The usual western medicine treatment for acute Lyme infection is short-term antibiotics and then treating any leftover symptoms with pharmaceutical band-aids. Many deny the existence of chronic Lyme disease, leaving a lot of chronic Lyme patients without options for alternative care.
Dr. Tom Moorcroft, D.O, runs integrative Lyme disease healing retreats and is very successful at working with people who other doctors have given up on. Although integrative practitioners might still favor the allopathic model of treatment, Dr. Moorcroft looks for the body's natural healing powers.
Most Chronic Lyme Infections Go Undiagnosed
Lyme and some of the co-infections that are tick-borne look like a slow, insidious kind of flu, a slow moving, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue type of experience. It can look a lot like other conditions not associated with Lyme at all. People with Lyme often don't bounce back after rest but also don't become overtly sick.
Moreover, it's difficult for most people to detect Lyme because the bite goes unnoticed or the symptoms are too vague.
The deer tick is the size of a poppy seed and only 50% of people with Lyme remember a tick bite. Moreover, Lyme doesn't have “tell-tale” symptoms, like a rash or bulls-eye welt, in all cases. Sometimes the only signs of Lyme are general symptoms that can be mistaken for other chronic conditions.
If you are a health practitioner or want to educate yourself more about detecting chronic Lyme infection, check out Dr. Moorcroft's Lab Cheat Sheet.
Why Chronic Lyme is Difficult to Treat
Lyme is caused by a spiral bacteria. When you try to kill it with your immune system, antibiotics or even herbs, it has different ways to protect itself. And one is to roll into a ball. They call that a cyst or a round body. Another way the bacteria protects itself is to bunch together and sequester fat or create a protective slime over their colony called biofilm.
The bacteria's flexibility and survival skills make them difficult to treat with antibiotics alone. Lyme bacteria have been studied in test tubes, exposed to to plenty of antibiotics in and while some of the bacteria die, most of them just hide in their persistent forms almost instantaneously.
And then we wonder why these 20 30% of people who get the standard treatment like medications or herbs for a month-long course aren't getting better.
How to Spot Covert Lyme Infections
A warning sign to look for in children is acute behavioral changes . Many tick borne infections can trigger an autoimmune encephalitis, particularly in children. The infection triggers our body to start attacking itself, leading to inflammation of the brain. And what we commonly see as an outcome of that, especially in children, is acute behavioral changes.
Another tell-tale sign is migratory joint pain or migratory numbness and tingling called neuropathy. Nothing does that except tick borne infections.
Still there are several symptoms from Lyme like the sweats, irregular heartbeat, chronic fatigue that are not unique to Lyme, so lab testing is essential when these symptoms show up and you suspect Lyme.
Holistic Approaches to Treating Lyme Disease
Since we know that antibiotic medications or herbs are simply not enough, here are some dietary and lifestyle factors that, when combined, can help defeat Lyme.
Nutrition and Fasting
Nutrient-dense diets, specific diets, and feeding/fasting protocols could possible target Lyme.
The keto diet allows you to burn preferentially dietary fat and non-necessary adipose fat, yet provide rocket fuel for the fattiest organ in the body, the brain. It also makes it easier for your body to start autophag, a process by which the body starts eating its own damaged, weak, or old cells.
Intermittent fasting, or time-restricted eating, is an excellent compliment to the ketogenic diet which allows the body to activate autophagy when it runs out of outside fuel or nutrients. As a persistent bacteria, Lyme has an intracellular form that hides from antibiotics but can't survive autophagy.
An abundance of nutrients and antioxidants from a whole foods, plant-forward diet is essential to supporting the immune system to deal with Lyme infections or Lyme co-infections like viruses, EBV, cyto, megalovirus and autoimmunity. Why whole foods? Specific nutrients are most powerful when found in their natural packaging of whole food rather than synthetic forms.
For more ideas on how to plan a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet, check out my plant-based keto recipe guide.
Taking Control of Your Nervous System
Our autonomic nervous system has two branches- sympathetic and parasympathetic. Healing happens in parasympathetic mode, so maximizing the time spent we are in the parasympathetic state will greatly improve our chances at healing from Lyme.
Most of our society operates in sympathetic dominance- the fight or flight state which doesn't allow the body to heal itself and ward off infection. Dr. Moorcroft sees great success with patients who follow an intentional heart meditation and vagal nerve stimulation practices. Singing out loud and gargling both stimulate the vagus nerve and heart-centered breathing.
Heart-centered breathing or meditation creates lower variability of heart waves and smoother transitions. The smooth, consistent frequency is a sign of optimal health.
An indirect benefit of parasympathetic nervous system exercises is optimizing digestion because the parasympathetic branch controls gut function. When digestion is working right, the nutrient-dense foods you take in will be digested, assimilated, and used for fighting off your infection.
Antibiotics Should Compliment, Not Replace, The Body's Self-Healing Power
We shouldn't disregard antibiotics as powerful tools for modulating Lyme bacteria. However, they are not enough to get rid of chronic Lyme and we don't want patients to continue with this low grade infection without treatment.
The key is really to use antibiotics in tandem with the body's own natural healing mechanisms This means supporting the immune system, eating a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet, strategic dieting or fasting that boost autophagy, and activating the parasympathetic nervous system.