LYME DISEASE AND HOLISTIC MEDICINE

This paper on Lyme is the first of many articles about disease conditions from a broad holistic perspective, one that is deeply influenced by Asian and natural medicine. If one looks at all diseases from this perspective a much fuller picture evolves and a deeper understanding. Finally, a practical way of preventing or treating that condition or dis ease. All disease names are a narrow label overlooking the whole person, their internal environment and mental/emotional life. Each disease name, as given in Western medicine, is a useful label at best, at worst it does NOT get to the heart of the problem.

Western people, medical or not, are not familiar with the idea that diseases can only exist in the right internal environment; that is the whole “climate” of our “inner” body. Just as the weather can be dry and hot, or wet and damp so can our internal environment. A stomach pain can be due to excess heat ( from foods and emotions) or excess dampness or just plain stagnation ( things are not flowing well).Our internal organs, blood vessels and muscles need to be balanced, harmonious like a family, in the right “climate” and with proper circulation ( movement). This interesting and practical viewpoint will be followed in this and subsequent articles.

So let’s get to the point here.

What is Lyme disease? We call this a disease caused by a distinct external cause (pathogen); in this case a harmful bacteria carried by the deer tick. Externally caused diseases include malaria (transmitted by the mosquito) and some forms of infection (i.e.tetanus). The most common cause of :Lyme is a bacteria called Borrelia B. which is found on deer ticks, which like to travel on deer and mice. The disease was first reported near Old Lyme Connecticut in 1980’s. A person walking through a field will brush up against a piece of grass where the tick is just waiting to pounce on a warm body with blood. This tick is tiny, sometimes like a pencil tip, but they can be spotted and removed without much trouble. When person tucks the socks over the pants, and wears proper covering all over, the ticks are less likely to jump on. These ticks are not great movers and they do not fly! Spraying the boots, socks, pant legs and sleeves is a very good idea: there are good natural insect repellents, but some people might prefer the strong chemicals. I use the naturals, and make sure I dress properly when hiking, and always do a shower and body check at home. I will not let these ticks or the threat of Lyme prevent me from my passion, walking and exploring in the woods! Parents should not prevent their children from  enjoying walks in nature. During tick season, which is mostly spring and summer, precautions must be taken when hiking in the woods, and it is best to stay on trails, not to walk  in long grasses.

Walking through a field during tick season is asking for a tick to hitch a ride. Now how often do these ticks jump on people. Anyone who walks  in the woods has found ticks several times during the season. How often does a tick bite cause infection: only a fraction (maybe 25%) cause infections. For the infection to occur that tick must remain on the body for at least 24 hours. . When a tick is imbedded in your skin you know that the bite has taken hold. Do not panic if you find a tick on your leg after a stroll through the local woodland trail, Most ticks are found on the legs, ankles, sometimes they climb higher, or found on wrists and ankles, even neck. They can fall off of branches! I use rubbing alcohol and tweezers. I bath a cotton ball with the rubbing alcohol and drown the tick, then carefully remove it with tweezers, the whole body. I drown the tick in a little cup of rubbing alcohol; most often it dies in the process of removal. I then wash the bite area with warm soap and water, and then with some antiseptic lotion or tea tree lotion. I clean the area once or twice daily for several days. Remember not all tick bites cause infection: not all ticks(a small percentage) are infected with Lyme. Those who are not confident with this process should see a competent professional,  but it is easy and there is no reason to freak out.

Now I am a health professional who has had extensive experience with ticks and many outdoor creatures: I am also an outdoor enthusiast, a hiker, camper and explorer. I have had two serious tick bites, one verified case of Lyme’s. One other possible infection. I am healthy and strong, andLyme free! This is my story about my Lyme disease experience. It will help people. Because I am who I am I contracted Lyme disease in its home state of Connecticut, in fact not to far from Old Lyme itself! It was my time to really learn about this problem, which has become quite common in New England.

I have no regrets because I learn best from experience, and learning about Lyme and other diseases is very important for me and my profession. Lyme disease, by the way, is most prevalent in the Northeast where there is a large white tail deer population. But it has been found in many states, though not nearly as much. There is no mystery about the rise of Lyme the past fifty years: the spread of suburbs into the woods and fields, the reluctance to keep the deer population in check, and the lack of knowledge about the nasty little critter. A tick, remember, is tiny, like a little lentil, one quarter the size of a pea. Young ticks are barely visible but they too can carry the nasty bacteria. But remember, all animals and insects carry bacteria, only a few of which are harmful. Humans have more bacteria in their bodies than we care to know, but the great majority of these are useful. For example: good bacteria assist the immune system in preventing disease; good bacteria even manufacture useful vitamins! Ticks like warm blood so they crawl around ( they do not fly or hop, thank god), hoping to catch a ride on a mouse, chipmunk, or deer. They also jump on our dogs! They live in the grasses, and wait around for the unsuspecting deer or human, and when they can they bite through the skin for a meal–like a microscopic dracula– transmitting the microscopic bug into the blood stream.

Troublesome tick bites are obvious. They are red, a little swollen, with the famous red ring. In August of 2006, I had this telltale sign the day after I removed the nasty tick. This tick was imbedded, and I knew it was not a good sign. But I have read that not all infectious bites leave a sign, and, most unfortunate, some people do not even know they have been bitten by a tick. Maybe the tick was on the back of their leg but fell off in the shower. In my case, I cleaned and washed the bite, but already I was suspicious. A week later I felt like a flu was just coming on, and I had a little joint pain. I went straight to my doctor. He took a blood test and told me not to worry. I asked him to give me the appropriate antibiotic that day. He agreed. I started that day with the antibiotics ( even though I do not like taking them); I did the two week course of treatment as Doc had recommended. A week later the blood test came back positive.  I had already started on a course of immune supporting herbs ( including astragalus and maitake) and probiotics to offset the bad effects of the strong antibiotic therapy. I also ate very well, and did not overindulge in sugar, fats or junk food. A month later I was completely better. Three months later I knew for sure ( as well as Doc) that I had made it through with flying colors. I had had no recurrence of flu symptoms or joint pain, and a year later I had another tick bite but this did not cause any trouble at all. Since that time, five years ago, I always–when I walk in the woods or parks–dress preventively, spray my legs and boots, and do the tick check at home.

Since that time I have treated people with Lyme and counsel them on healthful and practical strategies.

There are three stages of Lyme treatment: the initial infection, the recovery stage, and for those who do not completely recover the post infection recovery. In Oriental medicine the initial infection is considered a toxic heat invasion: antibiotics are very cooling and cleansing; so are a few herbal medicines. The recovery stage can benefit from an excellent diet and health living, as well as herbal medicines and supplements ( like vitamin C and Co-enzyme Q 10) . In this stage we build the overall energy of the body, support the immune system, and make sure all systems are working well.

There are some people (not many, fortunately) whose antibiotic treatment does not seem to help, or who completely missed the fact that they were bitten and contracted Lyme Disease. The offending bacteria is a tricky little beast: it hides out in the body and wears a special protective coat ( to protect it from treatments or the immune system). These people can suffer from long-term joint pain, headaches, fogginess, depression and fatigue–all which mimic other conditions like Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia). To make matters worse there are so called co-infections (other critters) and complications. This subject of chronic Lyme infection is a complex and tricky subject. Not many doctors are trained to diagnosis and treat this. In this case a holistic approach is the best strategy: good diet, exercise, positive actions and thoughts,  herbal medicine and vitamin supplements and acupuncture. There is a lot of information on the internet, some not so good, but several good books include those by Dr. Horowitz and the herbalist Stephen Buhner. For those afflicted by chronic Lyme, there is no reason to sink into depression: there are many positive strategies to help the body and emotions restore health and vigor. There is real hope in the healing abilities of the body and mind. The worst enemy of recovery is the negative thoughts that say one  cannot recover. The best strategy is an affirmative and daily effort to assist the body and emotions in every day possible from healing exercises, prayer, to wholesome meals, fun,  friendship and meditation. Sometimes a specific therapy might be good for one person, another kind for another person. Some people really benefit in the recovery from acupuncture, or massage, or dance therapy. Some people need to consult a helpful physician. In many disease conditions, there is much good a person can learn on their path to better health. Each person is different and requires their own solutions, As I tell my patients each problem and obstacle and dis ease in life is an opportunity to learn and move forward in this adventure of living.

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