If you haven’t battled chronic Lyme disease, you might think that Lyme is simply a disease caused by a bacterial infection called Borrelia burgdorferi from a tick bite. If you are a bit more Lyme-savvy, you know that Lyme involves not just infection with Borrelia, but commonly, at least a half-dozen other parasitic, viral, and bacterial infections. And yet, this is still an inadequate definition to describe what Lyme is, and what causes symptoms in people with Lyme. As I often tell people, “Lyme disease isn’t just ‘all about the bugs.’”
If I were to paraphrase the words of the many doctors that I’ve interviewed over the years, I would say that Lyme disease is a multi-systemic disease that causes disorder and dysfunction in the entire body. It affects literally every organ and tissue, and as such, healing the body from Lyme involves not only killing and managing infections, but also supporting and rebuilding the body from the ground up. It also requires identifying and treating other co-conditions that are common in Lyme, such as mold illness. Following are ten important causes of symptoms in Lyme, (in addition to Lyme-related microbial infections), which you may want to discuss with your doctor if he or she has treated you solely with antimicrobial remedies and you aren’t getting better.
Causes of Chronic Lyme Disease Symptoms
1) Mold toxicity
This is one of the most insidious and important causes of symptoms in people with Lyme. Increasingly, Lyme-literate doctors (LLMDs) tell me that many of their patients with Lyme are also infected with mold and mycotoxins (mold toxins) so it’s important to identify whether mold is playing a role in your symptoms and get treated right away. Real Time labs is among the most accurate of labs for mold testing. Effective mold toxin binders include the medication cholestyramine and activated charcoal.
2) Parasitic Infections
Many people with Lyme have protozoal and other parasitic infections that are unrelated to Lyme and which are compromising their recovery. Parasitic infections are often not detectable on conventional lab tests, and may not even show up in sophisticated stool tests; therefore, using multiple forms of testing to detect parasites, such as electrodermal screening tools such as the Zyto or muscle testing, is important, along with lab testing with reputable labs such as Doctors’ Data.
3) Hormone and Neurotransmitter Imbalances
Lyme disease profoundly affects the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, and can even damage neuroendocrine (or brain, nervous system and hormonal gland) tissue, such as the pituitary. As a result, the body does not produce proper amounts of hormones and neurotransmitters. Replenishing the body’s stores of these chemicals can therefore profoundly support the healing process and Lyme doctors will commonly prescribe bio-identical hormones such as pregnenolone, DHEA and thyroid hormone to their patients, along with amino acids such as L-tyrosine, GABA and 5-HTP, which the body uses to make neurotransmitters. To make these amino acids work in the body, supplemental co-factors such as P5P, SAMe, and methyl B-12 are also sometimes important.
4) Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
It’s not uncommon for people with Lyme to have vitamin and mineral deficiencies caused by the illness, which exacerbate Lyme symptoms. Common deficiencies include magnesium, Vitamins D, C and B-vitamins; zinc and iron—among others. Supplementation with these nutrients can help to support the body during healing. (For more information on common nutritional deficiencies in Lyme disease and supplements that support the body, I encourage you to check out my 2012 book Beyond Lyme Disease).
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Newsletter (it's free!)
Many symptoms are caused by inflammation, which in turn, is caused by many factors, including environmental toxicity, infections, stress and a poor diet. Reducing inflammation involves mitigating all of its causes, such as removing pathogens and toxins from the body, and downregulating the immune response with nutrients and tools such as low-dose immunotherapy. High-quality, natural anti-inflammatory substances such as curcumin may also be helpful for supporting the body’s inflammatory response.
6) Mitochondrial Dysfunction
The mitochondria are the cell’s energy furnaces from which ATP, or energy, is created. In Lyme disease, the mitochondria don’t function properly, which in turn causes anaerobic metabolism and hypoxia, a condition in which the cells don’t receive enough oxygen and which results in fatigue. Supporting the mitochondria with supplements such as L-carnitine and CO Q-10 can help to mitigate fatigue and other symptoms related to mitochondrial dysfunction.
7) Emotional Trauma
Many studies have proven that trauma suppresses immune function and when prolonged, can open the door to chronic health challenges. Many practitioners also now believe that trauma is stored in the organs and tissues of the body, and that this trauma can be removed with hands-on techniques such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and limbic system retraining, among others. Dynamic Neural Retraining is one limbic system retraining program that some people with chronic Lyme have found to be helpful.
8) A Poor Diet
Our food supply has been greatly adulterated and contaminated with genetically modified, antibiotic, hormone, and pesticide-laden foods, all of which interfere with the proper functioning of the body. People with Lyme disease may be even less tolerant of foods that have been contaminated and adulterated by the food industry, and bad foods, along with food allergies, are a significant contributing factor to symptoms. Therefore, removing allergenic foods and consuming fresh, organic “real” food, such as non-GMO, antibiotic, pesticide, and hormone-free meats, poultry, eggs, and other proteins; non-starchy veggies and low-glycemic fruits, along with healthy fats such as olive and coconut oil, can help to alleviate symptoms caused by food.
9) Poor Gastrointestinal Function
Poor gastrointestinal function can be a precursor to disease, as well as the result of it. Lyme disease commonly causes deficiencies of hydrochloric acid, enzymes and beneficial gut bacteria, and an overgrowth of Candida and other infections. These things in turn cause nutrient malabsorption, gut dysbiosis and Leaky Gut Syndrome, all of which cause symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, brain fog, inflammation, depression and pain, among others. Supplementing with GI nutrients such as hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes and probiotics may help to support gastrointestinal function in those with Lyme.
10) Environmental Toxicity
We all live in a sea of chemical and electromagnetic toxins. Studies show that babies are born with more than 200 chemical toxins in their bodies, (such as aluminum, cadmium, mercury, plastics, and other harmful compounds) and these toxins have been proven in many studies to damage the organs and systems of the body, especially the neurological system. Many people with Lyme even have environmental toxicity as the primary cause of their symptoms, which means that removing these toxins with well-thought-out detoxification strategies is essential for healing. Sauna therapy, rebounding, coffee enemas, liver cleanses, and taking toxin binders such as zeolite, chlorella, EDTA, activated charcoal—among others, are just a few ways to remove toxins from the body. Ideally, you’ll want to work with a practitioner who can test your body for toxins and prescribe a regimen in conjunction with Lyme disease treatment based on your needs. The same holds for the other causes of symptoms described here.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on April 26, 2016 and was updated on September 22, 2020.
Connie Strasheim is the author of multiple wellness books, including three on Lyme disease. She is also a medical copywriter, editor and healing prayer minister. Her passion is to help people with complex chronic illnesses find freedom from disease and soul-spirit sickness using whole body medicine and prayer, and she collaborates with some of the world’s best integrative doctors to do this. In addition to Lyme disease, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. You can learn more about her work at: ConnieStrasheim.