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Alternative Medicine and Lyme Disease, Part 1

Lyme disease is a chronic inflammatory condition caused when the Borrelia burgdoferi bacteria is transmitted by the bite of a deer tick or black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis). Although this disease is easily treated with antibiotics in its initial stages, it is often not diagnosed (or is misdiagnosed) until it has progressed to the stage in which painful, sometimes permanent symptoms develop. Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause lasting damage to the heart, joints, and central nervous system.

Lyme disease gets its name from Lyme, Connecticut, the town in which it was first documented in the United States. Although it was first described in 1975, the infection caused by Lyme disease is thought to have previously been identified in 1883 by German physician Alfred Buchwald, who was the first to document the characteristic bulls-eye rash common to this disease. Today, Lyme disease has been reported in many countries around the world, particularly in areas with large populations of mice and deer, the animals that most commonly carry the tick that causes this condition.

Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose, because it often goes undetected in its early stages, and in later stages its symptoms mimic those of many other diseases. There are three stages to the progression of Lyme disease. The first stage occurs at the site of the tick bite, where a round, red mark with a white center, or “bulls eye” rash occurs. This rash is now known as the erithema migrans (EM) rash, and is caused when the immune system reacts to the invading Borrelia burgdoferi bacteria.

The B. burgdoferi bacteria are spirochete bacteria, snake-shaped bacteria that easily travel in the spaces between cells, and thus are able to migrate easily throughout the body. Over time, the spirochete bacteria tend to move away from sites in which immune system activity is stimulated, making it difficult for the body to form enough of the antibodies necessary to eradicate them. In addition, spirochete bacteria are parasites, and must feed off their host to get the carbohydrates they need to survive. As the bacteria multiply, they must seek out other food sources, and in some cases patients infected with Lyme disease can literally see the progression of the infection as the bacteria move out from the site of the initial bite—the EM rash often spreads all over the body. Left untreated, the bacteria may move on to affect other organs, including the heart, nerves, and brain. In fact, the spirochete bacteria are particularly attracted to the central nervous system (CNS), where they are safe from immune system activity.

However, not everyone infected with Lyme disease develops the tell-tale EM rash (up to 40 percent of those diagnosed with Lyme disease don’t). Other early symptoms tend to be vague, flu-like symptoms, such as low-grade fever, swollen glands, and headache or muscle aches, which make this illness difficult to diagnose. As the bacteria move through the bloodstream and lymphatic system, stage II symptoms develop, which may include extreme fatigue, headache, irregular heartbeat, muscle and joint pain, nausea and vomiting, neck stiffness, and blurred vision.

Alternative Medicine and Lyme Disease, Part 2
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