Understanding Lyme Symptoms

In this week’s episode, Dr. Nicole and functional medicine nutritionist, Brooke discuss some of the common misconceptions and mis-diagnoses of Lyme Disease. If you’re suffering from any of the classic Lyme symptoms, you won’t want to miss this!


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Hey, there. You are listening to IWG Radio, the place to be for all of your wellness. Hosted by functional medicine physician Dr. Nicole Rivera and functional medicine Brooke Sheller. We just want to take a moment to thank you so much for listening, and just let you know that any of the information that is provided is strictly for an educational resource, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any conditions. The lifestyle interventions discussed should not be used as a substitute for any type of conventional medical therapy.

Hey, there. Welcome back to another episode of Integrative Wellness Radio. My name is Brooke Sheller. I am the functional medicine nutritionist at Integrative Wellness Group, and I'm back here with Dr. Nicole, and we are going to talk to you a little bit today about Lyme. I think this is a great topic, because I think that Lyme can be a pretty scary thing to think about, but I think it's also something that's very difficult to diagnose, and difficult to really get a lot of clarity around. We wanted to just bring up some information to you today, especially if you're somebody who has maybe had a previous Lyme diagnosis, or if you're somebody who might be experiencing some of the symptoms that are common to Lyme disease. I'm going to just open up the floor to Dr. Nicole, to really give us a really good overview of what Lyme is.

Hey there, everyone. Lyme disease is something that a lot of us hear about possibly getting exposed to Lyme through having a tick bite. With that potentially leads to a bulls eye rash, and that is something that opens us up to the possibility of developing Lyme later down the line. The thing with Lyme is, Lyme is actually a spirochete infection that affects our cells, and causes Lyme to then get within the body, which usually ends up residing within our connective tissue. In addition to that, there are some other things to take into consideration that can open you up to Lyme, and those really have to do with a lot of the co-infections.

At one point in practice, I did have a patient who reported that she had cat scratch fever as a young child, and that is a Bartonella infection. Bartonella is a very, very common co-infection with Lyme, so it's not always that they came at the same time, but unfortunately, a lot of the bugs that are carrying Lyme are typically carrying other types of co-infections, like Bartonella, as well as Babesia. Obviously thinking about the name cat scratch fever, obviously it was proposed that you would get that by getting scratched by a cat, but what they're finding now is that you could actually get cat scratch fever from other types of bugs like mosquitoes and ticks that are infected with Bartonella.

Overall, when I hear Lyme, or somebody has been diagnosed with it, I really start thinking about, what are the possibilities for other co-infections, because unfortunately, Lyme doesn't like to necessarily live alone. There's definitely other things to consider.

Before we dive a little bit further into the co-infection thing, I want to navigate to where you spoke about the possibilities of mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, those types of things, because I think especially living in the northeast, we have a ton of ticks, a lot of deer ticks, and it's very common in this area. We think that we have to have a tick bite to be infected, and I think some people might think they have some symptoms, but they can't really relate to ever having that bite, and that bulls eye rash. Elaborate more on how else they might be infected.

It's exactly what you said. There is a strong possibility of infection through mosquitoes, as well as other types of bug bites. There's not as much research on things like chiggers, or fleas, but there has been cases that that has been the primary exposure. I would say nowadays, ticks are a part of the puzzle, but the mosquitoes are a very big part of the puzzle. Don't always rule out the possibility of Lyme because you have not had that tick bite, or you have not had that bulls eye rash, because many people when I ask don't report ever having that. The statistic is 80% of people that actually have Lyme report never having a bulls eye rash.

Just as a disclaimer, this isn't meant to scare you, but meant to kind of empower you to ask more questions if you are experiencing some symptoms that might be kind of those classic Lyme type of symptoms, that that could be a route to explore, even if you haven't had necessarily that tick bite. Mentioning some of the symptoms, I think this is where it gets a little tricky for people, because they can really overlap with some other common things. Obviously things like fatigue and brain fog, but what are some of those other real classic Lyme symptoms?

Definitely the fatigue. Sometimes even flu-like symptoms can be part of the puzzle. Not always, though. A lot of brain fog. Joint pain. Just kind of general aches and pains, which unfortunately I think so many people are dealing with, and we blame it on maybe we sit too much for work, we sit in a car because we commute, past injuries because we played sports. Sometimes we're totally missing the boat, not realizing that this could be a more serious issue. Those are some of the top things that you're going to see. When you actually get into getting your routine labs done, some of the things that you might see with somebody who has long-standing Babesia, which is actually a co-infection with Lyme, is really severe iron deficiency. They might be deemed iron deficient, anemic. They might actually have changes in their hemoglobin, things like that.

Also a very common byproduct of Lyme is also having calcium magnesium deficiencies as well, so those are some things that you also might be told by your primary care physician just by getting your routine labs, of, "Oh, yeah, your iron's a little bit low. You're technically anemic," and blowing it off, thinking, "Okay, maybe I'm just not eating enough iron." It can progress over time, and you become more and more iron deficient, and nothing you're doing is working.

I think one of the most difficult things about Lyme is that it's really difficult to diagnose. It's not a simple blood test that can really give you all the information, and so I want you to tell our listeners more about the process behind that, because they might have been tested before, or they might have been diagnosed, or maybe improperly diagnosed, so why don't you elaborate a little more on that?

I mentioned earlier that with Lyme, it hides in your connective tissue. It definitely can even hide in the nervous system as well, and when I say nervous system, I really mean your brain, your spinal cord, your nerves, so that is one of the reasons why sometimes people experience brain fog, but then also can experience mood changes, irritability, anger, because the Lyme can start to affect their brain tissue. I would say the connective tissue is one of the first places that it will live, and that, again, correlates back to the joint pain, achiness. When you're doing a routine lab test, like the Western blot through Quest or LabCorp, you can definitely miss it, because Lyme does not live in the blood.

If you are somebody who has had labs done, and it did show up in your blood, that means the infection is very in high abundance in the body, but it also has most likely been there for a significant period of time. Typically you will not be able to test for Lyme until you actually treat it. Obviously you don't treat it blindly. There are other things that you will see in someone's labs that will be indicators to kind of lead you down that path, to say, "I think that this person does have Lyme," so let's start to treat some of the infections/co-infections, and then six weeks into treatment, we will do a test called IGeneX. The IGeneX lab is really great for testing not just for Lyme, but also testing for the co-infections as well, like the Babesia, the Bartonella, et cetera, so you'll get the full, comprehensive picture with that.

What are some of those things that we're going to look at it in the labs, because I think that this is really the take-home message for people, that if they're seeing a doctor, they might be able to say, "Have you tested me for some of these other co-infections or viruses?" Let's elaborate a little more on those.

Yeah, definitely. One of the most common things that I find that people that do have Lyme, or we suspect that have Lyme, is they have had mold exposure. This is not something that's very routinely run. I wouldn't say it's custom, but somebody needs to be really looking for mold in order to run the test. It is a test that can be done through LabCorp, which is fantastic, because that's most people's in-network lab. It's called TGF Beta One. The TGF Beta One is something that will give you an indicator if you have been exposed to mold. Mold is one of the most debilitating things to the immune system, so it opens you up to various infections, not just Lyme.

That's where viruses come into play. It's very common that someone who does have Lyme also has maybe the herpes simplex one, which is cold sores. Maybe they also have herpes simplex two. Maybe they have Epstein-Barr Virus. Unfortunately, a lot of people have that in their system. A very common co-infection is mycoplasma, which is what we call walking pneumonia. Technically, you could be walking around with this, and not know you have it. Another one is a different type of herpes virus, which is called HHV6. Another big one is called parvo, and parvo is something that's very common in dogs, but humans can have it in their system as well, probably cause you let your dog lick you in the mouth. I've made that mistake.

With that being said, those are some really common viruses that will also be in the body in conjunction. Getting those viral panels actually gives you a lot of clarity around, is my immune system extremely compromised, and has it opened me up to all of these different infections? In addition, does that open me up to the potential of also having Lyme on top of that? Looking at those viral markers, looking at mold exposure, looking at the white blood cell count, which is a parameter of the immune system, typically when somebody gets below 3.5 with their white blood cell count, I really start thinking your immune system is extremely, extremely compromised, and there is a strong possibility of Lyme being in the picture.

I have seen people that have had normal white blood cell markers that have Lyme. I don't want to say that that's a definitive. Typically it just means chronic Lyme, meaning it's been in the body a long time by the time that white blood cell marker starts to really come down. On top of that, because the immune system is compromised from the mold, and also there can be heavy metals in the picture as well, which is also very debilitating to the immune system, then we will commonly also see gut infections. Yeast, bacteria, parasites is a really, really big one. Most people that have Lyme do have some level of intestinal worms. There's tons of different parasites out there, but unfortunately, it is very difficult to diagnose parasites as well because 20 minutes after you have a bowel movement, and especially if you're doing a bowel movement in preparation for a stool test, a lot of times the ...

Not a lot of times. Most of the time, the parasites, within 20 minutes of the bowel movement leaving the body, any parasites will self-destruct. They auto-lice is what it's called. By the time your sample actually reaches the lab, you are going to show up that you're clear of parasites. The people that get this testing done and parasites do show up means they have a lot of parasites in the gut, and they've probably had them for a long time.

Typically, we're treating for parasites, and then we can kind of see them a little bit better, correct?

Exactly, yeah, and I ask a lot of questions about parasites in my consultations. I usually will ask, "Do you have a history of grinding your teeth? Do you have TMJ or jaw pain," which, if they say say no for the grinding of the teeth, but do have TMJ, chances are, they're grinding they're teeth. They just don't know. Do they have hives? Do they have eczema? Do they have itchy skin? That's another part of it. Also, if they've had a past itchy rectum. I know a lot of kids experience that, and a lot of times, it's because they have different types of worms. I do ask about their stool. I ask, "Do you have anything in the stool that looks slimy, or stringy?" A lot of times they say no, but then as we embark on treatment, then they report back saying, "Oh, yeah. Now I see it."

Parasites, in reality, when they're in your gut, they're happy as can be. They're in the perfect environment.

Yeah. They don't want to leave.

Yeah. It's warm, it's great, they're eating all your food.

They're eating it all.

Yeah, they don't want to leave, so why would they? That is something really to know, is typically parasites will not leave unless you are taking the appropriate supplementation to get them out.

We can't live in a bubble all the time. Unfortunately. It might be cool if we could, and so we're probably getting exposed to these things all the time. Again, things like mold maybe in our home, or out and about, if somebody has a virus, and we're contracting a virus, and then again things like bug bites and all of that. We can only be so cautious, so I definitely want to talk about some things that can be take-home messages for people, of how they can really protect themselves in a safe way from some of these things. I know that using some of these bug sprays and things could be really toxic, so I wanted you to give someone maybe your favorite tips on helping for people to protect themselves against some of these things.

Of course. First and foremost is, I mentioned before, not everybody who gets bit by a tick or gets bit my a mosquito will get an infection. The thing is is, if your immune system is functioning optimally, then you really don't have to worry about it. If your immune system is not functioning optimally, then that's when these things become a problem. You have to take into consideration of ... I always tell people, you don't know what you don't know. When you get testing done, and you get a baseline for where your body is at, then you have more information about, okay, where is my immune system at now, or what are things that I need to change or modify, so I don't eventually get these types of infections?

Making sure that you're clear of heavy metals is huge. It's super important, and unfortunately, people might be like, "What is she talking about?" Things like aluminum, things like mercury, things like cadmium, arsenic. You might be thinking, "Where would I ever get exposed to these things?" There's mercury in fish. There's mercury in the silver fillings in your teeth. There's aluminum in your kitchen, most of your bake pans, most of your Teflon has aluminum in it. There's aluminum in every antiperspirant, so the antiperspirant that you're probably using on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we live in a world that we're exposed to these toxins. They're not harmless. They are very harmful, and they will get into the body, and they will stay there, and they will debilitate your immune system.

You need to have a baseline, to see, is this something going on? That is a huge part of the puzzle. When it comes to the mold, if you have been exposed to mold in the past, and you're like, "I'm fine," don't think because you've been exposed to mold that you would've developed either asthma or some type of respiratory or sinus issue. If you don't have those things, that means you're deemed fine. If you know that you lived amongst mold, or you lived in an old home that smelled a little musty, or you had flooding from some storm, take into consideration that that could have potentially affected you and your immune system, especially if you are someone who's getting sick often, or if you're someone who is just kind of dealing with chronic gastrointestinal issues.

When we think of infections, we kind of think of oh, sore throat, flu-like symptoms. Sometimes it's not that. Sometimes it's because you're just getting infections in another body part, which definitely can be your gut, because unfortunately, everything we eat has some level of bacteria on it. Those are things to take into consideration, is making sure you can rule out that mold has never negatively affected you, and you don't have heavy metals in your system. These are different tests that you can access through functional medicine practitioners. Even if you're having symptoms or not, it's good to have that baseline.

Going into the world, and just knowing what you can do now, is definitely making sure that you are using different types of bug sprays that are safe, and you can use this for yourself, you can use it for your pet. One of the best things is going to be cedar oil, and one of the products that I was actually recommended by my vet was called Wondercide. It was W-O-N-D-E-R-C-I-D-E, and that was a great product. She recommended it obviously for the dog, which has been really useful because obviously dogs do carry fleas and ticks into our homes, which kind of open us up to these infections.

The Wondercide, it's pretty much cedar oil. You can spray it on yourself as well. It's greasy, but there are other types of bug sprays out there through Badger, which is a brand you can find in health food stores, and then there's another one called Milk and Honey, which you can most likely find on Amazon. We also sell it here at Integrated Wellness Group. Using those because a lot of the other bug sprays are pretty toxic, and also will compromise the immune system.

Yeah, you have to think, if they're killing the bugs, they're making the bugs want to stay away, what are they doing to us?

Yeah. It's true. It's true, but there are some really great oils out there, like the cedar oil, that bugs do not like, so that's a great way to go for sure.

Yeah, so how about people who are experiencing some of these symptoms? Is there anything that you would say might make them worse off, make their symptoms flare up, how they can maybe even help manage their symptoms?

Yeah. For those of you listening, if you do know, Dr. Klinghardt, who is a Lyme specialist out in the Seattle area, I did a lot of ... I followed a lot of his work, and that's kind of how this became such an interest to myself. He said some really key things on through a lot of the seminars that I did with him. One of the things that he said was spirochetes, which cause Lyme, have been in our environment for centuries. Why is Lyme such a problem now? Why is it causing so much chronic illness, and causing these neurological issues, causing rage, causing anger, causing mood swings?

What he said was, not even just the spirochetes, but other infections, like the ones we talked about today, were pissing them off. I was kind of like, where is he going with this? He said that over the past 20 years, that the amount of radiation from wireless devices, our iPhones, our Bluetooth earpieces, our Wi-Fi, it has increased by 30 million percent. He even repeated himself. He was like, "That was not an error. 30 million percent." I found that to be mind blowing. These things, we've made these advancements with technology, and wireless devices, and you can have your phone on you literally every minute of the day. Anybody can access you. You can get internet from anywhere, even if you don't have data on your phone, because literally, there's Wi-Fi routers everywhere.

We're living in Wi-Fi soup, as you say.

Yes. Yes, and this is something that you wouldn't really think too much about, and especially a lot of us don't understand what we can't see or tangibly touch. This is something that is really disrupting our microbiome, and it's really disrupting the nature of these different types of bugs. The fact that we are never not exposed to Wi-Fi, the cell phone radiation. If you're using the microwave in your home, then it is literally putting these different pathogens in an uproar. It also shows why it's becoming so difficult for people to recover from things like candida, or parasites, or whatever they've been infected with.

Our route is antibiotic treatment. Some people it works, some people it doesn't, but a lot of times, they're having a lot of symptoms that are reoccurring after the fact, and again, it's because we are never giving our bodies a break from the radiation. If you are someone who's sitting there with your Fit Bit on your arm, or the new crazy watches. I don't even know. They connect to everything. You're honestly constantly giving yourself doses of radiation from that, so again, not to be scary, but it's really something to consider. Stop sleeping with your phone next to your head. It's okay. Put it on airplane mode.

I understand people have kids, and they get nervous, but you really need to try to detach for a little while, at least. Interesting enough, obviously Dr. Klinghardt, he's been doing this 40 years, and he talks about his really severe cases, that fly in from all over the world to see him. He actually recommends for them to paint their homes with different types of graphite paint, that actually block cell phone radiation and different types of microwaves. That's pretty extreme, but these are just some people that literally are debilitated and cannot function.

It's definitely something that we talk to people about, and give them the resources. Another side note is, if you are someone who is maybe living in mold, that is definitely going to exacerbate your symptoms, and make your immune system more compromised. On top of that, the Wi-Fi, and all of the electromagnetic waves actually feed mold, and it causes it to produce more mico-toxins. There was an experiment done, and what they did was they did a petri dish of mold in the regular environment, aka Wi-Fi soup, and then they did a petri dish of mold, and they isolated it from all microwaves. What they found was that the one in the regular environment actually multiplied in one week by 600%.

I think that's why mold illness is becoming such a big thing, because in the past, I don't think that there was much talk about mold. It's like, okay, you were exposed to it. Let's move on. Now I think it's becoming so much more problematic because we are feeding it, and irritating it, and causing it to multiply by having as much radiation around us.

I think it's important to understand that we're not talking necessarily about mold that is growing on the wall that you can see. Of course, if you've been affected by a storm, or something like that, then you might have a little more indication on that. Mold can be growing behind cabinets, behind walls. It can be in the basement. It could be in the attic, and you don't-

In your ducts, your air ducts.

Right. You don't need to necessarily be smelling musty smell. You don't need to even be noticing that there has been water damage anywhere. If water intrudes into the house, or let's say your office, or whatever the space is, if it's not dried within two days, it can actually start forming mold. That being said, if you are someone who's experiencing a lot of these symptoms, it might not hurt to seek some type of investigation in your home, to see if that's something that might be affecting you.

Before, you just said office as well, and I think this is something to think about, is we think of mold, and we might automatically start thinking of our home. Honestly, I feel like schools are a big culprit for mold exposure. I treat many teachers, and they have their summers off, and they feel really good, and then they get back into their work environment, and they immediately start having symptoms again. They're like, "I can look at the drop ceiling above my head, and I see it. I see the mold." Unfortunately, what's happening with our kids. Our kids are overweight. Our kids are sick all the time. The ear infections, the sore throats, behavioral issues, and I'm definitely not blaming all of that on mold, but this can be a big part of the puzzle.

One of our elementary schools locally was shut down for two months because the mold was that bad. It took them two months to re-mediate it, so it's just ... It's something that we may be getting exposed in our workplace, or even our schools as well.

Yeah, and I'm glad you bring that up, too, because for a lot of us, we spend probably the same amount of time, or let's say maybe a third of the time that we're spending our lives is in our workplace, at least eight hours a day, for some people more. That can definitely be posing a risk to your health as well. When it comes to the Wi-Fi, I think it's just pretty eye-opening, the Wi-Fi, and the cell phones, because I think we don't necessarily think about it. We see this new watch, or this new device, and we get excited, and we think it's the next way to help our success. We don't necessarily think about what some of those consequences are for our actual health. It's taking small steps, and saying, maybe I will put my phone-

On airplane mode.

On airplane, or I'll move it to a place that it's not really close to my bed, and just starting with some small steps like that, and cutting back, because I think it can be overwhelming for people to think, "Oh, my gosh. You don't want me to use a computer. I work on a computer. I have to have my cell phone available for my kids." Really, it's making those small changes, and just starting to see how your life, and your symptoms change with that as well.

Yeah, and even unplugging the router at night. If you unplug the back of it at night, and then you plug it back in in the morning, there's no rebooting. You don't have to do anything. It's just being able to kind of shut that down for a little while is really useful, so it doesn't have to be you're making massive, massive changes. It's just making those small steps, like you said, Brooke.

Great. I think that's all we'd like to cover for today. If you have any questions, we would be more than happy to answer them on a strategy call with you, and thank you so much for listening. If you like our podcast, please subscribe to us on iTunes, and feel free to write a rating and a review. Thank you so much.