Immune | November 21, 2016 | Author: Naturopath
Lyme disease is a complex condition to diagnose, and can be even trickier to treat. There is limited evidence-based literature available on treating lyme disease with natural therapies, but plenty of anecdotal opinions and some very creative (and possibly dangerous) treatment ideas.
Lyme disease is an infection of a spiral-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, transmitted via the bite of certain ticks. The bacteria attacks the immune system by invading white blood cells and attacking all systems of the body, resulting in decreased immunity, increased infections, and a host of unpredictable symptoms that appear to mimic other conditions. Lyme disease is notoriously misdiagnosed, and with the plethora of possible symptoms it's no wonder it can baffle even the sharpest health professionals.
Soon after the initial infective tick bite, lyme disease will present with headaches, fever, muscle soreness and unexplained fatigue – similar to a flu. There may also be a “bulls-eye” looking rash present, but fewer than half of the people infected with lyme disease will experience this rash.
Chronic lyme disease can affect every body system, and therefore the chronic symptoms are wide and varied, from fatigue and mood swings, to carpal tunnel syndrome and sexual dysfunction.
Arthritis develops in 60% of patients, often severely affecting the knees. The central nervous system is largely involved, commonly causing mood, memory and sleep disorders, as well as nerve pain. Anecdotal accounts report headaches, unexplained hair loss, jaw pain, menstrual pain, and tinnitus as being a few of the many symptoms allegedly connected to lyme disease.
With such a huge assortment of possible symptoms, it can be tempting to self-diagnose. But doing so runs the risk of missing a correct diagnosis of a different condition that may be easily treated and resolved. Consultation with a healthcare professional and undergoing investigative test is essential before beginning treatment for lyme disease.
Lyme disease is a complex and multi-factorial condition, and effective treatment protocols will be tailored to the patient's specific symptoms. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to lyme disease, but there are some herbal and nutritional strategies that commonly help.
Given the varied presentation and body systems affected by lyme disease infection, treatment needs to be tailored to the individual by a qualified practitioner. There is little quantified evidence in the effectiveness of herbal medicine against lyme disease, but a few herbs that a naturopath may consider include:
Given its positive track record in reducing the severity of common cold and influenza infections, astragalus may have benefit during the initial acute stages of lyme disease by boosting certain immune function.
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Cat's claw may be particularly effective against arthritic, skin and nervous system symptoms of lyme disease. While research is scarce, one small pilot study of 13 participants showed that cat's claw (combined with a specific diet, enzyme and nutritional supplementations, and other complementary therapies) improved symptoms of fatigue, joint and stomach pain, insomnia, neuropathy and emotional instability in patients with confirmed lyme disease. The small size of the study, plus the combination of many therapies, doesn't give this study much credibility, but cat's claw remains a traditional herb used against lyme disease.
As with any chronic health condition, reducing inflammation in the body may help to relieve symptoms. Appropriate diet changes will depend on the individual's presentation and lifestyle, but increasing antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids through the diet, with a decrease in inflammatory foods will support the body to fight off lyme disease complications.
Digestive conditions and symptoms often accompany lyme disease. Food sensitivities, H. pylori infection, yeast and bacterial overgrowth may require specific diet prescriptions, including elimination diets. Your naturopath will tell you more about what might be appropriate for you.
Generally speaking, eating a whole food diet and eliminating sugar, alcohol and caffeine will support the digestive system and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Effective lyme disease treatment is always tailored to the patient's particular symptoms and health history. Not all nutritional supplements will help everyone with lyme disease, but there are a few key nutrients that may support the immune system and reduce the severity of symptoms in some individuals.
Vitamin D is a key nutrient in the regulation of the immune system, and in the production of antibodies. While there is no evidence that vitamin D can directly relieve lyme disease symptoms, having adequate levels will support the immune system. While vitamin D is naturally produced through sunlight exposure, patients with lyme disease and other chronic infections often present with very low vitamin D readings, and supplementation may be required.
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Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and a small study suggests that having adequate levels in the body may be protective against initial lyme disease infection and development of the disease. Vitamin E is needed for the production of antibodies and repair of immune cells, and to maintain epithelial barriers throughout the body to prevent spread of secondary infections.
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Heavy courses of antibiotics are common in the conventional medical treatment for lyme disease. This can wreak havoc on an already-compromised digestive system. As well as reducing symptoms such as bloating, constipation and diarrhoea, repopulating the gut microflora with probiotics can help the function of the gut's immune system – which in turn has been shown to regulate immune function throughout the whole body.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria which need something to eat – that are where prebiotics come into it. Speak to a nutritionist or naturopath about which strains of probiotics and types of prebiotics are best for your condition.
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Professional guidance from a trusted healthcare practitioner is essential for a reliable diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.
Merck Manual (2014) Spirochetes - Lyme Disease. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/spirochetes/lyme-disease
Roxas, M. & Jurenka, J. (2007) Colds and influenza: a review of diagnosis and conventional, botanical, and nutritional considerations. Altern Med Rev., 12:1, 25 – 48. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17397266
Cowden, W. L., et al. (2003) Pilot study of pentacyclic alkaloid-chemotype of Uncaria tomentosa for the treatment of lyme disease. Symposium for the Natural Treatment of Intracellular Micro Organisms, 2003. http://www.samento.com.ec/sciencelib/sarticles/toaf_lymesdisease.pdf
S. A., et al. (2005) Vitamin A, E and C serum concentration in patients with Borrelia burgdorferi antibodies--non-symptomatic carriers. Przegl Epidemiol., 59:1, 35 – 41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16013408