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Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose. Testing to identify its presence is often negative, for a variety of reasons, and when exposed to tics, there are a variety of pathologic infections that may occur that isn't specifically Borrelia burgdorferi, which is the pathogen specific to Lyme. While our practice does use a conventional lab initially, for those who are insured, to identify the potential for Lyme, a negative result doesn't rule out this potential for us. If we are generally quite suspicious even after an initial negative finding, we will use a functional lab specializing in pathogenic microbiota, specifically in identifying bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic microbes in human biologic samples. For clients without insurance, we start here. The key here is that in this same sample, as few as ten other organisms may be identified that are also common to the #tick and for which similar symptoms can result.

Keep in mind though, that one can also be positive with B. burgdorferi or any one of the other pathogens and that not initiate #Lyme disease. At any given time, each of us are housing millions of pathogenic microorganisms in our body and our immune system is constantly fighting them. The mere presence of these microbes does not necessarily make us sick. Lyme disease, like all other microbial infections, requires a host who is susceptible to disease. They may be immunocompromised, maybe because of stress, or maybe because of malnutrition, or maybe they had an illness that allowed these pathogens to tip the scale in favor of Lyme. For most of us though, who are healthy, these pathogens are eradicated by our bodies.

It takes one tick bite, and as little as 20 minutes, for the tick to transmit the pathogens it harbors.

Borrelia burgdorferi can either be a temporary, co-existing pathogen or an active infective, which them becomes Lyme disease. The same is true of the co-infections associated with Lyme, and for which the functional labs are working to also identify, which includes Babesiosis, Bartonella, and two other Borrelia species, Ehrlichia chaffeensis, and Anaplasma phagocytophilisum. Historically, Lyme testing has been specific to identify antibodies or was immune response based, but we know that B. burgdorferi has evolved, as all pathogens do, to evade our immune system's responses. These tests then are quite faulty. What our functional labs are looking for is the DNA of the causative organism itself. This looks for the presence of the microbes themselves so the stage of disease or the immune response in itself, isn't necessary for resulting tests.

Babesiosis: a Lyme Co-Infection

Babesiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells and are spread by certain ticks. In the United States, tickborne transmission is most common in particular regions and seasons: it mainly occurs in parts of the Northeast and upper Midwest and usually peaks during the warm months. Although many people who are infected with Babesia do not have symptoms, others can become quite ill, suffering malaria-like symptoms that worst case, can be fatal. Fever, chills, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, cough, shortness of breath, respiratory distress, and an especially dangerous form of anemia called hemolytic anemia may result.

Babesia microti is transmitted by the bite of infected Ixodes scapularis ticks—typically, by the nymph stage of the tick, which is about the size of a poppy seed. It is the second most prevalent blood parasite found in tick-bitten mammals in the United States, with more than 100 species of the microbe having been identified thus far. Dogs, sheep, deers, goats, and cattle are all susceptible, in addition to humans.

Testing can identify this microscopic parasite, and can help us identify if treatment is effective. B. burgdorferi and the co-infections are evasive, as mentioned previously, and known to be exceedingly hard to eradicate. Of course there are some who become infected and never know it because their immune system clears it on its own. Most do not require treatment.

Conversely, there are others who become severely and quite chronically ill, despite multiple treatments and therapies. The standard course of treatment for human Babesiosis is a combination of antimicrobial therapies. These are intended to kill the parasite, with the most common drug combinations being atovaquone, azithromycin, hydroxycholorquine, or clindamycin. These aren't foolproof though, or even harmless. Babesia protozoa are also strongly resistant to these therapies.

Integrative Therapies: Botanical Medicine

This is why botanical agents and functional medicine practitioners are increasingly sought out for treatment of these conditions. Botanicals can also improve immune function and reduce inflammation. Five herbs have been studied specifically in their effectiveness for treating Babesia, including Cryptolepsis sanguinolenta, Artemisia annua (Sweet wormwood), Scutellaria baicalensis (Chinese skullcap), Alchornea cordifolia (African Christmas bush), and Polygonum cuspidatum (Japanese knotweed). Three of these herbs, Cryptolepsis sanguinolenta, Artemisia annua, and Scutellaria baicaensis, were shown to be not just effective, but more effective at killing and preventing regrowth of the parasite than conventional therapeutics, clindamycin and quinine. Of course, work with your clinician to identify your unique treatment plan and to determine what is best for your scenario. These #botanicals may be a great support to the standard treatment of antimicrobial and antibiotic agents.

Supporting our immune system is key, not only in treatment, but also for prevention or for avoiding relapse or persistent infection. Thus, one of the more important approaches to treating Babesia infections is to cultivate a lifestyle designed to support and even improve immune functioning. Get consistent, quality sleep and eat a nutrient-rich diet of whole foods. Protect your gut health with prebiotics and probiotics. Supplement with immune-boosting agents, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, folate, Vitamin D, glutathione, an antimicrobial peptides found in fermented foods.

Beyond boosting immune function, you'll want to also prioritize inflammation reduction, the catalyst in the progression of disease. Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus brevis, and Lactobacillus collinoides, found in fermented foods can significantly reduce inflammation-producing cytokines.

Follow-Up: Assuring Healing

Keep in mind, some test positive for B. burgdorferi, then undergo treatment, and upon retesting show negative for the B. burgdorferi but positive for a co-infector. This doesn't necessarily mean a new exposure and infection has occurred, but more than the eradication of the B. burgdorferi allowed the second to flourish. Generally testing about two weeks after therapy has been completed can be helpful in identifying its effectiveness. The reality is though, that it can take years to completely clear all causative microbes.

If you think you or someone you love has contracted a tick-borne infection such as Babesia, or if you simply want to improve you health to provide protection if you are exposed, reach out to us here at Eden Family Practice. We offer an array of integrative, functional, and wellness services to provide whole-person, individualized care to help you regain or maintain optimal health and wellness.

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I have learned so much about natural or botanical medicine From you. I know pharmaceuticals have a place but it shouldn’t be our first choice. Thank you!

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