When confusing, chronic health problems arise, nothing else matters. Our well-being is blissfully taken for granted — until it’s taken away.
Suddenly energy plummets, and health issues soar. Clear minds become foggy, and healthy muscles suddenly become weak. Often a straight diagnosis is elusive leaving us grasping for answers as to why the abrupt 180 degree change in our health.
Chronic illness and disease are on the rise. In the United States, for example, estimates state that 45% of the population is suffering from at least one chronic illness. (1)
These health issues can be difficult to deal with on several levels. Quality of life suffers, and families are stressed. But there are other issues that can make dealing with a chronic illness almost worse than the symptoms themselves. (2)
The sufferer goes from doctor to doctor looking for help, not having the right answers as to why, and not having proper guidance or treatment. Testing doesn’t always reveal an explanation, leaving the patient wondering what to do next.
This rings true for one of the most elusive of chronic illnesses — Lyme disease.
What’s Chronic Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and other closely related species of bacteria. The infection is commonly contracted through a tick bite. You may not even notice it. (3)
Within the first few days to weeks of the infection, you may develop an erythema migrans rash. It’s generally red and circular. Sometimes it has a bullseye pattern. Though it’s a major sign of acute Lyme disease, many infected people don’t get the rash. (4)
However, not every case of Lyme starts with bullseye rash. Around half of people diagnosed with Lyme don’t recall getting the rash. (5)
During this early stage, it can seem like you have the flu. You may have aches, pains, and swollen glands. Like other short-term infections, this may last a few weeks. It’s easier to diagnose and treat at this stage.
Chronic Lyme disease, also called “late Lyme,” is much different. Signs of illness may appear gradually over time or may have never entirely subsided with earlier treatment. In some cases, major physical or emotional stress brings the disease to the forefront. (6)
You may develop long-term problems like horrible fatigue, joint pain, and trouble thinking. These may become more debilitating over time.
Blood tests often miss this type of Lyme since the acute phase is past, and the infection can suppress your immune system. So, you may not create enough antibodies to get a positive test result. (7)
The real source of your poor health can remain a mystery. Yet, Lyme disease symptoms may be right under your nose.
Lyme Mimics Many Illnesses
Lyme disease is a source of chronic illness for a rapidly growing number of people. The CDC estimates that 300,000 new cases of Lyme are contracted per year. (8)
Some data suggests that a more likely number is 1,000,000 cases per year. (9)
That being said, it is rarely properly diagnosed.
Lyme disease mimics many disorders. This leaves both doctors and patients without a clear cut answer as to what Lyme looks and feels like. Lyme is usually not even on the list of diseases to check for. But chronic Lyme disease doesn’t “run its course” in a week or two like the flu.
Lyme disease symptoms are broad and not specific to Lyme alone. Symptoms can manifest as other chronic disorders like: (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
Cognitive issues like brain fog and memory loss
Mental illness, like anxiety and depression
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Neurological disorders like Alzheimer's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Parkinson's
Rheumatoid arthritis and other joint inflammation
With Lyme resembling these other diseases, the cause behind them may remain unidentified.
The Lyme bacteria come in three different forms:
Cyst (round body)
Only the spirochete form triggers the bullseye rash. This makes early recognition and treatment of Lyme difficult because this is the telltale sign people and practitioners are looking for. Most chronic Lyme sufferers report going to several doctors over many months (even years) before Lyme is recognized. Unfortunately, by that time Lyme has spread to many organ systems causing more damage and symptoms.
What Are Sources of Lyme Disease?
There are some big misconceptions around how a person can contract the Lyme bacteria. Most people think that you only have to be bitten by a tick that carries the infection. If you haven’t been camping in the deep woods, for example, there is no way to contract Lyme.
This isn’t true.
Other insects like fleas, flies, mosquitoes, and spiders can carry and transmit Lyme. Birds and rodents like mice and squirrels can carry it. Mammals like cows, deer, dogs, and horses can all carry Lyme as well. (16, 17)
Lyme can also be transmitted sexually from bodily fluids. Studies have identified that couples can test positive for the exact same strain of Lyme. (18)
Mothers can also pass on the bacteria to their babies, either in utero or from breastfeeding. Because Lyme can live in bodily fluids, it can also be transmitted through blood. (18)
Another misconception is that Lyme disease is only found in specific areas of the world. This might have been the case in the past, but now Lyme is found everywhere. It’s believed that migratory birds have spread the bacteria to every corner of the world. Even penguins in Antarctica have been found to carry Lyme. (19)
An additional source of Lyme is parasites. This is the most insidious source of all. Parasites can carry Lyme disease inside them. Amazingly, they can have the Lyme bacteria whether they are in the egg, larva, or adult stage. (20)
Autopsies have revealed that multiple sclerosis patients have had Lyme-carrying parasites in their brains. It has also been found in the brains of patients with glioblastoma. (20, 21)
What Are Common Chronic Lyme Disease Symptoms?
When Borrelia burgdorferi is in your system for a while, it burrows its way into your organs and tissues. This can give you degenerative health issues that look like something else.
Here’s a closer look at four of the most common chronic Lyme disease symptoms:
1. Autoimmune symptoms and conditions
It’s one thing for Borrelia burgdorferi to attack you. It’s a whole new ball game if your own immune system attacks your tissues because of them. That’s an autoimmune disease. Examples are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and multiple sclerosis (MS).
The bacteria do whatever they can to protect themselves from your immune system. They have learned to hide in your cells. This makes your immune system soldiers suspicious. They think, “This isn’t right. I need to get rid of this cell.”
This happens because some of the proteins in the bacteria look like your own. Your immune system starts to view healthy cells as foreign invaders. It attacks them to get rid of the Lyme.
This problem can escalate to rheumatoid arthritis. In this condition, your body attempts to stomp out joint cells where the bacteria live. You may be told you have RA, but chronic Lyme disease is at the root of it. (22)
Here’s another problem. Proteins in the tail of the bacteria look like the cells of your myelin sheath. These are the cells that cover and insulate your nerves. So, the bacteria can trick your immune system into attacking your healthy myelin cells. (23)
The microbes also release enzymes that block your body’s ability to regenerate the myelin. Without this protective nerve covering, you may get inflammation and intense pain. (24)
This process looks exactly like multiple sclerosis. Chronic Lyme disease may sneak under the radar once again, and your doctor may diagnose you with MS.
If you’re genetically prone to autoimmune diseases, you may be more likely to develop these signs of Lyme. (25)
2. Brain fog and cognitive issues
Chronic Lyme disease knows no boundaries. This includes your blood-brain barrier. Borrelia burgdorferi can cross this protective border and create new problems. These may mimic other diseases. (26)
Your body makes an enzyme called plasmin that dissolves the membrane of the bacteria. But the sneaky microbe can counteract this enzyme and protect itself. This gives it a free pass through your blood-brain barrier. (27)
Lyme bacteria can also change their size and shape so they can migrate to other parts of your body. When they get into your brain, they inhabit glial cells and neurons. They cause these brain cells to become dysfunctional. This can lead to anxiety and depression. (28)
The bacteria can also interfere with your neurotransmitters or nerve messengers. For example, they may disrupt your production and use of dopamine. The result can look like Parkinson's disease. (29)
What’s more, the microbe can increase a neurotransmitter called octopamine. When this accumulates in your brain, it can raise your blood pressure and cause headaches. You may incorrectly blame these headaches on environmental allergies, stress, or other factors. (30)
When this insidious microorganism is killed, it sheds parts of itself as endotoxins. These may interfere with your brain chemistry. A buildup of toxins can give you intense brain fog and memory issues. (31)
These symptoms look a lot like neurological issues, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, some experts suspect that chronic Lyme may trigger these brain disorders in certain cases. (32)
3. Debilitating chronic fatigue
You’ve probably had times in your life when you were extremely tired. A new baby, intense work deadlines, or other life challenges can have you burning the candle at both ends. The severe fatigue from chronic Lyme is different.
This exhaustion doesn’t ease up no matter how much rest or self-care you get. The smallest, everyday tasks can seem monumental. Taking care of yourself may be challenging. Working full time or enjoying hobbies may become impossible.
As a result, doctors may diagnose you with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). So far, CFS has no known cause. It’s a last-resort diagnosis that doctors may give when they can’t find a reason for your extreme fatigue. Though it may feel reassuring to get a diagnosis, the wrong one can stand in your way of getting better. (33)
For many people, the root cause of CFS could be undetected chronic Lyme disease. It can cause a massive amount of fatigue, due in part to taxing your immune system. This is because the bacteria trigger your immune cells to produce chemicals called cytokines. These generate inflammation to fight the infection. (34)
The problem is your immune system’s activity may not return to normal — even after the infection is reduced. It may be fighting just as hard as if it were a new threat.
This is partly because the bacteria are masters of disguise. They can mutate and change their form. It looks like a new threat to your immune cells over and over. So, your immune cells search for several suspects rather than just the original one. They are continuously in emergency mode, which drains your energy. (35)
4. Joint pain
Chronic Lyme disease doesn’t care whether you were a fit, healthy person before you contracted it. The disease damages your joints and can leave you in crippling pain. You become unable to enjoy your former active way of life.
Borrelia burgdorferi loves to colonize your joints and connective tissues. This includes cartilage and ligaments. The microbes bind to collagen in these tissues and break it down, destroying it as they multiply. And they interfere with your body’s efforts to regenerate these tissues. (36, 37, 38)
The bacteria are completely dependent on you for nutrients. They can’t make certain proteins, so the clever thieves siphon them from your joints. They’re especially fond of hyaluronic acid, a gel-like substance. Without it, your ligaments are brittle, and your joints are stiff. (39)
The bacteria also cause inflammation in your joints. This is triggered by a specific protein on their cell membranes. You may appear to have arthritis, but chronic Lyme disease is the real culprit. (40)
7 Mysterious Symptoms Not Commonly Associated With Lyme
Now that we’ve discussed the common symptoms, let’s dive into the mysterious hidden symptoms not usually associated with Lyme.
1. Digestive and abdominal pain
The vast majority of people associate joint pain with Lyme, but not digestive issues. It’s not as common, but Lyme disease can result in abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting. Acid reflux and chronic loose stools may also be an issue. (41)
The abdominal pain is usually on the upper right side, corresponding to the liver. 40% of patients with Lyme had at least one abnormality in liver function when they were tested. Lyme infection can inflame the liver, another hidden symptom doctors might not associate with this bacteria. (42)
2. Hair loss
Another hidden symptom of Lyme is unexplained hair loss. Some people can develop alopecia that is reversed when the Lyme is treated. Hair loss is an additional strange symptom that doctors won’t often associate with Lyme disease. (43)
3. Heart issues
Lyme disease can attack the heart muscle. This can affect the electrical communications between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. The uncoordinated pulses can result in heart palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Again, doctors might treat these symptoms strictly as an isolated heart issue, not as a byproduct of a Lyme infection. (44)
4. Meat allergies
A bizarre symptom of Lyme infection could be suddenly developing an allergy to meat. When Lyme is contracted, a cascade of inflammatory chemicals can be released. This can cause a dramatic rise in IgE antibodies. It isn’t entirely clear how this “meat allergy” occurs, but there is significant documentation that it can happen. (45)
5. Neurological disorders
Unfortunately, Lyme can also affect our neurotransmitters. The spirochete bacteria may affect our central nervous system. In fact, around 40% of those with chronic Lyme develop neurological issues. This can manifest as anorexia, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia. (46)
Major depression can develop in 66% of chronic Lyme sufferers. Panic attacks are also part of the attack on the central nervous system. This can make you sensitive to light, sounds, and be overly sensitive to touch. These changes in neurotransmitters can also contribute to thoughts of suicide. The pain and inflammation of this infection can escalate these feelings. (47, 48)
Aggression may also increase and affects about 10% of those infected with Lyme. Doctors will want to rebalance neurotransmitters to bring back normal nervous system function. But if the underlying cause is Lyme disease, the patient’s body will not be able to respond to treatment. (49)
The hidden reason for all these problems will still be at work affecting the neurotransmitters. It’s also important to note that some people infected with Lyme will only exhibit signs in their nervous system and not the joint and body pains.
A strange manifestation of Lyme disease is paralysis. Often this symptom appears on the face and will be diagnosed as Bell’s palsy. It is estimated to occur in about 11% of those with Lyme disease. But it can also settle in the vocal cords and create issues in that area. This is very rare. (50, 51)
7. Skin conditions
Lyme can also manifest as rare skin conditions. Morphea (scleroderma), lichen sclerosus, and more recently B cell lymphoma have been linked to the Lyme. (52)
Health care providers may not be connecting these uncommon diseases, leaving the real cause unresolved.
How Is Lyme Diagnosed?
The Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) blood test is most often used to diagnose Lyme disease. This test is looking to detect if your immune system has developed antibodies to the Lyme bacteria. It does not actually test for the bacteria itself. (53)
Unfortunately, many people are declared free of Lyme when they are actually infected. The test could come back negative for several reasons. The body may not have produced enough antibodies for the test to come back positive.
Another reason is the immune system may have been inhibited by the Lyme disease itself to escape detection. Because of this, the body may not be producing the antibodies to fight the infection. Lyme tests can be very inaccurate because of these factors. (54, 55, 56)
How Is Lyme Traditionally Treated?
If Lyme is diagnosed or suspected, a doctor will prescribe antibiotic treatment for 2-3 weeks. Sometimes a course of 28 days or longer might be recommended. This can work for some people.
This treatment is usually more effective when Lyme is detected in its earliest stages and hasn’t settled into the organs and tissues of the body. If Lyme is in its later stages of development, it may not be effective at all.
Studies reveal that Lyme can live long past a steady course of antibiotics. In one study, injectable antibiotics were given for 28 days, and the Lyme was still alive. They were metabolically active in the different organs that had been infected. (57)
Why Antibiotics Isn’t The Right Treatment
Here are four reasons antibiotics are typically ineffective for chronic Lyme:
1. Lyme bacteria can change their physical shape
The Lyme bacteria are able to “talk” to each other. As soon as one detects antibiotics, it sends out a distress call to the others. They can wind into cysts before the drugs harm them. (58)
They curl up into a ball, so antibiotics can’t get into their system and kill them. This cyst form is resilient, and antibiotics are useless against it. Once the threat subsides, the microbes can return to their typical spiral shape. (59)
2. Lyme bacteria can camouflage themselves
Your immune system notes a microbe’s identity by memorizing its protein sequence or genetic code. Each of your immune cells uses this code to scan for the bacteria. (60)
But the microbes don’t play fair. They can change little parts of their DNA so they don’t fit the code. They’re like criminals continually changing their appearance. This means your immune system has to search for many codes, not one. (61)
Biofilm is another reason Lyme is difficult to detect with blood tests. This not only protects them from our immune system, but also from being killed by antibiotics. Biofilm can make them up to 10,000 times more resistant to antibiotics. Not only that, antibiotics can trigger them to make the biofilm even stronger. (59)
What’s more, the bacteria morph their DNA every time you take antibiotics. This makes them increasingly resistant to the drugs. (62)
3. Antibiotics can’t kill parasites
Lyme bacteria love to hide inside parasites. Just like you, parasites have a microbiota. You may have a mix of good and bad microbes in your gut. But parasites are a Pandora’s box of terrible microbes — one being Lyme. (20)
Even if you get rid of Lyme in the rest of your body, the bacteria hiding in parasites can reinfect you. This is why the disease may come back, despite long and intense antibiotic treatment. But the Lyme inside the parasites is protected and will reinfect the host. It may be impossible to conquer Lyme without getting rid of the Lyme carrying parasites because it's addressing the infection in the wrong order. (58)
Antibiotics also do not always travel past the blood/brain barrier. If the Lyme disease bacteria have settled there, they may not be affected at all. (63)
4. Antibiotics don’t reduce toxins
Borrelia burgdorferi shed endotoxins from their cell wall when they die. Antibiotics can’t detoxify these harmful, inflammatory bacteria byproducts. And they can’t fix the heightened inflammation. (64)
To minimize harm from endotoxins and inflammation, your liver and kidneys need support. Antibiotics can’t provide this support, and in many ways derail your digestive health by killing off even the good bacteria.
A Better Approach: Drainage
If antibiotics aren’t the best chronic Lyme treatment, what is? The answer is to work with your body and support the systems that are overwhelmed.
To truly tackle Lyme, we need a different strategy. Resolving Lyme depends on addressing it in the right order:
That’s why Lyme is last on the list. Going after it first will only put a heavier burden on your exhausted detox organs. Your organs need to work well so they can help you in the battle.
Supporting these organs with herbs and nutrients to increase their function will better enable you to detox. A large number of toxins are produced when the bacteria are dying off. Ensuring these pathways are running smoothly will make sure the toxins are removed and not causing additional issues.
Lyme infection can clog up your lymphatic and drainage systems. The lymphatic system has two times the amount of fluid as the circulatory system. One of its roles is to transport bacteria to the lymph nodes so it can be destroyed.
If your lymph isn’t moving, the Lyme can sit in the stagnant fluid and replicate without being disturbed. The immune system will have less of a chance of recognizing it if it isn’t moved to where it can adequately fight it. Taking care of your lymphatic system and seeking supporting herbs can get these fluids moving to stir up the Lyme from out of its hiding places.
The next drainage system needing support is the liver and kidneys. Bacterial infections can cause these organs to become inflamed, hampering their ability to detox properly.
There is one more step before actually killing the Lyme disease bacteria. Getting rid of parasites. Not killing parasites will only result in becoming reinfected again and again. The parasites will release Lyme and infect you once more.
Specific herbs can help kill the Lyme carrying parasites and mop up the toxins they produce simultaneously. With this support in place, you can tackle the parasites that are harboring Borrelia burgdorferi.
Finally, you are ready to eliminate chronic Lyme. By supporting your detox organs first with drainage, they won’t be overwhelmed when the bacteria start to die. This triple action of removing the Lyme, parasites, and toxins can help you recover your former life more quickly.
Hidden No Longer: Getting to the Root Cause
Eliminating chronic Lyme disease isn’t a fast process, but it is a doable one. You just have to tackle the problems in the right order.
It has many vague, inconsistent, and hidden symptoms. What’s more, it can mimic illnesses like arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome and evade being correctly diagnosed because testing can be unreliable.
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