How to Understand and Treat Lyme Disease
Join Wana + Dr. Ingels to learn how to better understand the mystery behind chronic Lyme disease
1. How did you end up specializing in Lyme disease?
I am a naturopathic doctor and have been practicing for more than 20 years. I have extensive training in microbiology and environmental medicine over my career. My personal and professional experience is really what led me to do what I do today.
My background is actually as a clinical microbiologist and I worked at a large teaching hospital outside of Chicago for five years prior to going to Naturopathic medical school. As a microbiologist, I did Lyme testing and several other clinical laboratory tests around microbiology, immunology, and autoimmune diseases. This has served me well as I feel like I have a better understanding than most other doctors about Lyme testing and the pitfalls of current testing.
In 2002, I got bit by a tick about two weeks prior to opening my own practice just outside of Lyme, Connecticut. I had classic Lyme disease with a headache, fever, bull's-eye rash, joint pain, neuropathy, and all of the classic Lyme symptoms. I went on antibiotics immediately and felt well within four days of treatment. However eight months into operating my own practice, I started to relapse and had many of my Lyme symptoms again. I went back on antibiotics and did not respond well. I kept changing antibiotics over and over for more than eight months and got worse and worse.
I realized that working long hours, not sleeping well, and not eating well all added up, and it was undermining my health. Once I started taking better care of myself, in conjunction with taking Chinese herbs, I started to really make gains in my health.
I then started to apply everything I learned about my own health to my patients, and I found that they were finding equal success. I learned that treating Lyme disease is more than just killing the bug. You have to address all of the other underlying factors including gut health, immune disruptors, environmental exposures, stress, past trauma, hormone imbalances, and other root causes to really get people well. I have applied these principles to each of my patients since and find that many of my patients do really well with this approach; it recognizes the unique nature of how Lyme affects each of us, so each treatment plan is tailored to the individual to get the best results.
2. What is the difference between acute and chronic Lyme disease in terms of experience?
I see a difference between acute and chronic Lyme disease even though there is a lot of overlap of symptoms. People with acute Lyme disease tend to be quite ill and they often have symptoms such as an erythema migrans rash (Bull’s-eye rash), high fever, joint pain, headaches, numbness and tingling in their arms or legs (neuropathy), chills, migratory joint pain (pain moves from one joint to another), muscle aches, swollen glands or Bell’s palsy.
There are upwards of 100 different symptoms related to Lyme disease, so even with acute Lyme disease, someone may get all or few of these symptoms. Because Lyme looks like so many other conditions, many doctors dismiss these patients as having some other viral or unknown microbial illness. The classic bulls-eye rash is a telltale sign of Lyme disease, but most people who get by a tick carrying Lyme disease do not get this rash.
When Lyme disease becomes more persistent or chronic, I see more neurological involvement with memory loss, forgetfulness,balance and coordination problems, insomnia, worsening neuropathy, sustained joint or muscle pain, muscle spasms, light or sound sensitivity, hormone imbalances get worse and worsening allergies to foods, mold, pollen or other environmental triggers. Whenever I see the combination of neurological symptoms and arthritic symptoms, it is a big red flag for me to look for Lyme or other tick-borne illness as there are very few other conditions that cause this combination of symptoms.
3. Why is Lyme disease still under-diagnosed?
Lyme is still under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed primarily because Lyme is a clinical diagnosis. Most people don't realize that the laboratory testing available does not actually diagnose Lyme disease, but rather shows that someone has been exposed to the Lyme organism. If you look at the CDC's website, they will tell you that Lyme disease is a clinical diagnosis, which means it is based on signs and symptoms and also if you live in an area where deer ticks are endemic.
There is a misconception that you cannot get Lyme disease if you live in a part of the world where ticks are not necessarily endemic. However, this is not true. Lyme disease has been reported in all 50 states in the United States and throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.
A problem with Lyme testing is that it does not take into account all the factors that influence antibody production since this is an antibody test. Anybody who may be immune deficient or have some other factors that alter antibody responses may cause this test to look negative. This test is really meant for people who have exposure probably within three months of their tick bite. We know from research that immunity naturally wanes with time, so the longer someone gets away from their tick bite, the less likely they are to have a positive antibody test. Since we have no easy way to measure Lyme directly in the body, we rely on antibody tests to give us information about whether someone has had exposure.
We have to take into consideration someone's clinical symptoms in conjunction with an antibody test to let us know someone actually has Lyme disease. It is possible for someone to have bitten by a deer tick carries Lyme disease and make antibodies, but never had developed any symptoms. On paper, their test would be positive because their immune system did what it is supposed to do, but they may not have Lyme disease if they have no symptoms. You always have to see the person in front of you and what we see on lab tests, but we treat people, not pieces of paper, so one’s symptoms carry the most weight. Since Lyme looks like many other diseases, it is important to rule them out as well.
4. What would you recommend as the first step toward healing?**
Mindset. You have to have the right frame of mind going into any treatment plan. You have to envision yourself when you are healed. What you are doing? Who you are with? How does your life look when you are well again? Our subconscious mind is extremely powerful and if we can shift your paradigm into a healing mode instead of a despair mode, we have given you a tremendous advantage in getting well.
From there, it is about taking honest stock of your lifestyle, diet and other external factors that influence your health. Continuing to eat junk food, for example, can undermine other things you do to get well. We work to make your body a healing machine and remove obstacles that inhibit that process. I’ve seen countless people that do not respond well because they have not taken their health seriously enough to make the necessary diet and lifestyle changes necessary to facilitate better health. Commitment to health is key here.
5. What do you think most stands in the way of healing?**
Mindset again. I work with so many people that have been programmed to believe that healing is not possible and they are destined to live this way forever. As I mentioned above, your subconscious mind is powerful and it may need to be reprogrammed to shift your paradigm so that healing and wellness are part of your outcomes and a driving force to help you get well.
For all the good that social media can do, it can also be harmful, especially when it comes to any chronic illness group. I’ve been on many platforms and been in several groups and I see how the negative programming gets repeated over and over. This is not helpful and may continue to undermine your whole healing process.
Surrounding yourself with positive messaging, positive people and utilizing your own method of tapping into your subconscious mind (meditation, prayer, yoga, etc.) can be extremely powerful in changing your physical, mental and emotional well being. I had to find this out the hard way myself and by shifting my own mindset, found things began to shift quite rapidly.
6. Why should someone choose a holistic approach as opposed to medication-based?
I practice the way I do based on my own personal experience with Lyme disease and having failed medication for several months. In fact, I got worse. A lot worse. My background as a microbiologist and naturopathic doctor also helped me realize that the microbe by itself is not the only problem with Lyme disease. Why do some people get bit by a tick and have debilitating symptoms and other have no symptoms at all? I’m sure there may be a genetic component to some degree, but I believe it really comes down to the terrain.
If we make our bodies inhospitable to the germ and give our immune system everything it needs to function well, we give ourselves a fighting chance to overcome Lyme disease.
Improving our nutritional status by eating nutrient-dense foods or following an alkaline diet to alter our cellular pH to allow each enzyme to work at its optimal level and facilitate tissue repair moves us toward health.
Improving our gut health by encouraging better elimination of toxins, balancing our gut ecology, and optimizing our digestive process moves us toward health.
Treating Lyme with herbs that not only target the organism but also help reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, boost energy and repair mitochondria, encourage better sleep and support our hormone systems moves us toward better health.
Eliminating toxins in and around our home or work environment lowers our body burden, which allows our tissues and cells to function better and move us toward better health.
Managing our lifestyle and making sure we follow good sleep hygiene practices, moving our body as tolerated, and mastering our stress all help move us toward better health.
A holistic approach to Lyme disease is not just an issue of whether taking antibiotics is appropriate or not. It’s much deeper than that. I do prescribe antibiotics for some patients when I think it's the most appropriate course of action for them, but we are also working on everything else that I just mentioned. Antibiotics can be helpful for some Lyme patients. But long-term antibiotics come with risks and you have to weigh the risk and benefits with each person. Most people who come to see me for Lyme treatment have read my book and already know how I approach Lyme and are already prepared for what to expect.
Any Lyme patient can benefit from this approach, so it really doesn't become an “either-or” situation. Talk with your practitioner and discuss what resonates with you to find the best approach in treating your Lyme disease.
About Dr. Ingels
Dr. Ingels is a respected leader in natural medicine with numerous publications, international lectures and 30 years experience in the healthcare field. Dr. Ingels is a licensed naturopathic physician in California, where he maintains practices in both states. Dr. Ingels has been published extensively and is well known as the author of the book, The Lyme Solution: A 5-Part Plan To Fight The Inflammatory Autoimmune Response And Beat Lyme Disease (Avery, 2018).
Dr. Ingels’ practice focuses on environmental medicine with special emphasis on Lyme disease, autism, Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS and PANDAS) and chronic immune dysfunction, including allergies, asthma, recurrent or persistent infections and other genetic or acquired immune problems. His practice is comprised of both children and adults. He uses diet, nutrients, herbs, homeopathy, and immunotherapy along with conventional medical therapies to help his patients achieve better health.
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