Lyme Disease is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Borrelia Burgdorfori and is transmitted through humans through a tick bite. Lyme Disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the Northern Hemisphere and the incidence has gone up rapidly since the 1980s. It was originally diagnosed as a separate condition in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut and the bacterium involved was first described in 1981 by Willy Burdorfer.
Acute Lyme Disease is a diagnosis well accepted within the medical community. The symptoms of early localized infection include a bulls-eye rash known as Erythema Migrans, as well as flu-like symptoms such as headache, muscle soreness, fever, and malaise. Lyme Disease can progress into a disseminated infection, causing more significant symptoms such as arthritis, meningitis/encephalitis, polyneuropathy, electrical issues in the heart, and psychiatric conditions.
While Acute Lyme Disease, is well accepted within the medical community, the idea of Chronic Lyme Disease is much more controversial. Essentially Chronic Lyme Disease is the concept that Lyme Disease if left untreated or under-treated may progress into a chronic condition which manifests as a significant deterioration of the patient’s overall health and chronic symptoms such as fatigue, muscle/joint pain, brain fog, restless sleep, and/or neuropathies. One of the reasons why this may happen is because Lyme Disease is fundamentally difficult to diagnose. Firstly, the symptoms of Lyme Disease may be vague (i.e. flu-like symptoms) and patients may have never noticed a tick bite nor developed the classic Erythema Migrans “bulls-eye” rash. Also, there is no culture available, and serologic testing often produces falsely negative results. For these reasons, it is thought by many in the Functional Medicine community that those with strange, debilitating, nebulous disorders such as “Fibromyalgia” or “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” may actually have Chronic Lyme Disease.
Chronic Lyme Disease is likely actually one of many “stealth microbial invaders”, which are bacteria that are not quite commensal, but also not quite virulent.
Commensal bacteria are organisms with whom we have a symbiotic, or mutually beneficial relationship. For example, bacteria in our gut help us digest food, regulate inflammation, and even produce some Vitamins, such as Vitamin K for us. Our immune system accepts these bacteria as “normal” and allows them to live safely within the human host.
Virulent organisms are clearly harmful and the human immune system will always try to attack them. Terrible infectious diseases such as HIV and Ebola fall into this category, but likely ordinary acute illnesses such as Pneumonia and Gastroenteritis likely fall into this category as well. When these organisms enter the body, they produce an acute illness until the body is able to fight it off and eliminate it from the body.
Stealth Invaders enter the body and try to hide from the immune system. They hide in tissues such as muscles, joints, heart, organs, intestines, and nervous tissue where they slowly steal nutrients like collagen for their survival. A healthy immune system will allow a small amount of these organisms to exist in stealth in the body indefinitely. It is essentially a stalemate. The immune system does not find it necessary to “eradicate” these stealth microbes; however, they are kept in check and they are not allowed to become too aggressive. All human beings acquire and harbor a variety of stealth microbes, and as long as the immune system is healthy, they do not cause problems.
However, if the immune system is dysfunctional, it may not be able to keep these microbes in check. People with chronic immune system dysfunction will not only be susceptible to colds and flu, but will also be susceptible to chronic illnesses such as Lyme Disease, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and autoimmune diseases.
In our practice, we take an integrated approach to Chronic Lyme Disease and the spectrum of stealth microbial invaders. Depending on the individual patient and the severity of other imbalances within the Functional Medicine Matrix, in order to repair a dysfunction immune system, patients may need to improve their nutrition, fix gastrointestinal dysfunction, repair metabolic function, repair blood sugar dysfunction, decrease chronic stress, improve detoxification function, and balance their hormones. For those patients with severe symptomatically and immune system dysfunction, they may require an herbal antimicrobial protocol to alleviate some of the microbial burden.
1. Unlocking Lyme: Myths, Truths, and Practical Solutions for Chronic Lyme Disease by William Rawles, MD