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The dangers of lyme disease

Lyme Time

A friend of mine named Kathy recently came down with the flu. The flu? In June? Well, the flu’s the flu, whatever month is on the calendar. Not much you can do but to keep the nutrients coming and ride it out.

But it wasn’t the flu.

After several days with no improvement Kathy’s son took her to the emergency room. She was diagnosed with a bladder infection and sent home with antibiotics. When her condition didn’t improve, she returned to the hospital a few days later and was finally diagnosed with lyme disease.

Those who have never experienced lyme disease or known anyone who’s had it might be surprised to find out that Kathy spent the next 10 days in the hospital. She’s now home, but getting around with great difficulty and pain, and she’ll need to receive daily antibiotics via IV for several weeks. Most disturbing: Her doctors predict she won’t feel completely recovered for six months to a year.

Take heed, you pioneers of the garden and the great outdoors: Do not underestimate the unforgiving dangers of lyme disease.

Shape shifters

Unless you’re reading this e-Alert in an igloo, deer tick season is now at its peak and will last through early fall. But despite what you may have heard, deer ticks are not the only carriers of lyme disease; mosquitoes, fleas, mites and gnats are also carriers.

Another myth about lyme disease concerns the rash that develops in the image of a bulls-eye. True, a tick that carries lyme disease may prompt the rash, but the infamous bulls-eye appears in fewer than half of all cases of the disease. This is just one of the reasons why lyme is so difficult to diagnose.

Once a diagnosis is made, then the real work begins.

The bacteria that causes lyme disease is a classic spirochete form, that is; it’s a spiral shape that aggressively embeds in muscles, tendons and even the heart and brain. What’s worse, the lyme spirochete is pleomorphic, meaning it can change shape, making it hard for the immune system to detect it.

Antibiotics provide the standard treatment for lyme disease. And as always when antibiotics are used, acidophilus and other probiotics are helpful in keeping the beneficial gut flora in the intestines alive. Also, because the immune system is seriously stressed by lyme, nutrients (such as antioxidants) and personal habits (such as stress reduction) that enhance immune system function are very important. And sugar intake should be avoided for two reasons: 1) sugar impairs the immune system, and 2) lyme disease spirochetes thrive on sugar.

A controversial natural treatment for lyme disease calls for injections of bee venom. Some anecdotal evidence indicates this regimen may be effective, but according to an excellent article about lyme disease by D.J. Fletcher and Tom Klaber (available on Dr. Joseph Mercola’s web site), physicians who deviate from the established protocols for lyme care apparently put themselves at risk for investigation by state licensing agencies.

In any case, lyme disease is obviously a condition that should be taken very seriously, whatever course of treatment is pursued.

Protect yourself

I don’t know about you, but I’ve now been sufficiently impressed (not to mention scared) into taking the necessary precautions to avoid lyme disease.

In a 2004 Health eTips e-letter, Amanda Ross (Managing Editor of Dr. Jonathan V. Wright’s Nutrition & Healing newsletter) offered these pointers on how to avoid the deer tick:

  • Wear protective clothing – long sleeved shirts, and tuck your pants into your socks
  • Always check your body for ticks after outdoor activities such as gardening or hiking
  • Some aromas that will repel ticks and other bugs include lavender oil, citronella, cedar oil, rose geranium oil, American pennyroyal oil (also called tickweed), eucalyptus oil and tea tree oil (“For a good home brew you need to start with the essential oils of any of these, and then mix 10-20 drops with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or safflower. You have to apply the mixture fairly often, but it should offer good results.”)
  • Some commercial insect repellants with all-natural ingredients draw mostly from the list above
  • Eating garlic or taking garlic pills will help keep ticks away (and garlic has antibacterial properties as well)

Amanda notes that while a garlic regimen may repel ticks, it may also repel friends and loved ones. This problem can be easily solved by chewing parsley, which is abundant in chlorophyll, a natural breath freshener.

Finally, be aware of lyme disease warning signs. If, like my friend Kathy, you come down with flu symptoms in the summertime, that’s a red flag that you should see a doctor immediately. Other symptoms include unusual joint and muscle pain, stiff neck, confusion, severe headaches and heart palpitations.

“Lyme Disease: The Unknown Epidemic” D.J. Fletcher and Tom Klaber,, 7/25/01,
“Ticked Off” Amanda Ross, Health eTips, 8/12/04,