirochete is capable of presenting varying outer surface proteins that mimic proteins on native neuronal (nerve) cells, suggesting a mechanism for triggering an autoimmunity response that targets native neurons, causing self-damage to the nervous system. Collagen, a major component of connective tissue throughout the body, is damaged from Lyme by the release of porins, pore-making chemicals, and by modulating the release of matrix metalloproteinases, enzymes which break down proteins to enable the bacterium to infiltrate tissues.

B. burgdorferi's entrance into a dormant phase as a cyst enclosing immature, metabolically inactive spirochetes may be the mechanism whereby Lyme patients "adequately treated" with antibiotics suffer recurrences of their symptoms as much as a year or more after initial treatment was considered to be successful.

A True Success Story

Indeed, numerous people afflicted with Lyme disease have come to Patients Medical having completed the customary course of antibiotics, but still suffer from Lyme symptoms. One such patient was referred to us by the patient's two doctor friends after having experienced repeat occurrences of symptoms following the conclusion of each prescribed course of medication. Having cycled through first the symptoms and then finding temporary relief with prescribed pharmaceuticals several times, the patient was ready to find long-term relief, if not a complete cure.

While this particular patient did not receive acupuncture as part of their customized phytotherapy-based regime, acupuncture has been an option included with other patients' programs with great success. High-dose (50 to 100 grams) vitamin C given intravenously, with a set of supporting supplements, proved a good combination to treat this particular patient's condition. The patient reported an end to the repetitious cycle of symptoms and treatment after two to three months of vitamin C and Chinese herbal therapy, and at the conclusion of the customized treatment never suffered another symptom. They report remaining symptom-free for the last 18 years.

The Power of Phytotherapeutics

The plants that are used therapeutically in this and many other diseases have co-evolved alongside both humans, and the infectious diseases that plague them, over the long course of human/plant evolution. It should come as no surprise that as medicine many plants provide active support to our immune system's response to infection and disease, and serve as active healing agents to damaged tissues in our body. Plant and animal species have evolved together and are not "strangers" to one another. Armed with knowledge to leverage the power of this coexistence Chinese, Ayurvedic, Native American, African, and other traditional herbalists throughout the world have for millennia applied the healing activities of plants to their patients with great success.

Many providers in the Western tradition of medicine are beginning to recognize and learn to leverage this power in concert with modern techniques in the treatment of difficult diseases such as Lyme and its coinfections. Modern antibiotics (used judiciously) have been a godsend for mankind, but when confronting the wiles of ancient disease-causing organisms, Lyme-causing B. burgdorferi spirochetes in particular, sometimes antibiotics alone may not be enough and the healing benefit found in the ancient techniques makes all the difference.

The strategies the Lyme spirochete uses to hide from the effects of host immunity and antibiotics involve processes that help the bacteria infiltrate the extracellular matrix of cells, while selectively presenting outer surface proteins that both suppress and confound the effects of the immune response to their presence. Possession of flagella gives mobility into viscous tissues, such as the synovial fluid of joints and cerebrospinal fluid, and their ability to bind to collagen in connective tissue while avoiding immune system sentinels allows them to stealthily colonize and wreak their damage. All of these capabilities facilitate the spirochetes' infiltration into areas not easily treated with antibiotics alone. Phytotherapies affect healing and defenses against disease through systemic support of natural metabolic processes. Targeted systemic support of metabolism, immune response, and healing processes gets at hard-to-reach infection by creating an environment inhospitable to the colonized spirochete.

An Integrative Approach to Lyme Treatment at Patients Medical

The strategy we employ at Patients Medical to address Lyme disease symptoms, whether from a new infection or long-running symptoms that defy treatment, is to first make a careful examination and diagnosis of a patient's problems. As explained above, Lyme disease can be a wily adversary, and having a good diagnosis and clear understanding for where in the progression of the disease a patient stands, is the best place to begin. From there a holistic treatment protocol is developed, customized to the particular needs of the patient, taking advantage of both alternative and modern techniques.

One alternative treatment option is hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). Well known for promoting healing, inflammation control, and immune support, HBOT employs oxygen at above-atmospheric pressures in a highly controlled environment to stimulate fibroblast formation and regenerate collagen, decrease inflammation in the central nervous system, and normalize the immune response. In addition, the Lyme spirochete is a microaerophilic organism, meaning it requires low-oxygen environments and is sensitive to oxygen levels in the blood and plasma. HBOT oxygenates both blood and plasma, creating an inhospitable, high-oxygen environment for active spirochetes.

Lyme spirochetes behave much like other parasitic organisms, having mobility and methods to evade detection during and after infection. Herbs that possess anti-spirochetal properties and that have shown efficacy against other spirochetal diseases, such as periodontal disease or syphilis, can be effective against their cousin Lyme spirochete when natural immunity and antibiotics have failed.

Andrographis (A. paniculata) is a medicinal herb particularly well suited to the treatment of Lyme disease. It has been successfully used in Ayurvedic medicine in India for 2000 years, to treat malaria, syphilis, and inflammatory conditions. During the 1918 flu pandemic Andrographis was the chief remedy applied in treating the afflicted in India, and is credited with saving many lives. Andrographis conveys anti-spirochetal, neural anti-inflammatory, and immune-enhancing properties, while protecting heart muscle and crossing the blood–brain barrier to kill spirochetes in the brain and acts as a calming agent. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Andrographis (Chuan Xin Lian), has been used against dysentery, parasitic afflictions, and inflammation. In clinical trials it has enhanced AZT activity and increased low CD4 cell counts in AIDS patients, shown activity against an array of cancers, and been effective at eliminating the spirochetes behind periodontal disease, Treponema denticola.

Another potent herbal remedy available to treat Lyme disease is Astragalus (A. membranacea) (Huang Qi in TCM), which modulates the immune response supporting disease-fighting factors while suppressing inflammatory factors. Astragalus has been used in Chinese medicine for at least 2000 years, and possibly for as long as 4000 years. Like Andrographis, Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) has anti-spirochetal properties and reduces inflammation. It has been in service in TCM for two millennia by the name Hu Zhang. Additional species in the herbal compendium include teasel root (Dipsacus sylvestris); eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), or Siberian ginseng; devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), an African herb; and cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa), a woody vine indigenous to Central and South America. All of these species, used indigenously for centuries to relieve symptoms and heal the body from afflictions akin to Lyme, have been analyzed by modern researchers to identify their phytotherapeutic constituents.

This is but a very short list of herbal supplements that have been found to be valuable alternatives in treating Lyme disease symptoms. As mentioned above acupuncture is a beneficial alternative treatment when indicated for particular patients. Massage therapy, likewise, is an excellent stress reducer that helps clear the lymphatic system of the detritus of Lyme infection, promoting increased white blood counts, and relieving tension.

Coenzyme Q10, ubiquinone, is a natural vitamin-like substance produced by most tissues and essential to the function of larger, more complex mitochondrial enzymes that provide the energy-supplying molecules that fuel metabolism. Supplementation with coenzyme Q10 may be indicated for those suffering from chronic fatigue from Lyme, as CoQ10 provides an energy boost to counter the fatigue symptoms. D-ribose supplementation also is useful to address fatigue. D-ribose fuels the pentose phosphate pathway, a separate energy-supplying pathway necessary for metabolic health, and is effective in relieving Lyme symptoms. Both are palliative measures but improve the quality of life for Lyme sufferers. At Patients Medical we strive to treat the whole individual with the best integrative approaches to disease.

The Pathway to Optimal Health

With early antibiotic intervention, Lyme infections can sometimes be stopped dead in their tracks, but in many cases the infections go undetected or undertreated and persist with a variety of symptoms even after initial treatment with antibiotics. Symptoms may return months or even years after infection and treatment, and present both the patient and the medical provider with a complex problem of diagnosis and effective treatment. The Lyme spirochete is capable of sequestering itself within cells and tissues, successfully avoiding the host's innate immune response and the antibiotics designed to clear the infection. Hiding within connective tissues in joints and organs, and in the peripheral and central nervous systems Lyme spirochetes can cause arthritic pain, upset neurological functions, and bring on debilitating fatigue and damaging inflammation.

The good news is that a broad-based integrative protocol of treatment utilizing modern and traditional healing techniques can help. Techniques long found beneficial in Traditional Chinese Medicine, modern therapies to promote healing, and supportive nutrient, herbal, and bodywork therapies to boost the spirit and relieve the stress of disease are available. If your symptoms lead you to believe you may have contracted Lyme disease, do not hesitate to get help from the health professionals at Patients Medical. Our experienced professionals are familiar with this troublesome disease, and are ready to help you find relief and healing.

Begin Your Journey to Wellness with Patients Medical

The effects of chronic Lyme disease can significantly affect your health, livelihood, and overall well-being. Conventional antibiotic therapy may provide an initial sense of relief, but if your symptoms should return, continue, or worsen in spite of conventional therapy, as they do in many Lyme sufferers, broadening your therapeutic options is a worthwhile step toward restoring both your health and your sense of well-being.

At Patients Medical we draw upon both modern and ancient healing arts to tackle the oft-times bewildering problems chronic Lyme disease presents in our patients. Our team of Lyme experts can develop a personalized, integrative treatment protocol designed to optimize your long-term health and support you in countering the symptoms and detrimental effects of Lyme disease.

Begin Your Journey to Wellness with Patients Medical

Our job at Patients Medical is to listen, to connect the dots between a patient's medical history, symptoms, and their underlying causes. Patients Medical is a superb place for women and men to secure integrative and holistic health care from providers who give personalized care, partner with the patient to focus on the root cause of their illness, support their recovery, and help them maintain good health.

To make an appointment with one of our physicians, please call us at 1-212-794-8800. We look forward to hearing from you.

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