Lyme Disease Revisited
I’m going to go ahead and get this horrible pun out of the way: We are ticked off by all the misinformation about Lyme disease!!!
Now then, let’s get to work... Lyme disease. We’ve ranted about this before, yes, but we feel it is time for an update. This year will be a bad one for ticks, Lyme infections, and misinformation. Ticks are on the rise. Doxycycline is flying off the shelves of our pharmacy. And a new test tube study is causing intelligent people to spend money on a product that couldn’t possibly help with a Lyme infection. We’re here to help set the record straight, save you money, and ensure these liars can’t misdirect you with their ticks... I mean, tricks!
First off, thanks to everyone for reading our CBD rant and responding so positively. I mention it here because we had lots of good feedback from people who now can make better choices about CBD. The common theme was that our advice helped save people money (hundreds of dollars a month in most cases) and get better results from higher quality CBD.
In regards to Lyme Disease, we see a surge in people buying stevia (yes, the natural sweetener) to use as a “superior treatment” for Lyme disease. This insanity has prompted this rant. We are hoping to, yet again, save our customers money, though stevia doesn’t cost nearly as much as CBD. We then want to address common misconceptions about Lyme in a bit more detail, and finally, give you some good resources to read more about Lyme.
Let’s start with the sweet stuff!
Stevia for Lyme
Stevia is awesome. It’s a sweetener that’s about 150 times more sweet than sugar. It is extracted from plants. Natural is better right? It doesn’t impact blood sugar, so it’s great for diabetics. It doesn’t hit you as fast as sugar or xylitol does, but it has a lasting sweetness which some people prefer.
What do you get when you have a lot of extra sweetener on your warehouse shelves and want to sell them before they expire? You invent a treatment for a misunderstood, common infection, of course!
The timing here is impeccable. A single, small, in vitro (aka TEST TUBE!) study was released over a year ago that showed if you put stevia on Lyme bacteria in a petri dish, you’ll kill off the bacteria. The study is here if you want to check it out. Put this together with a record year for tick populations, and you have the recipe for a quick money-making scheme.
Going with the punchline first, stevia will not do anything for anyone’s active Lyme infection. Selling stevia for anything besides sweetening is misleading and in our opinion unethical, as the recommendation is based on anti-logic.
Look how improperly this is promoted… Here are two of the top 5 links when I googled “stevia lyme”:
- Stevia Kills Lyme Disease Pathogen Better Than Antibiotics - Pinterest
- A promising study shows Stevia could cure Lyme disease - Aleteia (a .org site!)
I'm fairly confident those claims are hyperbole...
Our beef actually doesn’t lie with the study. Is the study a joke? Maybe, but we’re not here to discuss that. Our problem here is with the plethora of blogs, talking heads, and fake experts who are claiming that stevia will be your miracle treatment for Lyme. Our problem is with people who are using a small, really inconsequential piece of data to justify their bad recommendation to consumers who may really be suffering.
Stevia, surprisingly to some people, killed Lyme disease bacteria in this petri dish/test tube study. That’s all this paper is saying, really. That’s a shock to some because Lyme infections are tough - they have protective features referred to as biofilms and are pretty strong bacteria. For many of us, though, it’s not a shock. It’s not too tough to kill something in vitro. A little osmosis can break apart bacterial cells. Throw a strong sodium chloride concentration on a culture and you’ll get cell death. Does that mean salt water will cure Lyme?
All this study (and any in vitro study, really) is telling us that we should research a bit more. Now, if someone was able to figure out a way to get similar concentrations of stevia onto the active Lyme infection in tissues deep in your body, we could then test to see if stevia there would have the same effect on the bacteria as it did in the test tube.
In case you were wondering, getting stevia into your body and into the site of infection is insanely difficult, if not impossible. BECAUSE STEVIA ISN'T FREAKIN’ ABSORBED!!!!!!! Read that again, shake your head in disgust as we did when we first heard of the trend, then read on.
Stevia’s sweet. It interacts with your tastebuds. But it doesn’t get absorbed. It goes through the upper GI tract, stomach, and small intestine unchanged with almost no absorption. It gets broken down in the large intestine. Those metabolites get put directly into the liver, which then metabolizes it further and puts it directly into the urine. In and out.
Stevia reminds me of Vitamin C a bit. Vitamin C is poorly absorbed at high doses and high doses can harm us if taken over time. While in the gut, stevia can be an problem. If taken in high concentrations over time, stevia will negatively impact your normal flora. Ya' know all those studies about diet sodas being unhealthy? It’s because of their sugar substitutes and their impact on the body. Stevia is one such substitute.
We know enough about stevia to conclusively know there is no accumulation of stevia (or any by-product of stevia) in the body during metabolism. Stevia, when taken orally, doesn’t get absorbed. It can’t do anything for Lyme, no matter what the internet says.
Chronic Lyme Isn’t Real
Maybe this heading was a bit click-baity, sure. We discussed this in the last Lyme rant: essentially, the term Chronic Lyme is not a real thing. People don’t have single active Lyme infections for years, especially if they take the antibiotics as recommended by the CDC (usually 3-4 weeks in most cases). People can and do have symptoms that can be severe for some time after initial infection. This is called Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, and definitely is real. There is no active infection that needs a year's worth of antibiotics, special IV supplements, or any other gimmick making promises based on no supported science.
An actual Lyme infection is rough. We are very sympathetic to that. The symptoms like fatigue, body pain, and joint or muscle aches are bad, and are pretty persistent for some time. It’s common for people to feel like garbage for weeks after a Lyme infection. Unfortunately, sometimes these symptoms can last more than 6 months and get pretty severe.
The point of the discussion about "Chronic Lyme" is two-fold. First, these persistent symptoms aren’t indicative of an active infection. Just because you feel this way, doesn’t mean you currently are sick with Lyme, especially if you successfully treated with antibiotics. Secondly, there is no magic cure that “practitioners” can do to stop these chronic symptoms - so beware of anyone claiming to be able to. We are with you; we understand that many people suffer for a long time, and we wish we could easily help. We can do something, but the biggest help we can do is make sure you don’t get false hope at a great expense from misleading information.
Here’s the analogy I use in the store… Have you had a cold lately? Many of our patients who rarely get sick are often surprised that the symptoms of a single common cold can last up to 3 weeks. Upper respiratory infections like the common cold are typically cleared from our bodies in about a week, but symptoms like stuffiness, coughing, or feeling run down can persist. This is because our immune system kind of over-reacts to the threat, creating mucus, which in turn causes congestion, runny nose, and postnasal drip. Fever and weakness are a natural response to help get you better.
Now imagine that instead of infecting the surface of your nose and throat, a strong bacteria is infecting joints and deep in nerves. It is much harder to get to these tissues. Lyme bugs will survive by using the resources of the area, damaging cells of nerves, muscles, and more.
So just like you expect to not feel like yourself for a couple weeks after a cold, don’t expect to bounce right back if you have Lyme disease. It is a mean bug and can really tear you up. The tissues it affects, like nerves, take a long time to heal. It’s taxing on your body, so you’ll feel quite run down. This is normal, expected, and no fun at all.
Lyme infections are treated with antibiotics over a longer time than most bacterial infections - normally 3-4 weeks (and sometimes longer if the situation is right). The infections are cleared, but the damage is lasting, just like with a cold. Be confident, though, that your infection is gone (we’ll discuss this more in the next section).
If you have recently been treated for Lyme, it is crucial to do 2 things. First, don’t believe the nonsense about needing long-term antibiotics or any other magic miracle cures. Thirty days is really the longest most people need on antibiotics for Lyme. Nothing besides antibiotics will clear that infection. Secondly, take it easy! Rest lots, eat well, stay hydrated. We typically recommend greens, essential fatty acids, and foods rich in B vitamins. This WILL help your body heal from the damage caused in your muscles, joints, and nerves by Lyme disease.
Lyme Tests ARE Accurate, If Done At The Right Time
I feel like this rant is like the “Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, as we are stepping backward through the normal progression of the story… Ah well, too late now. Backward we go...
A YUUUUGE misconception about Lyme disease is that testing is inaccurate. Once you understand more about the tests, it becomes evident that the real tests do work well.
Most people think “hey I was just bitten by a tick I need a test!” That is a natural thought, but it is actually wrong. Just because you have a tick bite, doesn’t mean you need to get tested for Lyme disease. In fact, you shouldn’t. Testing is only done if you have symptoms that are typical of Lyme disease. No symptoms, no need to test. Symptoms don’t start for a while - 3 to 4 weeks in many people.
To simplify it for the sake of the rant, understand that it takes a while for Lyme disease to grow in our body, and even longer for our bodies to start building a response to Lyme. When we test for Lyme, we aren’t measuring the amount of Lyme bugs we have, but how many antibodies are present, if any. Since it can take several weeks for our immune system to create antibodies at a level we can measure, testing early will not be very prudent. We have to wait it out. We’re not “flying naked” though, just waiting for the ugly Lyme infection to grow; thankfully there is enough data to show a single dose of an antibiotic after a tick bite can be a great way to prevent Lyme in most patients.
To understand testing and what you should do if you find a tick, we’ll run through a scenario. Let’s say you are older than 8 years old and pull a tick out of your skin. In general, you will bag it (literally throw it in a ziplock) and go see a doctor (your GP or an urgent care MD). No testing is needed though because your body won’t have any antibodies for a while. In general, you’ll get a single dose of antibiotic (doxycycline to the rescue!). After 4-6 weeks or so, if no symptoms develop, you’re in the clear.
If at or about 4-6 weeks you start with symptoms, they will test you. This chart from the CDC is your guide. Basically, they do a two-step process to determine if you have Lyme disease. These tests, when done at the right time, in the right order, are sensitive. They work!
We do know there COULD be better ways to test, and there are lots of research projects underway to find them. For now, follow the CDC’s well established guidelines, and you’ll be good.
A couple points about testing that I’d like to bring up before we move on (backward): Antibodies for Lyme can persist for MONTHS or YEARS after the infection is cleared. Say you have symptoms 6 months after you were tested positive for Lyme (following the CDC recommendations) and were treated with antibiotics for 30 days. If you test again, the test will still show “positive”, as we are measuring antibodies that hang around for some time. The infection is cleared, the antibodies remain high for some time, and the symptoms persist because Lyme infections are mean buggers. The test will be positive, but you will not have an infection that needs to be addressed. This is where of the “Chronic Lyme” confusion comes in. People have PTLDS (those ugly, persistent symptoms), so they get re-tested. The test comes back positive and they think they are still sick, and they start taking antibiotics. The problem is, they don’t feel any better with the antibiotics - which they shouldn’t, because they don’t have an infection - so then they start looking for any and all other solutions to help feel better. Remember, nursing yourself to health and being patient with the process are key.
Second, there are lots of fake tests out there for Lyme. Keep it simple, follow that testing chart, and take the antibiotics.
You Can’t Just Spray The Ticks Away
We want you to be protected but we don’t want you to have a false sense of security.
Ticks are not like mosquitos and other nuisances we experience in the summer months. They don’t come to you; you normally come to them. Whether it’s a walk in the woods through tall grass or from your pet snuggling with you, ticks normally aren’t actively seeking you out, but instead end up on you incidentally.
Using repellents are helpful, as it makes your flesh less friendly for the tick. Traditional therapies such as DEET can be applied to the skin or clothing. Strong agents such as permethrin can be used, but only on clothing. Natural products are typically mixes of essential oils. Rose geranium is the big one for ticks, so make sure that’s found in the natural product. Remember, you must frequently reapply bug spray just like you have to reapply sunscreen… The stuff wears off! Natural bug sprays must be applied more frequently than traditional, usually every hour or so.
If you decide to use a tick repellant, do not put your guard down. Repellant or not, you MUST thoroughly check for ticks each and every time you come in from outdoors. Here’s a great video on how to do it appropriately, with a healthy dose of sarcasm that we love:
From my Boy Scout days in the Hudson Valley, I was taught to use both hands on your appendages and squeeze down like you are trying to get toothpaste out of the tube, brushing off anything that could be on your skin. Check at seams of clothes - underwear, socks, shirt collars, and sleeves. If you can, get naked and thoroughly check everywhere. It’s a pain to do, but it is worth the hassle.
If you find one, get a good set of pointy tweezers and remove as per the CDC’s instruction here. Save yourself a few bucks and don’t worry about fancy tick removers, just a high quality, point tweezer will do!
The Biggest Lyme Myth: Natural Is Better
We try hard to walk the “middle path” as it pertains to healing, medicine, and health. We don’t want nonsense or misinformation - whether natural or traditional. We love supplements and natural products; we know when done right, they can radically improve our quality of life. We understand traditional therapies, but don’t regard them as the ONLY option, nor do we require a strict, conservative approach to data to make proper recommendations. We need to use proper clinical judgment, with the best data we have on pure, properly made and dosed products, to make recommendations for treating or preventing disease.
If you had Strep throat, no one would argue that the best course is probably antibiotics. Lyme must be viewed from that same lens. Lyme is a bacterial infection. There is a deep understanding of signs and symptoms, testing, prophylaxis, and treatment. Lyme disease is not a mystery that only that natural world can truly fix. When it comes to Lyme, natural is not superior. Traditional therapies should be used first and foremost, lest one wants to suffer unnecessarily.
Here’s how to proceed to prevent and treat Lyme best:
- Preventing Lyme - preventative dose of antibiotics after a tick bite, under the right circumstances, guided by a doctor. No herb or natural product will prevent Lyme.
- Treating Lyme - antibiotics. No herb or natural product will treat Lyme infections.
- Helping you feel better - diet, rest, fluids. Well made whole food products or supplements such as essential fatty acids may support nutrition. No herb or natural product can really help with this to the degree diet, rest, and fluids can.
One More Joke For The Road?
If Lyme is such a problem, should we switch to lemons? Remember, avoid Sprite, as it is made from both lemon and…. Nevermind…
More is to come from us on Lyme disease. In the very near future, we hope to make a nice downloadable guide on Lyme disease which we will share with all of you.
Until then, the best place for you to learn about Lyme on the internet is at the CDC. This page addresses common questions and is nice and accessible for all (unlike the practitioner-facing stuff that is a bit jargon-rich). For information about the treatment protocols, check here.
Enjoy the beautiful outdoors, especially here in the Northeast US, with confidence. Stevia is great with lime when it’s in a cool Mojito, but it’s no good for Lyme. Check for ticks regularly, and if you find one, remember the advice from your friends at Woodstock Vitamins and you’ll be fine!
Our essential oil insect repellants are Vitality Approved, so you can be sure that you're getting quality products: pure, potent, and consistent batch to batch.
Just trying to keep it real...
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth