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Chronic Lyme Disease, Immune Weakness, and Adrenal Fatigue

March 9, 2016
Treating Chronic Lyme Disease begins with a thorough survey of your health history, current symptoms, and believe it or not, Adrenal Hormone testing.
By: Dr. Andrew Neville

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Dr. Andrew Neville
ADRENAL FATIGUE SPECIALIST

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Many of my patients tell me about their positive Lyme tests or the diagnosis made from a “Lyme Literate” physician. They’ve heard from these doctors or articles on the internet that their Lyme is the root cause of all of their symptoms. 

While this convenient idea of one germ, one disease, and then one drug for easy treatment sounds wonderful and simple, it is truly wishful thinking.

Recurrent infections, such as Chronic Lyme Disease (CLD), and their sometimes severe symptoms are the result of an underlying condition, not the cause.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is caused by a specific spirochete bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. It often coexists with coinfections such as babesia, bartonella, ehrlichia, and others. These pathogens are carried by the deer ticks and transmitted to humans when the tick bites us.

Lyme disease and its coinfections are quite common, more so in certain pockets of the United States, with the Northeast and Midwest having the highest prevalence. However, according to the CDC, Lyme disease does exist throughout the country with the south and along the West Coast seeing the next highest prevalence. 

Acute infection can cause symptoms of a rash, fatigue, joint pain, headaches, brain fog, fever, night sweats, and more. This infection is typically treated with antibiotics and resolves completely within weeks. 

There are several factors that make CLD a bit mysterious to the medical community: the non-specific symptoms, the inconsistent presence of a rash at onset, and the lack of quality, reliable testing for anything but acute infection.

Of course, we don’t dispute the fact that acute Lyme disease exists. But for Chronic Lyme Disease, it’s another story.

There’s a Difference Between Acute and Chronic Lyme Disease

Since testing is far from perfect for anything other than acute Lyme infection, a patient can just present with a certain set of symptoms and then be diagnosed by a “Lyme Literate MD” (LLMD) presumptively based on a set of symptoms, or the patient’s history of a tick bit from years before.

The problem here is that that set of symptoms is absolutely similar to that of Adrenal Fatigue, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and other conditions.  

Chronic Lyme Disease, sometimes called Post Lyme Disease Syndrome, is confusing and controversial, so controversial that conventional medicine does not view it as an official diagnosable condition.

Theoretically, CLD can occur months to years after a possible initial infection. The symptoms can be similar, and the testing is inconclusive. Diagnosis is often clinical (negative testing), and treatment is presumptive. Typical treatment is long-term antibiotic cocktails. Results vary tremendously, and symptoms appear to reoccur.

This begs the question: Is it Lyme disease that’s causing these non-specific symptoms, or could it be something else? 

Why Do Some of Us Experience Chronic Lyme?

Chronic infection suggest there’s a problem with your immune system, which is not strong enough to fight the “bug.” The “bug” is not the problem; a weakened immune system is. A weakened immune system is the result of Adrenal Fatigue and Stress Response Dysfunction (SRD).

If you experience recurrent Lyme disease, think about other people you may know who had Lyme disease once and were never affected again. That’s the case for the majority of Lyme infections out these. But if it’s recurrent in you, there’s a reason. Your immune system is compromised and theirs is not, at least not to the extent yours is.

Erythema migrans (EM) rash occurs in approximately 75 percent of people with acute Lyme disease. The “bullseye” type rash begins at the site of a tick bite after a delay of 3 to 30 days.

How to Treat Chronic Lyme Infections

The treatments for Lyme disease vary depending on the severity and duration of the illness. Acute Lyme disease should be treated with antibiotics. Most of my patients, however, experience chronic Lyme disease, which needs to be treated differently.

After a person is infected with Lyme, a combination of antibiotics and a fight put up by our immune system eradicates the disease. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. But what if the tick bite wasn’t noticed, or it was ignored, or it just wasn’t treated with antibiotics at the time. Or maybe the symptoms developed years later insidiously. For those with weakened immune systems, however, the symptoms are more severe and prolonged.

The majority of my Adrenal Fatigue patients present with immunologic symptoms. In these patients, I will not chase after chronic infections but will instead focus on the system that is leading to immunosuppression. The underlying troublemaker is the stress response system, which includes, but is not limited to, the adrenal glands. 

The immunosuppression that occurs because of the release of excess stress hormones—cortisol and adrenaline—is very well documented, researched, and predictable. 

 After treatment, typically extensive treatment, they are fine for a few months or a year or so, but then the Lyme returns or “reactivates.” Only to put them right back where they were. 

When it comes to Chronic Lyme, what many practitioners fail to do is to address the underlying cause of the susceptibility to Lyme and its co-infections. The susceptibility stems from a weakened and imbalanced immune system. 

Symptoms history, a current health survey, and testing help determine the best course of treatment. There are some more advanced forms of testing for Lyme that can assist.

I begin by assessing the adrenal hormones, then by treating any subsequent nutritional imbalances, and by working with the nuances of each patient’s stress-response system. Healing needs to be a multi-factorial approach; it cannot just be antibiotics. We must support the immune system, as well.

The Physiology of Compromised Immunity

The main control of the immune system is the stress-response system, and these are our adrenal hormones. We tend to get sick when we’re stressed. Stress suppresses immunity.

When the body is too often in a stress response–or “fight or flight”–your entire physiology shifts, like the sides of an imbalanced seesaw. Understanding this is crucial to your health.

This physiological shift aggressively activates the fight or flight organs (heart, lungs, metabolism), and simultaneously and aggressively shuts down the rest and digest organs (immune, digestion, reproductive, thyroid, etc.).

The stress response, used acutely, is not a problem; the body returns to balance once the stress is removed. If chronically over-activated, however, because of perpetual “all-cause” stress (physical, mental, emotional, toxic, etc.), and we begin to suffer symptoms of the suppression of those particular organ systems.

This shift creates the majority of the immune symptoms that we see in patients with Adrenal Dysfunction, CFS, and Fibromyalgia.

Adrenal Patients Are Prone to Viral Infections…and Reinfections

After a person is infected with Lyme, a combination of antibiotics and a fight put up by our immune system eradicates the disease. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. But what if the tick bite wasn’t noticed, or it was ignored, or it just wasn’t treated with antibiotics at the time. Or maybe the symptoms developed years later insidiously. For those with weakened immune systems, however, the symptoms are more severe and prolonged.

The majority of my Adrenal Dysfunction patients present with immunologic symptoms. In these patients, I will not chase after chronic infections but will instead focus on the system that is leading to immunosuppression. The underlying troublemaker is the stress response system, which includes, but is not limited to, the adrenal glands. 

Adrenal Dysfunction is the result of chronic, perpetual stress over time, severe or prolonged enough to overwhelm one’s capacity for that stress. I refer to the capacity for stress as a “bucket” of tolerance. As the bucket fills up, the body shifts into stress physiology, or “fight or flight,” and away from “rest and digest” physiology. 

This shift turns on the organs of stress response and turns off the organs of healing and repair (the “rest and digest” function). The immune system is one of the main rest and digest systems, along with the digestive, reproductive, and thyroid. 

The immunosuppression that occurs because of the release of excess stress hormones—cortisol and adrenaline—is very well documented, researched, and predictable. 

By fixing the dysfunctional stress response system (or the Adrenal Dysfunction), we remove the immunosuppression. Then, the immune system has a chance to recover. A strong, functional immune system can keep viruses from reactivating over and over. It will certainly keep the symptoms to a minimum should reactivation occur. 

There is an increased susceptibility to:

  • Herpes viruses (EBV, CMV, and HHV6)
  • Parvovirus
  • Chlamydia
  • Mycoplasma
  • Lyme (and its co-infections)
  • Candida
  • Chronic staph
  • Strep infections

By managing and healing the Adrenal Dysfunction, any other treatment that you may utilize for your condition will have a stronger effect and be much more beneficial.

Remember, though the immune system is compromised, the main underlying cause of this dysfunction is the Adrenal Dysfunction. Treat it, and you’ll be far more successful in balancing your immune system.

By fixing the dysfunctional stress response system (or the Adrenal Fatigue), we remove the immunosuppression. Then, the immune system has a chance to recover. A strong, functional immune system can keep viruses from reactivating over and over. It will certainly keep the symptoms to a minimum should reactivation occur. 

WRITTEN BY

Dr. Andrew Neville
ADRENAL FATIGUE SPECIALIST

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