What is Lyme Disease?
According to the International Lyme and Associated Disease Education Foundation (ILADS), Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium (spirochete) called Borrelia burgdorferi . There are about two dozen species in the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex, although not all are human pathogens. The worldwide distribution of the various species is not uniform. In the United States, almost all reported cases of Lyme disease appear to be the result of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto (Bbss) infections. Various species are further divided into strains and it’s thought that there are hundreds of strains worldwide. If left untreated, Lyme disease may affect the heart, joints, and nervous system.
History of Lyme Disease
In 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut, a new illness emerged, which was found to be associated with tick bites. In 1981, researcher Dr. Willy Burgdorfer and colleagues isolated the microbe which was later named Borrelia burgdorferi (named after Dr. Burgdorfer). Dr. Burgdorfer observed that this new illness resembled the tick-borne condition recognized in Europe called erythema migrans (EM), named after the rash that often develops surrounding the site of the bite . Unfortunately, tick-borne illness can be difficult to define, and symptoms may vary greatly between individuals. For some, symptoms are sudden, acute, and quite characteristic of Lyme disease. However, for others, symptoms may develop more gradually, or appear some time later, leading Borrelia Burgdorferi to be known as a stealth infection. Additionally, Borrelia has an objective once inside the body of its host (human, other animal, etc.), which is to complete a life cycle, then await another vector, such as a tick, to move on to another host.
Mechanisms of the Infection
There are two primary types of ticks that carry Lyme disease:
- The Eastern blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), also known as the deer tick, transmits Lyme disease on the East Coast and in the Midwest
- The Western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) transmits the disease on the West Coast
While Borrelia burgdorferi is the primary causative agent of Lyme disease in North America, Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii, other members of the Borrelia species complex, are the primary causes of Lyme infection in Europe and Asia .
Borrelia can adapt to a variety of natural hosts, and humans are one one of the most common. If a tick isn’t removed quickly, Borrelia enters the bloodstream through the bite, and the immune system immediately recognizes it and responds aggressively. In self-defense, the microbes will use their spirochete shape to their advantage, burrowing deeply into the host’s tissues. Of particular interest to the bacteria are collagen-rich tissues such as the brain, nervous system, joints, and muscles (including the heart) as collagen is a primary fuel source. Hence, many people may experience joint pain and other symptoms associated with these areas as a result. In short, Lyme disease is a multisystem disease that can have a range of effects on the overall health of its host. Lyme disease is typically described in three clinical phases or stages categorized as Early Localized disease (stage 1), Early Disseminated disease (stage 2) and Late Chronic disease (stage 3).
Chronic Lyme Disease Symptoms
Lyme disease can become chronic either because it isn’t fully eradicated initially, or if the immune system can’t fully manage fighting the infection, which often leads to significant physical and mental impairment. Chronic Lyme disease is estimated to affect more than 1.5 million people in the US . Many of the symptoms of acute Lyme disease are similar to those of chronic Lyme, like joint pain and severe fatigue. However, Lyme disease can also cause more serious health problems in various body systems:
- Neuropsychiatric problems, like depression, anxiety, brain fog, mood swings, emotional lability, suicidal thoughts, and cognitive dysfunction.
- Issues with fetal brain development in cases where a pregnant woman has Lyme disease 
- Sudden-onset aggressiveness and violence, observed in some cases of Lyme disease and Lyme coinfections, particularly Bartonella 
- Alzheimer’s Disease 
- Immune dysfunction
- Cardiovascular symptoms 
Lyme disease is often referred to as the “Great Imitator” because it resembles and mimics many other diseases, often leading to a misdiagnosis. For example, before Lyme disease was recognized, it was mistaken for juvenile arthritis .
Common Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Because an erythema migrans is specific for Lyme disease, people with it can receive a diagnosis without clinical testing. However, few people with Lyme disease recall a prior tick bite and, in up to 30 percent of cases, an erythema migrans doesn’t appear .
- Extreme Fatigue
- Muscle and joint aches or pain
- Nerve pain and weakness
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A rash around the bite (Erythema migrans)
- Heart palpitations
- Loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face
- Dizziness/Shortness of breath
- Psychiatric symptoms: anxiety, depression,
- irritability, psychosis, and more
The Functional Medicine Approach to Lyme Disease
At Newbridge Health & Wellness, our functional and integrative approach combines traditional and progressive therapies to provide treatment that addresses the whole patient. We work to identify and restore the underlying cause of medical conditions like Lyme disease, providing a path to lasting relief.
Watch Stephanie Belselth, APRN, CPNP presentation at Minnesota Lyme Association addressing the Functional Medicine Approach to treating Lyme Disease.
Diagnosing Lyme Disease
Standard Lyme tests, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and Western blot, identify antibodies that the immune system makes in response to the bacteria. In the majority of cases, antibody testing is the most reliable a few weeks after initial infection when the levels of antibodies are highest. Most people who contract Lyme disease do not know when they had the initial exposure as many people never see the tick, so this type of testing is not always reliable.
DNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing uses a technique to amplify trace amounts of DNA that can be used to determine with a very high probability the identity and the source of the DNA.
The DNA Connexions Lyme Panel detects the causative agent of Lyme Disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, in addition to 10 other common vector borne pathogens. This test requires a urine sample. A positive PCR result from the DNA Connexions Lyme test indicates the presence of DNA from B. burgdorferi and/or other co-infectors. At Newbridge, we reference the Ruggiero-Klinghardt (RK) Protocol based on the work by Dietrich Klinghardt and Marco Ruggiero. Their protocol is based on integration of Autonomic Response Testing (ART) with diagnostic ultrasonography and on application of therapeutic ultrasound; the latter are used as a provocation tool prior to urine collection.
Integrative and Functional Treatment Options for Lyme Disease
From an integrative and functional medicine perspective, one of the primary goals is to support the whole body, such as by decreasing inflammation, decreasing immune dysregulation, and reducing autoimmune activation. Supporting the whole body is especially important as complete eradication of B. burgdorferi spirochetes by antibiotics has not been achieved in any animal models tested . Treatment of B. burgdorferi is difficult due to the bacterium’s ability to elude the immune system, change its morphology, and adapt to antibiotic treatments.
Once the triggers are removed, the immune system is also often able to reestablish its proper functioning and will be more effective at eradicating the bacteria on its own, allowing for fewer or shorter duration treatment protocols and fewer side effects. It’s also imperative to keep in mind that over 70% of the human immune system is located in the gut, so optimizing gut barrier integrity and immune function within the gastrointestinal tract is a key component of treatment. The intestinal tract needs to have tight junctions within the gut to prevent pathogens and toxins from passing through, and fight intruders like bacteria, viruses, mold, fungal infections, yeast infections (Candida), food allergies, stress, etc.
Optimal nutrition and an anti-inflammatory diet can profoundly support immune function and decrease the burden of inflammation throughout the body. Healing the gut, along with diet, is also a foundational aspect of treating Lyme disease. Various co-infections transmitted in a tick bite can disrupt the gut microbiota, which promotes gut dysfunction and systemic inflammation. The condition of having a “leaky gut” — a gut that cannot work optimally as an effective barrier – puts our bodies at risk for a cascade of negative effects. By adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, many people find that they experience relief in some, if not all, of their symptoms as this allows the gut to heal and inflammation throughout the body to lessen.
Herbs, Homeopathy, and Supplements
In a Functional Medicine approach to Lyme disease, both pharmaceutical and botanical antimicrobials can play a role in treatment. Herbs suppress opportunistic pathogens, but without destroying non-harmful flora, which provides a significant advantage over pharmaceutical antibiotics which target both pathogenic and beneficial bacteria. Homeopathic remedies can be used as a viable and effective method of treatment of Lyme disease and other infectious illnesses [13, 14].
Other plant-based botanical supplements can be used to support the immune system and other physiological and biochemical systems to boost your body’s innate ability to heal.
Antibiotics can be a powerful tool in the fight against Lyme disease, however, it’s important to acknowledge that each person will respond differently. Furthermore, antibiotic use can potentially damage the gut barrier function by also killing the beneficial bacteria. This further necessitates the need for an anti-inflammatory, whole-food based diet to support the gut, along with a restorative protocol to replenish the lost bacteria.
Antimicrobial therapies can be important modalities in Lyme treatment, but each patient requires an individual, personalized approach to treatment. Prescription antibiotics and/or herbal antibiotics, oxidative therapies, in combination with other modalities are part of the treatment of chronic infections for most patients.
Disulfuram (Tetraethylthiuram, aka Antabuse) is another emerging therapy in the treatment of tick or vector borne illness. In the beginning of its use for Lyme in 2018-2019 it was used mostly for patients who were not responding to other therapies. It is now increasingly being used sooner in treatment if appropriate for the patient, since there is more collective experience with its use, it’s safety profile is better understood, and since patients are doing so well with it, in terms of symptom and disease remission. If you are interested in Disulfuram treatment, please schedule with one of our Lyme-Informed practitioners in order to see if it may be a treatment option for you.
Ozone Therapy (IV, injections, sauna)
Ozone therapy has been used to treat a wide range of conditions, and in the past few years has gained recognition for its success in treating Lyme disease. Lyme disease, especially late-stage Lyme disease, is a multi-system illness and successful treatment may need to go beyond treating it only as an infectious disease. More specifically, immune dysregulation and mitochondrial dysfunction are part of the complexities of what occurs in Lyme disease. Ozone therapy provides an effective solution for chronic Lyme disease due to its antimicrobial activity, and ability to improve immune and mitochondrial function.
Far Infrared Sauna
Far infrared saunas help to increase body temperature and can be beneficial in supporting detoxification, a key component to recovering from Lyme. Far infrared light is absorbed by the skin and can provide immune support throughout the healing process by increasing circulation, which allows other treatment modalities to reach all areas of the body in a more efficient manner. Infrared sauna can also provide pain relief by relaxing muscles and support whole body detoxification. Lyme disease can make it harder for the body to naturally release harmful chemicals and heavy metals in the body.
Low Dose Immunotherapy
Low dose immunotherapy (LDI) helps to modulate the immune system’s response to infections, such as Lyme. LDI promotes specific immune tolerance to target antigens to stop inappropriate and unnecessary immune reactivity. While LDI is a fairly new treatment modality, it has similar predecessors which have been used for decades. In the 1960s, Dr. Leonard McEwen pioneered what we know to be the first type of immune desensitization called Enzyme Potentiated Desensitization (EPD), which is a form of immunotherapy that can treat different types of allergies. EPD evolved into Low Dose Allergen therapy (LDA) with the work of Dr. W.A Shrader Jr. In recent years, LDI has surfaced as a further evolution to the earlier work of EPA/LDA. Perhaps one of the most promising and exciting advances from EPA/LDA to LDI is the ability to treat infectious agents, including Lyme disease.
CBT was first developed by Dr. Anthony Smith in Idaho, and is based on principles of neurophysiology. CBT uses Muscle Response Testing (MRT) to obtain feedback from your body concerning “health stressors” that may be causing problems. These stressors can include allergies, pathogenic organisms, toxins, and physiological dysfunctions. Once a stressor has been revealed, your CBT practitioner can then relay this information to your brain. This is accomplished by the gentle stimulation of specific neurovascular “reflex points” on your cranium and upper body. As soon as your brain accurately recognizes the stressor, it can begin to correct it.
Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT)
Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT) is a manual therapy used to enhance the body’s ability to flush toxins. Our lymphatic system is the major detoxifier in our body. LDT can be used locally to reduce swelling and inflammation after an injury or surgery. It is also beneficial when used before surgeries or procedures to help to open up the tissues so there is less trauma from a given procedure. LDT is also beneficial when used as a tool for flushing toxins from the body as a whole. LDT helps the body flush toxins associated with “die off” or Herxheimer reactions during certain phases of treatment for Chronic Lyme conditions.
Other Supportive Therapies
Photobiotic Light Therapy
Lyme Literate Providers
Stephanie is a board-certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with over 25 years of experience. She has completed the ILADS practitioner training program and has also studied integrative modalities for the treatment of chronic Lyme Disease.
Catherine Dolan, MD has been practicing Family medicine for 30 years, and added holistic/functional medicine practices for the last 20 years. She is a member of ILADS and specializes in Lyme, mental health challenges, and gut health.
William Rawls, MD. Suffered Long Enough. Dog Ear Publishing, 2014.
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