The Impact of Chronic Lyme Disease on Patients Also Dealing With Mold Illness

By Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

In this, the latest article in our series on why recovery may be impaired or slowed when mold and mycotoxins have been addressed, we will be tackling one of the toughest subjects, and that is chronic Lyme disease. In order to break this topic down to give the best understanding as to why Lyme disease can hinder healing from mold toxicity, it is helpful to first look at Lyme disease—what it is and its health impacts—and then get into why it can create such a problem in mold injured patients.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease was first identified in Lyme, Connecticut as a mysterious illness featuring fatigue, fever, and a bull’s-eye rash.   Research found that this was caused by the bite of a deer tick infected with the bacteria, borrelia burgdorferi.   Originally, it was believed that this disease was only found in the northeast region of the United States but even as far back as the 1980s, I had several patients presenting with acute Lyme disease who had not traveled to the Northeast. This supported the belief that either the deer (and/or ticks) migrated south and/or that the bacteria may be spread by other blood-sucking insects such as mites, fleas and mosquitoes.

Borrelia burgdorferi is member of the bacterial family known as spirochetes.  These bacteria are shaped like a corkscrew and are able to bore down and penetrate tissues, making them hard to eradicate.  Other bacteria in this family of spirochetes include helicobacter pylori, the bacteria which causes stomach ulcers and possibly leads to gastric cancer, and treponema pallidum which causes syphilis and yaws.  Specifically identified in syphilis is the ability for the bacteria to manifest, cause symptoms, and then to mysteriously disappear, only to eventually recur in a much more significant and physically deleterious way.  While not necessarily identified as such, we do see recurrence and increasing health issues with helicobacter pylori as well.  It then stands to reason that the borrelia bacteria causing Lyme could follow a similar recurrence pattern, thus creating what would be known as chronic Lyme disease.

Symptoms and Presentations of Lyme Disease

Symptoms of acute Lyme disease are not always textbook, in fact many may become infected and have no detectable illness—no fever, no rash, perhaps not even mild fatigue.  There may not even be a known history of tick bite.  Deer ticks are tiny, about the size of the head of a pin and can go unnoticed. A recent study by Ryan Rhodes, PhD,  Microbiology, at University of North Carolina, Wilmington, has identified borrelia in the bellies of mosquitos, and some species of biting horseflies and deer flies. (When you consider that most of us have been bitten plenty by mosquitoes and flies at some point or another, it makes sense as to why cases of chronic Lyme seem to be increasing.)

Understanding how these bacteria have the ability to bear down, escape detection, lie dormant, and then reemerge helps us to see why and how they can cause great havoc in the body and create myriad mysterious symptoms.  Symptoms may range from rheumatoid arthritis-like pain, to chronic fatigue syndrome, to “neuro-Lyme” which can manifest as any number of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Getting a Lyme Disease Diagnosis

If all of this were not complicated enough, there comes the issue of Lyme disease diagnosis.  What test can best reveal the presence of Lyme?  That answer is fraught with more disagreement among infectious diseases doctors, Lyme experts, and microbiologists than almost any other topic I can think of.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are key points to remember:

  1. Identify the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease.
  2. The possibility that the patient was exposed to ticks (specifically black-legged ticks).
  3. The possibility that other illnesses may cause similar symptoms, so they should be considered and/or ruled out.
  4. The results of laboratory testing—currently these are the Lyme antibody test and the Western Blot (which examines the immune system reaction to specific proteins of the borrelia bacteria).

As you can imagine there are issues with each of these steps as far as actually diagnosing Lyme disease is concerned. Sometimes the definitive answer that doctors and patients alike are looking for remains elusive even with lab testing. To that point, years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by the late Lida Mattman, PhD, who had devoted many years to the study of borrelia.  She coined the term “stealth bacteria” as a description of how these bacteria can hide out, cause all kinds of havoc, and be extremely difficult to detect.  Her feeling, based on the technology of flow cytometry, was that most everyone had some degree of infection with borrelia burgdorferi, but that certain individuals had a propensity to hang onto the disease, and that it was responsible for many chronic illnesses. (Note: Flow cytometry is a laboratory method used to identify and count specific cells in a sample. This method can also identify particular components within cells. These physical characteristics and/or markers called are called antigens and are unique to that cell type. With flow cytometry, thousands of different kinds of cells can be counted and analyzed in a few minutes. This can give an accurate picture of any tissue or body fluid’s cellular composition.)

Lyme Disease and Mold Illness

Now let’s circle back to the connection with mold injured patients and we have, once again, the chicken and egg question.  If we suspect that the presence of Lyme is playing a part in the illness, did it compromise the immune system and make the patient more susceptible to the mold and mycotoxin exposure, or did the mold and mycotoxins make the patient succumb to the effects of the borrelia that were already there?   I truly believe that it can work both ways.  However, if following the general tenets of what it takes to get well from any illness or disease, those being clean air, clean water, clean food, then it is imperative that the environmental air be free of mold.  Period.  If this is not done, no matter which came first—mold or Lyme, then recovery may be impossible. In fact a moldy environment can be so challenging to the immune system that many patients come to find out that they have Lyme (even when the tick bite was unknown or long ago in their childhood) only after moving into a moldy environment, getting sick, and then having to travel down the long and arduous path of testing to figure out why they are so incredibly ill and cannot seem to get better.

When Mold and Lyme Collide: A Case Study

A very interesting case study I had was Paul, a 55-year-old man who presented with burning pain in his feet and legs, and muscular twitching and weakness.  His tests for Lyme were positive, and an interesting note is that he was diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (another disease caused by ticks but another bacteria, rickettsia parkeri) 15 years previously. He had a history of long-term exposure to chemicals through photography processing, and his home had significant mold levels.

He began a detox protocol with sauna and supplements and improved significantly.  His home was also treated for mold.  Then he got worse, much worse. Typical antibiotic treatments for Lyme were making him even weaker, and he lost from his robust 145 pounds down to 115 pounds.  His chest wall muscles were so weak, it compromised his respiratory status.  He was hospitalized with ongoing oxygen and antibiotics.  He finally began to recover, and it was simultaneously found there was an untreated area of his home which contained significant mold and mycotoxins.  This was properly remediated, and his recovery continued.

So, in Paul’s case, was it the mold? Was it Lyme? Or, was it the chemical impact from the past?  There is no doubt in my mind that they all three contributed, but it was removal from the moldy environment, being on oxygen, and general immune support that turned him around allowing him to regain his health.  Paul remains vigilant and careful about the air he breathes and the food he eats.

What Can Be Done?

As in mycotoxin illness, Lyme can cause or augment chronic inflammatory response syndrome, which can cause a vast array of symptoms which we have explained in previous articles.  This can attack the circulatory, neurologic, and autonomic nervous systems.  Treating the inflammation involves removing the cause but also includes improving general circulation and reduction of capillary spasm.

If testing is done and Lyme is positive, then what is the best course of action?  There is an organization called ILADS (International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society)  teaching many different interventions and treatments for Lyme disease.  Many of these require the intensive and long-term use of antibiotics.  Each case must be considered individually, and in my opinion, the immune system must also be supported in every way possible.  Eradication by drugs alone may not work.   And please let me add here, I am NOT a Lyme expert.  I have had many patients with chronic Lyme, both as a primary and comorbid condition, and I have supported their treatment but am not a member of ILADS, nor do I proclaim to have all the answers.

What I do believe, however, is that the immune system must be supported, so that it may do its job to fight and remove all threats.  Immune support includes many modalities, but the immune status of the gut with probiotics and colostrum are a good first step. Good examples of these supplements are Phospholipid colostrum by Douglas laboratories, and Klaire Pro5, both available through the Wellevate platform. Additionally, use of immune modulators, such as Sinus Defense, is an easy and very effective way of creating whole-body immune balance and may be obtained from Micro Balance Health Products.

There are other very specific methods of testing and treatment that are beyond the scope of this article, but I do hope that it gives some further insight into the question of “why am I not getting better”?  Microbes, and specifically those stealth bacteria, like borrelia, could be part of the total body load and the reason behind the inability to improve and recover.

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