Lyme Disease and Chinese Medicine

Over the years I have treated people who have contracted Lyme disease.  It can be very debilitating and is significantly on the rise.  It is something that, when treated immediately with antibiotics, can be resolved most of the time.  However, sometimes even with prompt antibiotic treatment, it can require other interventions to eradicate it completely.

Even more insidious are situations in which people have been infected for years.  Many have been falsely diagnosed with an array of other illnesses, including fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, etc. These people usually require other treatment along with extended antibiotics in order to address their compromised and complex situation.

This is where Chinese Medicine can be very valuable, as it can many times address aspects of Lyme that can be challenging for conventional treatment.  Acupuncture and herbs can play an important role in treating effects of co-infections that can be transmitted by a tick along with Lyme.  Recent studies indicate that the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy is enhanced with the addition of certain herbs.

Lyme is a bacterial infection.  It is a spirochete, similar to syphilis, which makes it more difficult to treat if not resolved at the outset. It is mostly contracted through the bite of the deer tick, which is very small and difficult to see.  Normally a bull’s eye rash appears around the site of the tick bite. It can appear after a couple days or even weeks after the bite.  However, fewer than half the people with Lyme develop a rash or remember a tick bite.

There is no reliable test for Lyme disease at this time.  They are roughly about 60 % accurate. Diagnosis is based on symptoms, medical history and exposure to ticks.  Given the potential severity of long term untreated Lyme, if there is a reasonable suspicion of its presence, it is prudent to take a course of antibiotics.

The Lyme spirochete can go anywhere in the body.  Over time can go to places like joints, where, due to reduced blood supply, make it more difficult for antibiotics to reach.  It can even reach the brain, also compromising the effectiveness of medicines which have trouble crossing the blood/brain barrier.

The spirochete exists in a couple of different forms. That is one reason why it can be so stubborn and difficult to treatment. One form is active and produces symptoms. and can hide in cells, guarding it from drugs and the immune system.  Another is the cyst form which does not cause symptoms, but which can spawn several spirochetes which then can be released into the system as the active form.  They also produce what are called biofilms which are protective coatings that are difficult to penetrate with medications.  These biofilms can attract and harbor other bacteria as well, making it very challenging to treat.

Other tick borne illnesses are often contracted at the same time.  These are the co-infections I mentioned earlier, such as bartonella, another bacterial infection, and babesiosis, caused by a protozoan parasite, which needs other treatment besides antibiotics.  Each has unique characteristics requiring varied treatment.

The use of Chinese Medicine is very important in addressing some of the aspects that are not affected or reached by conventional drugs.  For example, there are herbs that can penetrate the biofilm, making them vulnerable to the antibiotics, which otherwise they wouldn’t be.  Garlic, for example, is a common herb that seems to cut through biofilms. Acupuncture enhances the immune system and promotes the flow of qi energy to address troublesome symptoms.  Other herbs help bind and eliminate toxins that are produced in the system by Lyme.  These toxins are the cause of many of the debilitating symptoms that accompany it.

Diet and exercise are very important for Lyme sufferers.  There are specific dietary recommendations that are necessary so as to not feed the bacteria we are attempting to eliminate.  In the more progressed stages of Lyme disease, a comprehensive protocol is necessary to address the complexity of the person’s condition.

There are relatively few doctors that are well educated in the necessary benefits of a comprehensive treatment protocol for Lyme disease. This includes antibiotic therapy, the use of herbs and other complimentary treatments like acupuncture as well as educating patients about the crucial role of dietary and lifestyle factors.

Given how challenging this disease can be, the best treatment is preventive.  Thoroughly check for ticks after outdoor activities, particularly if you have been in areas where deer reside or pass through. Check yourself carefully after any hiking or walking through tall grass or bush.  If you suspect that you may have been exposed to Lyme, seek immediate treatment from a skilled practitioner.