Testing for Lyme Disease and Treating It

Beyond antibiotics, there are several ways to combat chronic Lyme disease
By Ashley Turner
Ashley Turner
Ashley Turner
BCDHH
Dr. Ashley Turner is a traditionally trained naturopath and board-certified doctor of holistic health for Restorative Wellness Center. As an expert in functional medicine, Dr. Ashley is the author of the gut-healing guide “Restorative Kitchen and Restorative Traditions,” a cookbook comprised of non-inflammatory holiday recipes.
November 1, 2021 Updated: November 1, 2021

This is part two of a three-part series exploring Lyme disease: how to test for it, treat it, and prevent it. 

One of the difficulties of Lyme disease is actually figuring out if you have it. Unlike many other diseases, diagnosis can be difficult. This is true of other tick-borne illnesses as well.

The western blot and ELISA tests look for specific antibodies within the blood and are the standard conventional testing methods given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, with these testing methods, 60 percent of early Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses are missed.

Immunoglobulin testing can offer greater sensitivity and specificity than the standard two-tiered testing methods laid out by the CDC. This testing uses recombinant proteins of several species of Borrelia burgdorferi, and not just from B31 used by other western blot tests.

CD57 is a blood test that looks at specific natural killer cells. Lyme disease and other pathogens can suppress the immune system and low CD57 counts can indicate chronic Lyme. While this test doesn’t diagnose Lyme disease by itself, it helps clinicians understand how the immune system is addressing an illness and adds another piece to the Lyme diagnosis puzzle. CD57+ provides insight into immune status, bacterial load, and the severity of illness.

Lyme Disease Treatments

Unfortunately, Borrelia is very resilient and is often a tough match for the immune system.

However, treatment from a holistic, functional, integrative perspective is promising. As with any chronic or acute illness, optimizing immune function through various strategies is critical in resolving illness.

Even though I look at health from a natural perspective, I believe there’s a time and place for medications. From my perspective, treating acute Lyme and other tick-borne bacterial infections with antibiotics can be helpful in some circumstances in conjunction with holistic remedies. This nips the bacterial infection in the bud before it moves into invasive, chronic stages. Beyond antibiotics, there are several other important treatment areas.

Food

Consuming a non-inflammatory diet is crucial for bolstering the immune system in the face of tick-borne pathogens, along with calming systemic inflammation.

Avoiding inflammatory foods such as sugars, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods is important because they hinder immune function. Identifying and eliminating potential food sensitivities will also take the burden off the immune system and help it thrive.

Some of the most common food sensitivities include gluten, conventional dairy, eggs, soy, corn, and food additives.

Gut Health

While antibiotics often play a role in addressing Lyme disease, especially in the acute stages, they hinder the health of the gut because they kill off all types of bacterial species, including the beneficial ones.

Furthermore, the majority of the immune system is housed within the gut.

It’s important to support the gut by repopulating these beneficial organisms through quality probiotics or fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut.

Gut-supportive nutrients including L-glutamine, gelatin, and collagen will typically support the integrity of the gut barrier.

Immune-Supporting Compounds

Vitamin D has a powerful modulating effect on the immune system. Those with optimal vitamin D levels will have a strong foundation for fighting tick-borne pathogens.

Furthermore, anti-inflammatories including curcumin, resveratrol, and omega-3 fatty acids also support optimal immune response, not to mention counteracting the inflammatory response from these tick-borne pathogens.

Antimicrobials

Antibiotics do have a time and place in Lyme treatment, especially in the acute stage. However, Borrelia burgdorferi has been shown to quickly become resistant to common antibiotics used to treat Lyme, including doxycycline and amoxicillin.

For those who approach tick-borne illness from a functional or integrative perspective, understand that antibiotics are just one piece of the treatment puzzle. For deeper anti-microbial effect, herbs, essential oils, and homeopathics also can play an important role in resolving these infections.

Antimicrobial herbs are sometimes more beneficial than their synthetic counterparts because they target a wide array of tick-borne pathogens and various forms of Borrelia. Furthermore, they target harmful organisms while sparing beneficial microbes within the gut. This helps to protect the vitally important microbiome.

Antimicrobial herbs that have been shown to benefit individuals with Lyme include Japanese knotweed, Ghanaian quinine, cat’s claw, sweet wormwood, andrographis, cryptolepis, and astragalus. Astragalus also can be used preventatively for those who live in high-risk areas of the world. Oregano, cinnamon bark, and clove essential oils have also been found to have anti-Borrelia properties. Taking specific binding agents in conjunction with herbs helps to remove pathogens and toxins from the body while keeping detoxification pathways open and herxheimer (die-off) symptoms at bay.

Many people find Epsom salt or clay detox baths to be helpful for symptom management. There are many holistic treatment protocols available that have proven successful, including Buhner Protocol, Byron White protocol, Beyond Balance, Nutramedix, and Cowden protocol.

Additionally, many holistic practitioners find homeopathic solutions helpful for decreasing symptoms of Lyme disease and co-infections. Some of these include Ledum palustre, hypericum, arsenic album, and nodes for specific pathogens.

Exercise

Individuals with Lyme disease and tick-borne pathogens should exercise moderately, but must be careful to not overexert. Physical activity is necessary to stimulate muscles and nerves and mobilize circulation and lymph flow. It also facilitates the movement of bacteria out of their hiding places within various tissues and into the bloodstream, where they may be identified and destroyed by the immune system.

Quality Sleep

Quality sleep is foundational to a thriving immune system, overcoming illness, and fostering optimal health. Unfortunately, many struggling with Lyme and other tick-borne pathogens may have the organisms cross the blood-brain barrier and disrupt sleep. Breathwork, calming essential oils and herbs, prayer/meditation, and avoiding screens for two hours before sleep can aid in sleep.

Stress Management

Stress destroys proper immune function. Finding ways to modulate the stress response, such as taking adaptogenic herbs, deep breathing, exercise, stretching, prayer/meditation, expressing gratitude, journaling, or physical touch can be very helpful. Sometimes taking part in therapies can help promote a healthier stress response in those with Lyme.

Reduce the Toxic Load

Environmental toxins such as heavy metals, plastics, formaldehyde, VOCs, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), pesticides, and herbicides can have a negative impact on the immune system, nervous system, and overall biology.

It’s also important to look for mold exposure in those dealing with chronic Lyme disease. Oftentimes, mold illness and Lyme disease go hand in hand because of the immune compromise and chronic inflammatory cascade that these illnesses initiate.

Taking part in specific detoxification protocols and sauna therapy is important for removing toxins from the body.

Ashley Turner
Dr. Ashley Turner is a traditionally trained naturopath and board-certified doctor of holistic health for Restorative Wellness Center. As an expert in functional medicine, Dr. Ashley is the author of the gut-healing guide “Restorative Kitchen and Restorative Traditions,” a cookbook comprised of non-inflammatory holiday recipes.