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Lyme Disease – Its Cause, Symptoms and Treatments: An Interview with Professor Garth Nicolson

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Professor Garth Nicolson, PhD, director of the Institute for Molecular Medicine in Huntington Beach, CA, (www.immed.org) was a featured speaker at the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society Annual Conference in Jersey City, NJ on Oct. 14-17, 2010.

This interview highlights key points in Dr. Nicolson's presentation to the ILADS group – “Reversing Mitochondrial Damage and Increasing Cellular Energy in Chronic Lyme and Lyme-Associated Infections.”


Q: Professor Nicolson, what causes Lyme disease?
Prof Nicolson: Lyme Disease (LD) is caused by the bite of an infected tick and transmission of multiple infections from the tick to its host.

• Among these infections, the most well known is Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete bacteria that borrows into cells and can be found inside cells and tissues, and sometimes it can be found outside of cells in lymph and blood.

• In addition, other commonly found bacterial co-infections, such as Mycoplasma fermentans and sometimes Mycoplasma pneumoniae, are found in LD. These small bacteria without a rigid cell wall also hide inside cells and tissues and are rarely found in body fluids.

• Another important type of intracellular bacteria found as a co-infection in LD are various species of Bartonella.

• Also, bacteria similar to Mycoplasma – Ehrlichia species -can be found in many LD patients as well as another bacteria, Anaplasma species.

• In addition to bacteria, Lyme ticks can also transmit Babesia species, a small protozoan. These infections are difficult to find and diagnose using current laboratory methods.

Thus LD is not a simple infection, and the possible presence of several pathogenic intracellular microorganisms makes this disease especially difficult to diagnose and very difficult to treat.  

A further complication is the fact that Lyme-like diseases can involve one or more tick-borne infections without the presence of Borrelia burgdorferi. This makes for a much more complicated picture than most patients and even physicians expect.

* * * *

Q: Are insects the only possible mode of transmission?

Prof Nicolson: Transmission of LD may not always involve insects. It is very likely that LD infections can also be spread by transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products.

In addition, some of the LD co-infections, such as Mycoplasma, are also airborne infections and can be spread by close contact with infected patients.

* * * *

Q:  What are the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease?

Prof Nicolson: Most people think that the first sign of tick-borne LD is a bull’s-eye rash (erythema migrans) at the site of the tick bite. But, in fact, that type of rash or any other characteristic rash does not occur in over one-half of Lyme patients. In addition, less than one-half of patients with the clinical symptoms of LD ever recall being bitten by a tick.

The signs and symptoms of LD are complex and can change over time. In the initial stages of LD the infection(s) is generally localized to the tissues surrounding the site of transmission, causing swollen glands, skin sensitivities and fevers. However, the LD infection(s) can become disseminated and spread to various tissues and organs, often causing acute reactions, such as flu-like symptoms.

At this stage, or what has been called Early Lyme Disease, the condition can usually be successfully treated with several weeks of antibiotics and other support.

Unfortunately, Early LD is often under-treated or not treated at all, and this can result in a disseminated, chronic infection(s) that cause many chronic signs and symptoms.

In cases where the infection(s) have been present (even if treated) and disseminated for at least 6 months, immune and endocrine dysfunction, low-grade fevers, chronic fatigue, persistent neurological symptoms, arthritic symptoms, among many other signs and symptoms, are characteristic of Chronic Lyme Disease.

In Chronic LD, virtually any organ or tissue can be affected, and patients with Chronic LD usually have many clinical problems and multiple signs and symptoms.

* * * *

Q:  What is the treatment for Lyme disease?
Prof Nicolson: There is no single treatment that is effective in suppressing LD.

Although Early LD can be treated with antibiotics, the types of antibiotics necessary to successfully treat LD depend on the types of LD co-infections present.

Unfortunately, when LD progresses to Chronic LD, it is extremely difficult to treat the various LD co-infections, and the immune dysfunction and endocrine problems present another challenge.   

Chronic LD patients often have additional bacterial and viral infections unrelated to their original exposure – due to immune system dysfunction and the chance of additional opportunistic infections.

These problems present physicians with complex problems that are often unique to each patient, and this requires complex treatments directed at the LD co-infections and also treatments to restore dysfunctional endocrine and immune systems.

* * * *

Q:  What happens if Lyme disease is left untreated?

Prof Nicolson: Chronic LD can progress to a fatal disease, but most patients become slowly disabled and are often diagnosed with other diseases or syndromes, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, neurodegenerative diseases, Rheumatoid Arthritis or other diseases or illnesses.

In the most severe forms, Chronic LD patients can have multiple diagnoses, and this form of LD is particularly difficult to successfully treat.

* * * *

Q:  Have you done any clinical studies with patients with Lyme disease?  
Prof Nicolson: Most of our studies on Chronic LD have involved the laboratory diagnosis of various co-infections, such as Mycoplasma species, in Chronic LD using molecular genetic methods.

• For example, we were among the first to identify various Mycoplasma species in Chronic LD patients and determine the incidence of these co-infections among LD and non-LD patients.

• We also studied the incidence of various LD-associated infections in other diseases, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome [ME/CFS], Fibromyalgia Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorders, etc. This has resulted in our suggestion that various LD-associated infections are very common in many chronic diseases.

I have recently reviewed this topic, and copies of this two-part review in the British Journal of Medical Practitioners can be down-loaded from our website, www.immed.org. [“Role of Chronic Bacterial and Viral Infections in Neurodegenerative, Neurobehavioral, Psychiatric, Autoimmune and Fatiguing Illnesses: Part 1 and Part 2.]

We have also worked on chronic fatigue and mitochondrial dysfunction in Chronic LD and other diseases and illnesses, and how this can be corrected.

• Mitochondria in our cells provide the high-energy molecules necessary for cellular metabolism and life.

• In Chronic LD and many other infection-based diseases, the mitochondrial membranes are damaged by oxidative stress, resulting in leakage of the membranes and an inability to produce high-energy molecules.

• In patients with Chronic LD the mitochondria are only functioning at about one-half their normal capabilities, and this results in and is perceived as chronic fatigue.

* * * *

Q:  Often fatigue is a major issue in Lyme disease, along with muscle weakness and headaches. Is there anything that can be done to assist with these symptoms as one is healing?
Prof Nicolson: We and other LD experts have shown that chronic fatigue, muscle weakness and other symptoms in Chronic LD are related to loss of mitochondrial function.

This is where our research with patients who have other chronic illnesses, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome [ME/CFS] and Fibromyalgia Syndrome, has helped in Chronic LD.

All these patients have somewhat similar problems with excess oxidative stress and damage to their mitochondria.

We have found that Lipid Replacement Therapy with oral NT Factor® (the replacement of damaged mitochondrial membrane lipid components with undamaged membrane phospholipids) can restore mitochondrial function and significantly reduce fatigue. [See “Repair Damaged Mitochondria and Reduce fatigue Up to 45%: The Story Behind NT Factor,” Aug 6, 2010.]

* * * *

Q:  How can repairing cell membranes help someone with Lyme disease?
Prof Nicolson: As in other chronic diseases, cellular membranes in Chronic LD patients are often damaged by excess oxidative stress, especially the very sensitive cellular membrane and mitochondrial membrane phospholipids.

These phospholipid molecules form the matrix or main barrier of all of our cellular membranes, and when they are damaged by oxidation, they allow our membranes to become leaky and permit ions and other small molecules to leak out of our cellular organelles such as mitochondria and even our cells.

It is especially important in nerve cell membranes, as well as in the membranes in various cells of the immune system, that membrane barriers provide electrical and ionic differences across the membranes.

When the membranes leak, cellular function is impaired.

We have used Lipid Replacement Therapy with oral NT Factor to help restore cellular membranes and especially membrane function. In patients with Chronic LD as well as other chronic diseases, restoring membrane function resulted in significantly reduced fatigue and better functioning cells. This translated into better quality of life.

* * * *

Q:  Are there products you recommend for quality of life while undergoing treatment for this disease?

Prof Nicolson: I certainly recommend the products that contain NT Factor for Chronic LD patients as well as many other diseases where membrane function, especially mitochondrial function, has been impaired due to excess oxidative stress.

An important point is that NT Factor doesn’t interfere with the usual treatments for Chronic LD, so it is an important adjunct to any of the therapies used today to treat Chronic LD and the various infections that are present in Chronic LD.


About Dr. Nicolson:

Professor Garth L. Nicolson is the President, Chief Scientific Officer and Research Professor at the Institute for Molecular Medicine in Huntington Beach, California. Prof Nicolson has published more than 600 medical and scientific papers, edited 16 books, and served on the Editorial Boards of 30 medical and scientific journals. He has won many awards, such as the Burroughs Wellcome Medal of the Royal Society of Medicine (United Kingdom), Stephen Paget Award of the Metastasis Research Society, the U. S. National Cancer Institute Outstanding Investigator Award, and the Innovative Medicine Award of Canada. He is also a Colonel (Honorary) of the U. S. Army Special Forces and a U. S. Navy SEAL (Honorary) for his work on Armed Forces and veterans’ illnesses.

Note: This information has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is generic and is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness, or disease and must not be considered a substitute for the attention of a medical professional. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and reviewing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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7 thoughts on “Lyme Disease – Its Cause, Symptoms and Treatments: An Interview with Professor Garth Nicolson”

  1. tag777 says:

    Anyone with Chronic Lyme Disease may want to check Dr. Trevor Marshall’s protocol at http://www.marshallprotocol.com.


  2. asmom15 says:

    I have cfs and fibro, 10 years ago I had a rash on my leg and my knee swelled up. I went to the Dr. and told them to give me a lyme test. It came back boarderline. So they said I did not have lyme. I was 42 years old. Just moved into a new house in an area that has many cases of lyme disease. A few months later I felt tired and had back ache and headaches. again I went to the Dr. for another lyme test. But no Lyme. years went by and my symptons got worse. I developed Chronic Fatique system and Fibromyalgia. I suffer with it everyday. I am home bound now and can’t work or even walk far. I developed vertigo about 4 years ago, and that has totally handicapped me now. I can’t even drive in a car anymore. Went to Drs. had tests but nothing. I went to a Lyme dr. about 6 years ago and they treated me for lyme with antibiodics. Cause of a special blood test they said I had lyme. I tested positive in two strands. But they also said that my dr. probably wouldn’t confirm that cause according to an infectious Disease dr. you have to test positive in 5. So the lyme dr. said I had long term lyme. To this day I have no life because of this. I can’t get any help from anybody. I suffer from depression because of this. Is there any help out there for people like me?

  3. Sandy10m says:

    To asmom15, you have done a great thing by joining this group. There are tons of information here to help you feel better and get treated. There are millions of people who have symptoms like you do, myself included. We know that it is difficult to find an educated and open-minded doctor who treats Lyme, CFS, fibro, and other diseases like that. There are many internet resources to help you find a really good doctor. That should take most of the strain off of you and make you feel a little better. Unfortunately, as with all of us, we have been responsible for our own health care for a long time. Most of us (myself included) know way more about all these diseases than 90% of the so-called doctors. We support ourselves with vitamins, minerals, and supplements after we do our research, just to keep going, while we hope for a treatment that will help us someday. Just knowing that you’re not alone should make you feel a little better. Hang in there, and keep working at it. You will feel better soon. Use the chat rooms and such to ask questions and get the support you need. Good luck!

  4. JeNeSuisPersonne says:

    I have tried NT factor twice, and discontinued due to reacting to it as if I’d had a LOT of caffeine (which I cannot tolerate). Anyone else have this reaction?

  5. Caha says:

    I, also, had side effects when trying NT Factor at the recommended doses and was wondering if anyone else experienced the same side effects. My pulse rate was constantly too high and I couldn’t relax. I reduced the dose down to 1 a day and have been able to tolerate that, but I’m not sure it is doing much good. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who had this problem with NT Factor. Of course the manufacturer does not list the adverse effects. Also, I was curious about exactly what the NT Factor ingredients contain but could not find out. Must be caffeine in there to pep you up???

  6. Minnesota says:

    Take a look at the information on the NTFactor product in ProHealth’s store (Mitochondria Ignite with NT Factor – https://www.prohealth.com/shop/product.cfm/product__code/PH195). You click on the LABEL INFO tab to see the ingredients in their products. Looks like the ingredients include lipids (special fats), “good” bacteria, and food for the good bacteria. But I decided to e-mail Prof. Nicolson on the side effects question(mail@immed.org). This is what he wrote back – “There are very, very few side effects using NTFactor. This all-natural product does not contain caffeine and has been administered over 2 million times to adults and children with only a small handful of reported adverse effects. Since patients with reported adverse effects were taking other drugs and supplements at the time, it is difficult to assign an adverse event to NTFactor in any of these small number of cases. Of course, adverse events can and do occur with any drug or supplement, and the rate of adverse event reports with NTFactor are certainly well below most other drugs or supplements. When and if such events occur, it is best to immediately discontinue taking the drug or supplement and report the event to your physician.”

  7. Sandy10m says:

    I take the Healthy Aging brand of NT factor since it’s cheaper. I am very sensitive to some supplements and have to be careful (as we all do) of having a strange reaction to them. Recently I had a reaction to pro-biotics, of all things. Taking the good-quality ones (the ones that you have to keep in your refrigerator) make my heart race. However, this NT factor does not make my heart race, and it seems to work as they say, giving me additional energy at an even pace. If you want to try NT factor again, perhaps you should try the other brand. It also has probiotics, but I doubt they are viable since the capsules are not refrigerated. I have been taking 2 capsules with 3 meals per day. Good luck!

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