Lyme disease is the most common American tick-borne infectious disease, and often goes undiagnosed or becomes misdiagnosed. Each year, up to 300,000 new cases a year of Lyme disease diagnoses have been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 10 times what researchers previously thought.
Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which can proliferate to every area in your body. A black-legged deer tick has a three-year lifespan, going through four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Nymph ticks have the highest infection rate, transmitting the virus to humans through a bite.
Symptoms of acute Lyme disease include:
- Night and day sweats
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Neck pain
- Sleep issues
These symptoms are often mistaken for other illnesses, such as the flu, delaying Lyme disease diagnosis. Left unchecked, Lyme disease symptoms worsen, creating a host of health issues, such as Alzheimer’s disease, immune dysfunction and inflammation, neuropathy, and more.
The most popular conventional way to test for Lyme disease is a combination of the Western blot and ELISA test, which measure specific antibodies in the blood. However, this detection system is not always accurate, missing up to 60 percent of cases of early-stage Lyme disease, as the body can take weeks to develop measurable antibodies against the infection.
Mainstream medicine treats Lyme disease with a single round of antibiotics, which is not always so effective. This is partly because the disease quickly alters its gene expression in response to doxycycline, one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for Lyme disease, creating an antibiotic-resistant phenotype. Doxycycline treatment of Borrelia-infected mice causes genetic changes that lead the immune system to stop searching for the Borrelia, allowing for its persistent infection.
At Princeton Integrative Health, we see many patients with Lyme disease. While Lyme disease may look different in everybody, you can expect to see the following recommendations to treat Lyme:
- Anti-inflammatory diet.
- Antimicrobials: Both pharmaceutical and botanical antimicrobials have a place in the Functional Medicine approach to Lyme disease.
- Immune system support.
- Gut healing: The various coinfections transmitted in a tick bite can disrupt the gut microbiota, setting the stage for gut dysfunction and systemic inflammation. Like diet, supporting gut health should be a foundational part of any Lyme treatment protocol.
- Mold exposure: Many patients with chronic Lyme disease also have a history of mold exposure that further compromises their immunity. Mold exposure is just one of several environmentally acquired illnesses that Functional Medicine can address in people with Lyme disease.
In the meantime, these are some ways to reduce your risk of contracting Lyme disease:
- Avoid tick-infested areas (i.e. forests) in May, June, and July
- Check for ticks particularly around the armpits, groin, scalp, beltline, neck, and head
- Wear shoes, long pants tucked into socks or pant legs, and long sleeves when outside in areas where there are likely ticks
- Natural, yet effective insect repellent containing essential oils and other non-toxic ingredients