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Dr. Mark Hyman: 7 Ways to Tackle Lyme Disease

Insights + Opinion

“I have Lyme disease,” writes this week’s viewer. “Is there anything I can do to treat it naturally?”

Lyme disease, the most common American tick-borne infectious disease, often goes undiagnosed or becomes misdiagnosed. That becomes a real problem when you consider that in America, up to 300,000 new cases a year of Lyme disease diagnoses have been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an increase of up to 10 times what researchers previously believed.

Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which can proliferate to every area in your body. An infected blacklegged deer tick transmits the virus to humans through a bite.

Unfortunately, Borrelia burgdorferi has the ability to proliferate within every area of your body, hiding from and suppressing your natural immune system. Lyme infections literally hijack your immune system like AIDS.

Lyme is one of the most challenging, difficult situations in my practice because it mimics other illnesses such as the flu, manifesting as diverse symptoms like headaches, muscle aches, stomach ulcers, constipation, and joint pain. That makes diagnosing and treating Lyme very difficult. 

A weakened immune system paired with suboptimal cellular function and protection, chronic bacterial infections, and exposure to environmental toxinslike molds and parasites, can make things much worse for those who suffer from chronic Lyme.

Some of my patients who are diagnosed with Lyme have struggled for years with undiagnosed symptoms that conventional doctors overlooked.

My own dentist had a chronic inflammatory problem that no one could figure out. After copious sleuthing, it turns out he had a tick-borne infection. Just as bad, my patients have been misdiagnosed. Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt believes conventional doctors misdiagnose many cases of Lyme as fibromyalgia.

Left unchecked, Lyme symptoms worsen, creating a long-running inflammatory response and autoimmune illness. Early treatment can be successful but many go undiagnosed for years.

Although I believe antibiotics become necessary for treating Lyme, many conventional doctors stop there. But to truly recover from Lyme disease, you want to work with a practitioner who takes a whole-system approach rather than simply believing a few courses of antibiotics will make things better.

If you suspect Lyme, the first step is to complete the Horowitz Lyme-MSIDS Questionnaire. This will help you pinpoint many Lyme-related symptoms and their severity.

If you believe you have Lyme, please visit your doctor to confirm your suspicion. Needless to say, the sooner you address these conditions and begin treatment, the more effectively you will recover.

The most popular conventional way to test for Lyme disease is a combination of the Western blot and ELISA test, which measure specific antibodies in the blood. 

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The problem with this and other conventional testing is that it’s not always accurate. This approach also misses up to 60 percent of cases of early-stage Lyme disease, since it can take weeks for the body to develop measurable antibodies against the infection.

Whereas, many conventional doctors go wrong by not supporting your entire system, Functional Medicine becomes a systems-biology approach to personalized medicine that focuses on the underlying causes of disease. The very  definition of Functional Medicine states that we focus on WHY, not WHAT.

Functional Medicine doctors are like soil farmers. They create a healthy soil, so pests can’t come and weeds can’t flourish. A healthy soil means disease can’t come. You want to do everything possible to cultivate healthy soil so disease doesn’t have a place to take root.

The good news is that with some work and effort, you can successfully treat Lyme disease. After you are correctly diagnosed, you want to become proactive about eliminating this disease.

If you suffer from Lyme and really want to dive deep into healing strategies, I highly recommend Why Can’t I Get Better? Solving the Mystery of Lyme and Chronic Disease, by Dr. Richard Horowitz.  Whether you’re a practitioner or someone who struggles with Lyme, this book contains a wealth of copiously referenced information.

Treating Lyme disease involves diagnosis followed by treatment with a Functional Medicine practitioner. As I’ve mentioned, this can become a challenging trial-and-error process that requires patience and effort.

As you work with your practitioner to eliminate Lyme disease, consider  implementing the following seven strategies to help you become an effective soil farmer.

  1. Eat real food. The key here involves removing the bad stuff like processed foods and sugar and incorporating more good stuff like protein, healthy fats and plenty of anti-inflammatory omega 3-rich foods like wild fish. You can grab plenty of my favorite healthy recipes here.
  2. Supplement smartly. A host of nutrients, including herbs, can help with Lyme. These include immune-boosting herbs including cordycep, reishi, and maitake mushrooms that help kill off bad bacteria, as well as immune-boosting vitamin D, anti-inflammatory curcumin (found in turmeric) and magnesium. I strongly encourage you to work with a Functional Medicine practitioner to customize these and other supplements, which you can find in my store.
  3. Repopulate. While I believe they are absolutely crucial to treat Lyme, antibiotics kill off all bacteria (good and bad). After you’ve zapped them, you want to repopulate with good bacteria. Eat probiotic-rich fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi.  And supplement with a high-dose, multi-strain probiotic.
  4. Address food sensitivities. Gluten, dairy and other food sensitivities can increase inflammation, weaken your immune system and worsen Lyme disease symptoms. Eliminate these foods for three weeks and see if your symptoms improve. The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet provides an easy-to-implement plan that removes food sensitivities, sugar, and processed foods to help your body heal quickly.
  5. Get good sleep. Studies show that sleep disturbances and chronic fatigue are prevalent with Lyme disease. Sleep deprivation has numerous ramifications, including reduced levels of your feel-good hormone serotonin (I frequently see this with patients) and diminished immunity, giving pathogens more leeway to ramp up. Get 19 of my top sleep tips here.
  6. Control stress. Chronic stress can crash your immune system and exacerbate Lyme disease symptoms. Whether you do yoga, deep breathing, or meditation, find something you can consistently do to lower stress levels. Many Lyme disease patients find my UltraCalm CD ideal to melt away stress and anxiety.
  7. Reduce your toxic load. These include heavy metals and pesticides, which have a broad range of negative effects on human biology; they damage the nervous and immune systems and contribute to diabesity. If you suspect metal or other toxicity, please work with your Functional Medicine doctor to develop a customized detoxification plan.

The right strategies, combined with working with a Functional Medicine practitioner can help address Lyme. The healing process can become frustrating and sometimes seemingly insurmountable, but with time, effort, and a focus on a whole-system, integrative approach with the right practitioner, you can tackle it. I’ve seen patients have miraculous recoveries, especially when we diagnose and tackle Lyme in the early stages.

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