The Lyme & Lupus Connection

Have you been diagnosed with Lyme Disease or Lupus? Have you tried traditional methods of management with little relief or even worsening of your symptoms? Find out more about the link between infections, like Lyme Disease, and autoimmune conditions like Lupus.


Read Full Transcript

Dr. Nicole:
Hey there, you are listening to IWG Radio, the place to be for all of your wellness needs. Hosted by functional medicine physician, Dr. Nicole Rivera, and functional medicine nutritionist, Brooke Scheller.

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 [inaudible 00:00:33] interventions discussed should not be used as a substitute for any type of conventional medical therapy.

Hey everyone. This is Dr. Nicole Rivera from Integrative Wellness Group. I am here with the functional medicine nutritionist, Brooke Scheller. We work side by side in Belmar, New Jersey, practicing functional medicine and treating various chronic conditions.

On that note, today, we're actually going to be talking about the Lyme and lupus connection. Some of you might be thinking, what do these two really have to do with each other? We're going to dive in and talk a little bit about what Lyme is, what lupus is, and how they potentially can be coexisting in the body.

Hello everyone. I'm really glad you mentioned the differences, but also how they can be linked together, because I think we look at Lyme as being more of an infection versus lupus being more of an autoimmune condition.

You may have a diagnosis of either-or, but really talking about how the two can really overlap and really coexist together. Finding out the best possible information you can about your body, and then knowing the best way to manage that as well.

Why don't you go ahead and explain a little bit more about each of those conditions for us?

Dr. Nicole:
Sure. Lyme disease is known to be a tick-borne illness. Unfortunately, the more and more research that we do, we're finding out that Lyme is something that can be caused by mosquitoes. It can also be carried by fleas, as well as ticks. It's not really always going to be that tick bite with that bull's eye rash, which definitely can be associated with contracting Lyme, but it also can be from other modalities nowadays.

With that being said, Lyme is something that is classified as a spirochete infection. A spirochete is known as a bacteria, but it almost acts a little bit more like a parasite when it gets into the body.

The other tricky part about Lyme is it's something that is not typically in the blood. It's typically in the connective tissue of the body. Connective tissue is really the tissue that connects your joints. That is one of the reasons why there are so many manifestations with joint pain when it's really coming to something like a Lyme disease diagnosis. Typically, we're going to see a lot of the joint pain in the larger joints. Anything from the ankles to the knees, as well as shoulders, hips, et cetera. That's really some of the common symptoms.

If Lyme is persistent and it does get into the brain, which is parts of the brain can be classified as connective tissue as well, we definitely can see a lot of behavioral changes. Very erratic behavior, poor decision-making, shifts in our mood, everything from feeling angry to feeling pretty normal. We might even classify it as bipolar. You can definitely see a lot of mood manifestations when it comes to Lyme.

When it comes to lupus, lupus is something that is classified as an autoimmune condition of the connective tissue. With that, it means that the immune system is actually attacking the connective tissue of the body. It definitely can affect that connective tissue that is, again, in the joints, so connecting your joints. It also can be associated with connective tissue that is surrounding the organs. That's when lupus ...

They're monitoring it to really see if it then eventually turns into something that is affecting the organs because obviously, that is a lot more problematic, because it can weaken the organs and it can also create a lot of problems and organ failure as well.

I think it's interesting that you bring up the tick-borne aspect of Lyme. We do have another podcast where we do talk a little bit more about Lyme disease. You can definitely head over there to learn more there.

We talk about how, very commonly, you have the bull's eye rash and then maybe somewhere down the line, you have the infection. You get diagnosed, but for a lot of people, they don't recall ever having that bull's eye rash and yet somewhere down the line, they do have that exposure. It's important to note that you don't necessarily have to have that bull's eye rash for the Lyme to be present.

Dr. Nicole:
The statistic is only 20% of people that have Lyme actually recall having that bull's eye rash.

What are the symptoms? I know we talked about the connective tissue and the joints and maybe some of the neurological symptoms, but are there symptoms that are more Lyme-based or more lupus-based, and then are there some other ones that might cross over?

Dr. Rivera:
I think the symptoms of both Lyme and lupus can definitely look similar. Again, you can definitely be dealing with joint pain. You can definitely start to have weakness in your joints as well, especially if the connective tissue's being damaged. You can definitely start to have different issues within the organs. You can start to have maybe dysfunction in the gastrointestinal system. You can have dysfunction in maybe the kidneys. You can have reoccurring infections. You definitely can be experiencing fatigue as well. Fatigue that wipes you out. You're really out of commission for a couple of days.

Again, it can definitely start to manifest these different neurological symptoms. It could be just numbness and tingling. It could be, again, weakness. It also can then start to affect your mood and start to see major shifts from everything, from erratic behavior to really feeling a lot of anger, a lot of irritability, and then going through days that you feel pretty normal. It definitely can start to affect that. That's usually a little bit later down the line that we start having those manifestations neurologically.

One thing that popped up for me is maybe even a previous diagnosis of another autoimmune condition, giving us a little bit more information that autoimmune process has already started within the body. Maybe a previous diagnosis of Hashimoto's or some other type of autoimmune condition as well.

Dr. Nicole:
Unfortunately, when the autoimmune process starts, sometimes, it can then develop into various autoimmune conditions. That is a very common thing that we see. You just have to really understand that the mechanism of it is there are things happening in the body that are taxing out the immune system and not as what then leads to the immune system really dysfunctioning.

A lot of that has to do with different types of infections that we develop into the body. If there are various infections and these infections are then affecting the thyroid or affecting the connective tissue or whatever it is, then the immune system really starts to compensate for that.

With that, you might start to see that, first of all, the immune system is overworked. Maybe you're developing a lot of swollen glands. Maybe you're getting sick a lot. Maybe you find yourself on antibiotic therapy a lot. As things progress, you can eventually develop those autoimmune conditions.

I definitely want our listeners to learn a little bit more about the differences in testing because I think that's where things get different here, Lyme versus lupus. Doing the testing is what's really going to give them power to understand more about what exactly is going on because obviously, management and support is going to be different in those different types of conditions. Why don't you give the rundown on those different types?

Dr. Rivera:
Testing for both lupus and Lyme is typically going to be a blood test. When you're looking for lupus, you want to first be testing something called the ANA, which is the antinuclear antibody. This is available typically through Quest and LabCorp. It's definitely run often, especially when you're seeing integrative physicians. That is going to give you a generalized marker for autoimmunity being in the mix, and then you do have to do an ANA comprehensive panel to really verify what type of autoimmune condition is happening.

Typically, you're going to see something called the anti-dsDNA, the anti-RNP, and the anti-Smith, which can be associated with lupus. The most common that we see is definitely going to be the anti-dsDNA.

With that, again, this is going to be something that's done through Quest or LabCorp. If you do suspect anything in the world of lupus, you're having a lot of connective tissue problems, this is something that your traditional physician can run and then of course, a typical integrative physician is going to run this a little bit more routinely than maybe your average medical physician.

In addition, you can go a lot of routes when it's coming to the Lyme disease, but the tricky part about Lyme is it hides in the connective tissue. In a perfect world, we would technically do a tissue biopsy to really see if Lyme is in the picture because you're not always going to see Lyme disease show up if it is hiding in the connective tissue.

Typically, if you do find that there are other types of co-infections happening and you do have a history of maybe the bull's eye rash, then you're going to do some type of treatment which can be an anti-microbial, anti-parasitic, anti-bacterial protocol and then in about six weeks, you can test for the Lyme panel, which is the typical western blot, and then you actually will see some of those bands come up out of range. That will give you a better understanding of knowing if Lyme is truly in the picture.

We have different modalities that will help us to verify if Lyme is in the body through muscle testing. We will usually pair that up with some of the testing that we're doing with labs because we will always make sure to do blood labs, as well as stool analysis, and other things that are appropriate to the person.

With that being said, there are some other things you might see if somebody does have Lyme. They might have a severe iron deficiency as well due to Lyme being also in the body with something called [inaudible 00:11:27]. We also might see a really low white blood cell count. We also might see a lot of other viruses present. We might see just a huge burn-in on the immune system with different types of viruses like the Epstein Barr virus, the herpes simplex virus, as well as the parvovirus, and even the cytomegalovirus. We might see molds in the picture as well.

With all of this, you have to piece the puzzle together for the person in order to really figure out if Lyme is in the system.

The biggest reason for this podcast was because these conditions can overlap. The reason being is if you do have an autoimmune condition that is affecting a specific part of your body, then the chances are that there is some type of infection that is stored within that tissue.

If you do have something like Lyme disease, which is caused by spirochetes, then again, it could be in your connective tissue. That is the primary place where it will hide. It will not usually be in your blood unless it's over, over-abundant.

If you have Lyme in your connective tissue, it makes perfect sense that your immune system would then go to the connective tissue in order to fight off the Lyme. In the event that your immune system is doing that, you are going to have damage to that tissue, which then can create a positive lupus marker.

You have to understand that there is a huge overlap with these two conditions because if there is infection in the connective tissue, then the immune system will make an effort to fight it off. Unfortunately, through that process, you can start to have damage to that connective tissue, which then again will manifest as something called lupus.

I think it's like a chicken or an egg scenario, like which came first, the chicken or the egg, because maybe they're both coexisting. Is it the lupus triggering the Lyme? Is it the Lyme triggering the lupus? Is it one or both?

I think the most important take-home is that testing is so important because it really, really, really gives us the information that we need to understand, how do we support these things? How do we use supplementation and herbs and foods and all these things to help you manage these conditions or even help to improve your outcome, if you don't know which is existing? I think that's my next question to you is, what would the differences be in support or management?

Dr. Nicole:
If you get diagnosed with lupus and there's no other testing done to check for infections, to check for Lyme, to check for viral burden, then your traditional therapy is going to be an immune suppressant.

For me and what I do and what I see on a daily basis, that's terrifying to me, because if you do truly have Lyme or you have some other type of infection that can be affecting your connective tissue, which there are definitely other infections out there, then you go on an immune suppressant to shut down your immune system, and now your infections persist and they can really start to take over.

If you're someone who is diagnosed with lupus, you have gone down the traditional road of these therapies and you have gotten worse, then you need to do further testing. You really need to start exploring, what else is going on in your body? Do you have infections? Do you have Lyme? Do you have mold exposure? Do you have parasites in your gut? Because these are very, very common things that we're seeing on a daily basis.

The other thing too is if you do get diagnosed with Lyme, the most traditional therapy is antibiotic therapy. The most common things that we see associated with Lyme is, first of all, again, it's classified as a bacteria, but it acts like a parasite. If you go on antibiotic therapy, it doesn't always work very well. Don't be wrong. It does depend on the severity and the chronicity, meaning, how long the Lyme has been in the picture. If you do go on the traditional antibiotic therapy, it might not work very well because again, this is acting as a parasite.

You also will typically find parasites in the gastrointestinal system with someone who has Lyme. Going on almost more of an anti-parasitic type of protocol can be more beneficial for somebody with Lyme.

Again, you have to do the testing to figure out what is really going on. Are there viruses? Are there parasites? Is there yeast in the gut? There's a lot of things to consider, but you need to piece the puzzle together to really understand how to best support that person because unfortunately, when you go and you get that diagnosis of Lyme or you get a diagnosis of lupus, it's usually not the only piece to the puzzle.

There's usually a lot of other things that are going on, and you need to figure that out, so that you can truly get better and then not put yourself at risk of going down the traditional methods of therapy and getting worse. Because if you have gone down that road and you got worse, there's something else going on that somebody hasn't figured out yet. Working with a functional medicine physician and an integrative physician can help you to piece that puzzle together, so that you can get on the right path.

It's interesting because I think one thing that you didn't mention that was lighting up in my mind is you talked about how an immune suppressant would further exacerbate maybe the Lyme, but also, if somebody goes on an antibiotic for Lyme, that might further exacerbate an autoimmune condition because the gastrointestinal system is still involved.

It's going back again to that chicken or the egg situation. Which one really is it? Because it can be dangerous to go down some of those routes without really knowing the full picture.

Dr. Nicole:
I think the moral of the story, to really sum this up, the biggest pattern that we see is there are some major things that suppress the immune system. One of them is mold. One of them is heavy metals. If either one of those are in the picture, mercury exposure, aluminum exposure ... Unfortunately, these are things that we get exposed to very commonly on a daily basis.

If there's heavy metals in the picture, especially if you live in an industrialized area, you have to consider that that's a very strong possibility. You maybe went to school and there was mold in the building. Maybe you worked in a place, there was mold. Maybe you lived in a house that had mold. Those are two things that will really start to affect your immune system.

From there, you are now opened up to a lot of different infections. If you got sick a lot, because your immune system was compromised and maybe you had a lot of antibiotics in your life and maybe you had a lot of steroid therapy in your life, prednisone, things like that, then boom, now you have something else that's stressing out your immune system.

From there, over a lifetime, you start to just get exposed to things that a normal healthy body would get rid of and fight off, but instead, because your immune system is compromised, now you can get the Epstein-Barr virus in your body and it can persist. You can get a pneumonia, but it can persist in the lungs and be active for long periods of time or you can get bit by that tick and you can manifest the Lyme disease because your body can't fight it off.

It starts to be this snowball effect that happens. When autoimmunity is in the picture, you absolutely have to look at what stressed out your immune system in the first place. Secondly, how many infections do you have? Do you have infections at all? Are these infections in your blood? Are they in your gut? Are they in both? These are really, really important things to consider.

Unfortunately, I think that when it comes to infections, they're missed, because infectious disease doctors are the ones that ... That's their expertise. That's their specialty. Unless you're seeing a infectious disease doctor, you're not always looking at those types of infections, but if autoimmunity is in the picture, chances are there is infection in the picture.

One of the things that we do on all the podcasts is we offer a 15-minute free strategy session for anybody who is finding that they're connecting to some of the things that we've spoken about because we really do want to help you to find the best route and the best way to support your conditions. We would be happy to set that up. You can head over to Integrative Wellness Group to do that.