|ILADS 2011 Toronto attendees|
The overwhelming impression of the most recent ILADS Scientific Meeting in Toronto, Canada this fall was the sheer numbers of people involved in diagnosing, treating and experiencing Lyme Disease – and the different disciplines of the researchers who are attempting to find effective treatment. It’s not just a medical illness. It’s also a veterinary illness, and an ecological illness – it does not occur without the participation of many more creatures than is typically understood. It’s an illness that affects a wide spectrum of patients, with a wide spectrum of symptoms. It’s not just in the United States – it is found all over the world, on every continent, in increasing numbers of patients.
And the illness is remarkably difficult to diagnose, with our current methods, resulting in patients going from doctor to doctor in search of a name for what is wrong with them.
No other illness in the 21st century has been so polarizing. In the last century, we had HIV/AIDS, which caused pandemonium among the people. Everyone was so afraid that they could catch AIDS from a drinking glass – and besides, it only affected homosexuals, so if we just got rid of the homosexuals, we figured we could get AIDS under control. 20 years later, we have more knowledge and compassion, and AIDS is on the way to becoming a chronic illness susceptible to treatments authorized by the “disease management” school of medicine.
Not so with Borrelia burgdorferi – and its host of co-infections – at least not yet. The medical profession largely denies that Lyme disease can cause chronic infection or chronic symptoms. We relegate neuroborreliosis to the category of “it’s in your head” and treat it with psychotropic medication as though manipulation of neurotransmitters were sufficient to eradicate the effects of neurologic infection. We diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, and treat with anti-inflammatory and anti-metabolic drugs, as though reducing inflammation would be sufficient to eradicate joint infection with B burgdorferi.
It is important for us to realize that we are not alone in being affected by tick-borne disease. We are infected, yes. But we are part of a huge circle of vectors, including ticks, deer, dogs, rodents, and migrating songbirds. Without the participation of every single one of us, the disease does not happen, because the organism requires all its vectors to complete its life cycle.
So… what are our choices? Kill all the ticks? Forbid the songbirds from migrating and carrying those pesky ticks with them? Get rid of the deer? Keep our dogs inside 24/7? Kill the ticks with insecticides? Always exercise indoors? Never walk outside where we could pick up ticks?
None of those seems like very good options, do they? So what’s left?
The most logical thing would be to make the terrain (ourselves) really uncomfortable for the organism that actually causes the disease. And how do we do that?
A surprising number of chronically ill and undiagnosed patients test positive for this disease – and not only for Borrelia, but also for a host of other chronic infections, viral, bacterial, cell wall deficient, and spirochetal. Not that this is proof that Lyme disease causes chronic illness – but it certainly provokes thought, doesn’t it?
Is it possible that we are meant to live in harmony with these organisms? I cannot at the moment think about what they provide for us – except proof that our internal milieu is deficient – but perhaps that is the whole point. If we haven’t figured it out before, surely we can figure it out now, if the body just screams loudly enough.
Is it not then possible to clean up the terrain, so that the body can actually deal with the Borrelia organism – or their friends, the co-infections – in the way that our immune systems were intended to function?
Medical treatments discussed at the ILADS meeting included various antibiotics, prescribed by various routes – oral, intramuscular, intravenous – for various lengths of time. The main point was that most antibiotics appear to work on some organisms, and that it is important to be persistent with the therapy. We are talking months of therapy here, not weeks.
Naturopathic and herbal treatments were also discussed, at break-out sessions. Herbs are mainly given orally, in liquid extract or capsule form. Again, we are talking months of therapy, not just a few weeks.
It was also quite clear that Lyme is a relapsing disease. It may appear to be under control – and stopping therapy is appropriate at that point. However, it may well relapse, whether because the therapy was simply insufficient, or because some other stressor occurred and the immune system was insufficient to the task.
When relapse occurs, it is important to re-treat, and to look for emerging co-infections, to switch antibiotics, to treat all known forms of the disease – spirochetal and cystic – and most importantly never to give up.
Equal importance was given to treating the terrain – our own bodies. Cleaning up the diet was mentioned as primary, so that we are not putting chemicals, preservatives, colorings, processed sugars and starches into our systems. The closer to nature, the better. This has always been the foundation of all our treatments at the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine.
Mention was made of detoxification – other infectious organisms, chemicals, heavy metals – all of which put the immune system under significant stress, so that it less able to deal with the immediate threat of Lyme and the coinfections. Environmental illness and mold exposure was one topic discussed. Food sensitivity was another.
The dreaded Herxheimer reaction was discussed – therapies mentioned included intravenous Vitamin C as a way of dealing with the vascular instability and excessive oxidative stress caused by dying organisms releasing toxic compounds into the cells.[i]
Fungal hypersensitivity may manifest in symptoms as diverse as chronic itching, chronic yeast infections, GI distress, bloating, coated tongue, chronic skin infections, fatigue, carbohydrate intolerance, brain fog. How many of our Lyme patients complain of many of those symptoms?
A new test for Lyme and coinfections was described by Elizabeth Valentin-Thon. This Lymphocyte Transformation Test – LTT-MELISA – is called LymphoLyme™, and will be available soon in the United States. It has been used in a slightly modified format in Europe for the last decade.
One of the most comprehensive talks, by Steven Bock, MD, discussed the treatment of Lyme disease from the perspective of functional medicine. With this approach, we look at all the body’s systems, biochemical, electrical, and energetic, and find the best treatments to bring balance to the system on all levels. Many levels which are appropriately addressed in order to restore the system to a fully functional state include the following:
• B burgdorferi (mainly arthritis symptoms, prevalent in the USA and Europe)
• B afzelii (mainly dermatologic symptoms, prevalent in Asia and Europe)
• B garneri (mainly neurologic symptoms, prevalent in Asia and Europe)
• Heavy metals
• Autoimmune diseases
• Fungal infections and hypersensitivity
• Viral infections
• Food sensitivities
• NT function
• Sleep disturbance
• Nutritional deficiency
• Immune deficiency
• Endocrine function
• GI function
• Liver dysfunction
As you can see, the treatment of Lyme disease is complex, and cannot be limited to the use of antibiotics. No wonder allopathic medicine has such a hard time dealing with this disease. There are so many components, and they spread across so many different specialties – there is no way that any one specialty could adequately treat the whole gamut of the illness. When specialties treat illness, they like to see one well-defined problem in one organ system – about which they know almost everything there is to know – resulting in control of disease in that one organ system. How can we possibly think of treating a systemic illness which involves multiple organ systems with a single therapy? Even long-term antibiotics would be only a relatively small part of the treatment picture – albeit an important part.
The take-home message from the conference was, on the whole, positive. There are ways to diagnose the disease. There are ways to treat the disease. These ways involve treating the whole person – body, mind and spirit – and it may be necessary to use many of the modalities for the rest of the person’s life. What is more important that health, growth and development? What more important lessons do we have to learn in this life?
The choice is ours – to be a victim, to learn a limited amount, to learn as much as we can absorb… to take charge of our lives, our nutrition, our environment and our medical therapies.
I am honored to be a part of that journey for those who choose to undertake it with us at the Arizona Center for AdvancedMedicine.
[i] Wilson JX. Mechanism of action of vitamin C in sepsis: ascorbate modulates redox signaling in endothelium. Biofactors. 2009 Jan-Feb;35(1):5-13.