By Sally Wisbey for CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine).
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that was first noticed in the 1970s in America as being spread to humans by infected ticks. It is now thought also to be spread by mosquitos and horse flies. Already rife in America and Germany, Lyme disease is becoming an epidemic in the UK, where it is carried by ticks commonly found on deer, sheep, foxes, horses, cats, dogs, small mammals and birds. People who live or work near woodland or countryside are at greater risk but the disease has spread to city parks and gardens. Pets can also carry infected ticks into the home.
What are the symptoms to look out for?
Because Lyme disease affects many organs of the body, it mimics other conditions such as Fibromyalgia, ME, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, MS, Arthritis and Lupus, which is why it often results in incorrect diagnosis. Common signs of infection are flu-like symptoms, extreme fatigue, muscle and joint pain, fever, headaches, stiff neck, poor sleep, poor immunity and central nervous system disturbances such as brain fog, slurred speech and Bell’s palsy. Symptoms may appear rapidly, or develop over months or years. Tick bites are not always noticed as young nymph ticks are tiny, the size of a freckle, and their bite is often painless. A bull’s eye rash is present in less than 50% of cases.
Prevention of Lyme Disease
The naturopathic approach to health is that prevention is better than cure! Susceptibility to any disease often depends on our own immunity, and with 70-80% of our immunity coming from the gut, it pays to look after our gut health. Eat a rainbow diet of 5-10 portions of organic veg and fruit each day, some protein in the form of legumes such as lentils and chickpeas, organic eggs or meat, and essential fatty acids derived from nuts, seeds, and oily fish such as mackerel and salmon. Ditch processed food, refined sugars and fizzy drinks and reduce caffeine and alcohol intake. Cook frequently with anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric and ginger. Looking after your emotional health, and getting enough sleep is important.
Follow practical tips to avoid getting bitten when in high risk areas: Cover feet, arms and legs with light coloured clothing, tucking trousers into socks. Avoid long grass and stick to woodland paths and trails. Do not sit directly on the grass, wear gloves when gardening, wear natural tick repellent, perform regular tick checks on yourself, children and pets after coming in, and shower immediately.
What if I find a tick?
Safe removal of ticks from people or pets is essential to avoid disease transmission. Do not burn, grasp or squeeze the tick, or cover it in any substance which may prompt it to inject infections into the host. Grasp it close to the skin with very fine nosed tweezers and pull the tick straight out, making sure that the head gets removed. Do not handle the tick, but secure it in a container and send it to www.gov.uk/tick-recording-scheme. Seek urgent medical assistance.
Treatment of Lyme Disease
Seek medical treatment immediately following a bite or bull’s eye rash, as delayed or inadequate treatment reduces chance of a full recovery. Testing for tick borne infections is complex and not 100% reliable. I recommend paying privately for a test through Armin labs.
Where diagnosed, the most appropriate medical treatment is thought to be a 4-6 week course of antibiotics. To rebuild your gut flora after antibiotics, eat plenty of prebiotic foods, including leeks, onions, oats, sauerkraut and fermented foods for at least 2-3 months, preferably organic. Also, take advice on a suitable probiotic supplement.
Without fast treatment for Lyme disease, it can become a chronic condition. Some people with Lyme disease will tell you it never goes away, it just goes into remission. However, you can help prevent recurrence by making sure that your gut and immune system are in tip top condition, so follow the ‘prevention’ diet above. For personalised help, consult a nutritional therapist knowledgeable about Lyme disease, to help guide you through an intense protocol for herbs and supplements, shown to have a previous high success rate with the disease. These are not protocols which are recommended to try on your own because of the risk of adverse reactions.
Greater awareness about Lyme disease can potentially save somebody’s life, or their quality of life, so please make sure you let your family and friends know about it.
Sally Wisbey is a Nutritional Therapist who graduated from CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine). CNM is the UK’s leading training provider in a range of natural therapies, with colleges across the UK and Ireland. To find out more about CNM courses, visit www.naturopathy-uk.com