By Vance Voetberg
Lyme disease cases have tripled over the past 20 years. The disease, caused by bacteria found in certain ticks, leaves individuals with a wide variety of grueling chronic symptoms if not treated immediately.
The burdensome and perplexing nature of Lyme disease has forced doctors to think outside of the box, which, as a result, has spearheaded great strides toward helping individuals overcome it. According to leading experts, cultivating a thriving gut microbiome is central to treating Lyme disease.
The Microbiome Connection
It’s well-known that Lyme disease is a vector-borne illness, meaning it’s transmitted by blood-feeding arthropods like mosquitos and lice. However, the overall health of the person acquiring the disease depends on the gut microbial balance, Dr. Julia Greenspan, a licensed naturopathic physician with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine specializing in Lyme disease, told The Epoch Times.
The microbiome is a complex community of microbes that naturally live on or inside our bodies, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other organisms. “If the microbiome is compromised at the get-go, it will make the symptoms more intense and the ability to treat patients with oral medication more difficult,” Dr. Greenspan said.
Historically, chronic Lyme disease has been treated with a wide-ranging set of antibiotics. While effective in treating early-onset cases, it’s been documented that they can work against the body’s natural healing mechanisms by causing a microbial imbalance.
Rika Keck, a functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner, is very familiar with the double-edged nature of antibiotics. Her husband, first diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2007, initially had success with antibiotics. He received a 21-day prescription of doxycycline that “made him very ill,” but he seemed to recover from the infection, she told The Epoch Times.
Five years later, Mr. Keck found a tick on his waist and tested positive for Lyme disease and another infection called Babesia divergens. “After weeks of antibiotics, he developed severe gastrointestinal disruption, which lasted for three years,” Mrs. Keck said.
Mr. Keck continues to have sensitivities to certain foods, digestive challenges, and symptoms from Hashimoto’s disease—an autoimmune condition stimulated by his first incidence of Lyme disease.
“It is because of witnessing my husband’s Lyme disease journey that I became much more involved in holistic interventions for tick-borne infections,” Mrs. Keck articulated.
Restoring the Microbiome
Emerging research is dialing a greater understanding of how the disease affects Lyme disease patients’ microbiomes.
In a 2020 study published by the American Society for Microbiology, researchers found that patients with chronic Lyme disease have a distinct microbiome signature, allowing for an accurate classification of over 80 percent of analyzed cases. The report noted that this includes an increase in the bacteria Blautia and a decrease in Bacteroides. “A patient’s immunological landscape plays an important role in the development of [chronic Lyme disease],” the authors concluded.
Noting that up to 80 percent of the immune function stems from the gut microbiome, Dr. Darin Ingels, a naturopathic doctor specializing in treating patients with Lyme disease, said that “targeting the organisms with antimicrobials is only part of the overall treatment.” The disease often affects the microbiome, as the infection can disrupt the normal microbiome. Dr. Ingels said that Lyme disease treatment, especially with antibiotics, further exacerbates the dysbiosis in the intestinal tract.
Restoring a healthy balance of gut microbes requires eating a clean diet, eliminating processed foods shown to impair microbiota health, and replacing them with nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods to help support the normal growth of large intestine bacteria.
“Dietary changes are often the most difficult changes to make, but most patients report improved cognitive function, energy levels, less pain in the body, reduced sinus congestion, and improved digestion,” Dr. Greenspan said.
Dr. Ingels said that eating fermented foods can also help improve gut health, as they are a natural source of probiotics. “I often add probiotics to help reestablish a healthy microbiome and butyrate, which is an essential nutrient that helps facilitate bacterial growth.”
It is important, however, to note that all probiotics are not created equal, Dr. Ingels said. “Choosing well-researched, stable strains is important, as many over-the-counter probiotics are dead and do not provide any benefits,” he explained.
Managing stress is also important, given that stress can hurt the gut microbiome.
Dr. Ingels also uses various herbs, such as cat’s claw, Artemisia, Japanese knotweed, Cryptolepis, Houttuynia, and Coptis, to treat many of his patients. “They are clinically effective and don’t have the same harmful effects that antibiotics potentially have on damaging your normal bowel flora or mitochondria,” he explained.
Daily movement is also an integral factor in both doctors’ protocols, given that exercise has been shown to improve gut microbiome health. In a study investigating the effects of resistance training in patients with chronic Lyme disease, researchers found that resistance exercises three times a week for four weeks significantly improved patients’ symptoms.
Treating the Person, Not the Disease
Treating chronic Lyme disease can take a lot longer than anyone expects.
“Too often, doctors abandon treatment because the patient is not recovering fast enough,” Dr. Greenspan explained. The words “cure” or “eradicate” might frame the thinking of some physicians.
However, a different approach is needed to overcome the symptoms of chronic Lyme disease. “It’s a very specific medical specialty to understand the nuances of treating this complex chronic illness,” Dr. Greenspan told The Epoch Times. The healing process, using medications synergistically, setting the patient up for success with proper expectations, and being a backbone of encouragement are all required for optimal results.
Rather than a disease-centered approach, Dr. Greenspan expressed that it’s critical to adapt the treatment plan to each patient’s specific needs, given that the disease manifests differently for each patient.
“It’s not a straight line for most, but a winding path with pendulum swings pushing you forward, dragging you back, and then the body eventually starts to have more good days,” she said.
“I tell patients, you will know you are better when you start to forget you are sick.”