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The Truth About Treating Lyme Disease

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by guest blogger Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrative medicine pioneer

There's a silent epidemic creeping around us, and mainstream medicine has only just begun to take a serious look. So what is this disease that experts are calling the fastest-spreading vector-borne illness in the country? Lyme disease.

It's estimated that Lyme disease strikes between 20,000 and 30,000 people each year. Conventional treatment is first-line antibiotic therapy after infection occurs. The problem is that many people who contract Lyme disease don't realize it until years later when symptoms begin to surface: Aches and flu-like feelings, severe pain and stiffness, rashes, fatigue, neurological problems, blood pressure spikes, and more. By then, antibiotics are practically useless.

That's because once the infection takes hold, the bacteria that cause Lyme hide within cells and tissues where antibiotics--pharmaceutical or natural--often can't reach. Natural treatment is difficult, and requires a multilayered and strategic protocol that takes into account factors like genetic susceptibility, which can make the condition more difficult to treat.

More Than Just a Tick Bite

Lyme disease is a stealthy intruder, but it doesn't always act alone. While the bacterium triggers the initial flu-like symptoms, other chronic health conditions can make this degenerative disease much worse. Compounding co-factors include: chronic inflammation, immune suppression, co-infections from viruses, parasites, other bacteria, and fungi; and elevated levels of heavy metals and toxins. These factors can create a complex pathology of Lyme disease--in other words, we're dealing with more than just B. burgdorferi. While antibiotics are a front-line approach if caught early on, alone they're not enough. Successful treatment requires multilayered solutions involving some of the strategies I've outlined here.

Equally concerning, researchers are now beginning to believe that the disease is sexually transmittable and that partners can infect each other unknowingly. Updated recommendations for preventing the spread of Lyme disease, which include this new information, have not yet made it into the mainstream literature and may take years to do so until the evidence is assembled for more definitive proof. So with these new potential risks identified, it's best to play safe.

The Role of Toxic Metals

Lead, mercury, cadmium, and other toxic metals fuel inflammation and suppress immune function. Environmental toxins and mold/fungi are also a threat. Furthermore, Lyme disease promotes chronic inflammation and hinders the body's detoxification systems. Elevated toxic body burden, systemic inflammation, and reduced immunity create a vicious cycle of vulnerability, allowing Lyme and other infections a stronger foothold.

To halt this destructive cycle, detoxification therapies, anti-inflammatory approaches and the diagnosis and treatment of co-infections (including other tick-borne microbes such as babesia) need to be incorporated into an integrative, holistic treatment protocol.

Keys to Detox

Published clinical studies demonstrate that the supplement Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP), a highly bio-available form of pectin, safely removes toxic metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic from the body without disrupting essential minerals. MCP also targets systemic inflammation by blocking a pro-inflammatory protein called galectin-3. Other research demonstrates that MCP activates immune cells and increases their functionality in both the innate and adaptive immune response. Alginates, derived from brown seaweed, also have detoxifying, immune-enhancing, and anti-inflammatory properties.

The Role of Genetics in Susceptibility

The real importance of detoxification in patients with Lyme disease can be seen in genetic tests. Lyme patients often demonstrate a genetic predisposition, diagnosed with specific HLA DR genetic testing. Patients with certain genes, such as HLA DRB1 15, DQ 6 and/or other HLA genes, are highly sensitive to neurotoxins like mold and fungus, by-products of babesia and other infections, toxic metals, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and more. For such patients, antibiotics don't work as well, either. These genetic predispositions prevent people with Lyme disease from being able to eliminate the neurotoxins produced by the bacterium and other possible co-infections. In this case, MCP and alginates can help significantly by binding to these toxins and helping to eliminate them.

In my clinical practice, I use these and other targeted detoxification agents to help safely reduce toxic body burden and inflammation in my patients, support a more thorough treatment of Lyme disease over the long term, and enhance the effectiveness of other treatments.

Hiding Out

Lyme bacterium, co-infections, and their toxic by-products hide within the nervous system, including the brain, and create a special challenge to treat. So compounds that penetrate the blood-brain barrier are critical. Artemisinin, an active ingredient from Artemisia annua (wormwood) and its derivative artesunate, can achieve this.

Another place where Lyme bacterium may hide in the body is within biofilms. Biofilms are protective coatings formed by microorganism colonies like candida and Borelia. Although it's a relatively new field of research, a growing body of data suggests that Lyme bacterium build protective biofilm matrixes in the digestive tract and elsewhere in the body to shield themselves from treatments as well as immune surveillance. The multitargeted strategy of breaking up biofilms with specific enzymes, fighting the infections with antimicrobial agents, and following with detoxification and probiotic treatment is proving to be a potential solution to numerous persistent infections.

Restoring Health

In truth, there are many integrative strategies to help strengthen immunity, detoxify the system, fight infections, and reduce inflammation. Phosphatidylcholine helps remove toxins from the nervous system, while glutathione flushes them from the body, cools inflammation, and boosts immunity. Other complementary treatments--acupuncture, full-body heat treatments, and other naturopathic IV therapies, for instance--help reduce inflammation, target infections, support neurological health, increase vital energy, and restore balance to the system.

If you have concerns about Lyme disease, it's critical to work with an integrative health provider experienced in this area of treatment. Lyme disease is a complicated condition, but that doesn't mean you are powerless against it. By integrating conventional treatments like antibiotics (especially in the early stages), with naturopathic approaches to boost immunity, fight infection, remove toxins, target biofilms, and fight inflammation, we can control this debilitating condition, address potential complications, and restore health and vitality over time.

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Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrates Western medicine with his extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, homeopathic, and complementary medical systems. With more than 25 years of clinical experience and research, Dr. Eliaz has a unique holistic approach to the relationship between health and disease, immune enhancement, detoxification, and cancer prevention and treatment.

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