Infectolab - sleep

What Role Does Sleep Play In Fighting Lyme Disease?

Sleep is an important part of keeping our bodies healthy. We often think of sleep as a total mind and body shutdown, but in reality, that’s not the case. Although our conscious mind switches off, sleep is actually a very active state for us. A lot of processing, strengthening, and restoration occurs while we sleep, although exactly how and why this process works the way it does is still a bit of a mystery to scientists. Physically, our bodies use sleep to repair damaged muscle and tissue and support our immune system. Mentally, all the information we’ve picked up during the course of the day is sorted through and transferred to our long-term memory banks. Sleep is vitally important for patients fighting chronic diseases. One of the most prevalent chronic diseases out there is Lyme disease; so what role does sleep play in fighting Lyme?

When we talk about Lyme disease in its chronic form, we’re talking about the second stage of the disease’s lifespan. The first stage, acute Lyme, only lasts for a few weeks, and presents with the same symptoms as the common flu. Sleep doesn’t have much of a role to play during this stage, as the symptoms can in fact be quite mild. If Lyme disease is not caught or diagnosed correctly while in the acute manifestation, it can evolve, or devolve as the case may be, into the chronic form. This stage of the disease can come on many months after the initial tick bite, and will often last a lifetime if not treated. Unfortunately, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does not consider chronic Lyme a fully-fledged legitimate disorder, so many cases go undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed as some other condition.

Infectolab - rest
Rest is an important part in the fight against any chronic disease.

The symptoms of chronic Lyme are caused by an interplay between infection and inflammation. The former derives from the primary Borrelia burgdorferi infection, while the latter is a result of an immune response overreacting to the seemingly omnipresent bacteria. Due to the immune system being under continued stress, constant fatigue is a primary symptom of chronic Lyme. This fatigue isn’t like a regular feeling of tiredness that everyone experiences after a busy day. It’s more like a weight, constantly pushing down on the patient, meaning everything they do requires huge effort, even simple movements that healthy people would take for granted. Worse still, sleep never fully alleviates it; many patients wake up from sleep with the same sense of fatigue.

Yet sleep is an important part of fighting back against Lyme disease. Without sufficient sleep, your body produces fewer cytokines. Cytokines are important proteins that regulate the body’s immune response and inflammation. They send cells to damaged or under-attack areas, and are a crucial link in the chain when it comes to recovering from infections or wounds. When we become ill, sometimes before we even consciously realize it, our body encourages us to get more sleep. When the body’s immune system is on high alert, it can boost serotonin levels, which encourages sleep and rest.

This all sounds good in theory, and the natural inclination toward an increase in sleep should help a patient fight back against a chronic Lyme infection. However, many Lyme disease patients report difficulty sleeping. This seemingly simple symptom can often be one of the most debilitating factors in the whole spectrum of issues a chronic Lyme patient may encounter. To understand exactly why that is, we must qualify chronic Lyme not primarily as an infection, but as an inflammation-based disorder. The infection symptoms can certainly be debilitating, especially if the bacteria make their way to the brain or spinal fluid (which results in neuroborreliosis). But the most immediate symptoms patients complain of originate through inflammation.

Infectolab - sleeping
It’s vitally important for Lyme disease patients to restore proper sleep.

Sleep is necessary to tackle these inflammation-based issues, and yet, the very symptoms themselves prevent good-quality sleep. Many patients complain of joint or muscle aches, and often can’t find comfort at night due to the continued sense of pain. Others experience pins and needles in the extremities, which cause them to lie awake at night. Many Lyme patients suffer from depressive symptoms, too, which can lead to bouts of full-on insomnia. All this lost sleep adds up, weakening the body further and further. Eventually, patients find themselves operating on just a few hours of fitful sleep a night, which leaves their bodies no chance at fighting the infection and inflammation organically.

One of the first treatment objectives for a chronic Lyme patient is restoring proper sleep. This can be addressed in a number of ways; the first order of business is to determine what exactly is stopping the patient from sleeping. Our bodies instinctively know that healthy sleep is one of the first lines of defense against any kind of infection or attack. Giving that first line of natural defense back to patients is an important first step in battling chronic Lyme disease.

Infectolab - healthy food

Does Healthy Eating Really Help Battle Chronic Disease?

Maintaining a healthy weight is important to our overall general health. Worldwide incidences of obesity and overweightness are continuing to climb every year in the Western world, and especially in America. This is having an overall detrimental effect on our wellbeing, resulting in higher numbers of heart disease, diabetes, and even mental disorders such as depression. What you choose to put into your body can have a startling effect on your state of mind, as well as your physical health. Healthy eating is also recommended when your body is fighting a chronic disease; these long-term conditions put the body under immense strain, and are often cumulative in effect. There are many different forms of chronic disease out there – can healthy eating really help battle them all?

It’s important to first state that healthy eating alone won’t cure a chronic disease. But since chronic illnesses are often deeply entrenched within the body and require a lot of effort to combat, providing your body with the best source of energy available is critical. You don’t want to weigh down your immune system or metabolic response with unhealthy or detrimental foods, as this will often add fuel to the fire for many chronic conditions. It’s important to keep in mind that your body needs to heal. Although patients live with chronic diseases in their day-to-day life and it can start to feel like the norm, your body is actively fighting and needs to heal itself. Eating healthily can give it the best chance to do so.

Infectolab - salad
Making healthy food choices can help in the fight against chronic disease.

There’s a whole pantheon of chronic diseases out there, of course, but one of the most interesting ones to look at is Lyme disease. Lyme disease in its chronic form presents as a number of varied symptoms, which may or may not affect all the patients suffering from it. Because Lyme disease is not fully legitimized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many doctors aren’t well versed in how to treat it. This can lead to high instances of misdiagnosis, the true extent of which remain unknown. Even when Lyme disease is detected correctly, many doctors move straight to prescribing antibiotics, without taking into account exactly how the disease operates.

Lyme is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which is transferred via tick bites. In the initial stages of the disease, Lyme can be treated solely by antibiotics. However, when it develops to the chronic form, which can happen many weeks or months after the initial infection, then antibiotics alone are not enough. Why is this, exactly? Well, Borrelia burgdorferi is an extremely insidious bacterium. If it stays in the system long enough, it can cause the immune response to flare up and basically attack itself. Many of the symptoms of chronic Lyme, including muscle and joint pain and a constant sense of fatigue, are caused by an inflammation response. The immune system cannot rid itself of the infection, and so overcompensates, resulting in a number of debilitating, prominent symptoms for the patient.

Once this process has started, only trace amounts of Borrelia need remain in the system for this haywire immune response to keep firing. This is why antibiotics alone aren’t enough to treat chronic Lyme. The inflammation symptoms must be tackled separately, and one of the best ways of doing that is through a healthy diet. Certain foods feed the inflammation response and harshen the symptoms. These primarily include gluten, dairy, and sugars. Interestingly, eating enough of any of these in one go will make anyone feel bloated and sick, which is a good indication of how they affect our bodies, and how they can consistently contribute to chronic disorders.

Infectolab - assorted vegetables
Following a healthy eating plan with a range of nutritious foods is of primary importance to those suffering from chronic illness.

Gut dysfunction is almost always a component of chronic disorders, and it’s no different with chronic Lyme. Your gut is the first line of defense for anything you put into your body, and it’s the gut microbes that transform food to nutrients and energy. Your gut is also a primary component of the immune system; if one is in a bad way, it’s bound to follow that the other is too. So keeping your gut healthy should be of primary importance to anyone suffering from a chronic disease (as it should to anyone at all).

Lots of water, vitamins and minerals, fiber, vegetables, and healthy fats are all things to consider adding to your diet. Alcohol, sugar, gluten, and milk should be cut down to as little as possible, or cut out altogether in some cases. It’s important to reconfigure your diet with your doctor, and ideally a nutritionist, as they can help you introduce changes gradually. Healthy eating alone doesn’t cure chronic diseases; but it can certainly give your body the best chance at fighting back against one. In instances of chronic Lyme in particular, eating healthily is an important part of the treatment process. Although it’s a long road, and nothing happens overnight, it can be a vital step to feeling good again.

Infectolab - testing in laboratory

Lyme Co-infections: What Is Cytomegalovirus (CMV)?

Lyme disease has been receiving a lot of media attention lately. Now that spring has arrived in the northern half of the world, people are coming out of the isolation of the cold weather months and venturing into the great outdoors. But people aren’t the only things that come out in droves once warm weather arrives. Ticks have also emerged, and their populations are exploding.

While some ticks are relatively harmless, others carry bacteria that can cause serious health problems. The black-legged tick, also known as an Ixodes or deer tick, is particularly dangerous, as it can transmit Lyme disease and other infections to humans.

What is Lyme disease and how is it transmitted?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by a spirochete (corkscrew-shaped) bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Black-legged ticks, which are typically found in wooded areas or long grass, become infected with Borrelia burgdorferi when they feed on deer, rodents or other small mammals, as well as certain birds. When a tick carrying Borrelia burgdorferi bites a human, the bacterium spreads from the tick to the bitten human, leading to Lyme disease.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

There are two phases of Lyme disease: early (also known as acute) and late (also known as chronic). Both early and late Lyme disease share many of the same symptoms, but each presents its own unique characteristics as well. Here are some of the symptoms of early Lyme disease:

  • An expanding red rash called “erythema migrans” that sometimes resembles a bullseye
  • Headaches and neck stiffness
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Weakness or paralysis of facial muscles
  • Fainting or feeling lightheaded
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations

When Lyme disease is diagnosed and treated within the first few weeks of infection, the illness may successfully be eradicated. Unfortunately, many Lyme patients don’t realize they’re infected or receive the wrong diagnosis, and even those who receive treatment may not respond to it. In these cases, Lyme disease can progress to the late phase. Symptoms of chronic Lyme disease, some of which can be debilitating, include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and stiffness
  • Joint pain and inflammation
  • Headaches
  • Cognitive problems like memory loss, trouble concentrating or “brain fog”
  • Neuropathy (including nerve pain, numbness, or tingling)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in mood
  • Digestive issues
Infectolab - joint pain
Joint pain is a symptom of both acute and chronic Lyme disease.

The difficulty associated with diagnosing and treating Lyme disease is compounded by the frequent presence of Lyme co-infections, particularly when clinicians aren’t trained to look for these illnesses when working with Lyme patients.

What are Lyme co-infections?

While it’s widely known that Lyme disease itself is transmitted through the bite of a black-legged tick, many people don’t realize that disease vectors like ticks may carry many different strains of bacteria along with viruses, protozoans, and fungi. All of these organisms can be transmitted in a single tick bite. This means that people with Lyme disease often have co-infections – diseases they acquired through the same tick bite that infected them with Lyme disease.

The word “co-infection” is often used as an umbrella term that includes not only co-infections transmitted along with Lyme, but also opportunistic infections that prey on the weakened immunity of Lyme patients. A subset of opportunistic infections called “re-activated opportunistic infections” consists of latent infections already present in the host, which wait for a chance to re-activate. Most people will become infected with one or more of these at some point in their lives, and they often go unnoticed in healthy individuals. But in Lyme patients with compromised immunity, re-activated opportunistic infections can be serious. Such is the case with cytomegalovirus (CMV).

What is cytomegalovirus (CMV)?

Cytomegalovirus is a virus that is very common and can infect people of all ages. The Centers for Disease Control report that one in three children will be infected with CMV by the time they turn three, and over half of adults will be infected with the virus by age 40.

Because the immune system of a healthy person is able to fight CMV, most people will never experience any symptoms. Occasionally, though, healthy people with CMV may develop a mild illness, signs of which include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands
Infectolab - children
One in three children will be infected with CMV by the time they turn three.

Is cytomegalovirus a Lyme co-infection?

Although most people who are infected with CMV won’t get sick from it, Lyme disease patients may experience a re-activation of this opportunistic infection. The negative effects Lyme disease has on a patient’s immune system increase vulnerability to the development of illness from CMV co-infection. CMV in Lyme patients and others with weakened immune systems may cause serious symptoms of the eyes, lungs, liver, intestines, stomach, and esophagus.

How do you test for and treat CMV?

CMV can be detected with an ELISpot. This test has been used for years to detect Lyme and its co-infections on a cellular level.

In healthy people, CMV doesn’t usually require any sort of treatment, since it rarely causes illness. Patients with Lyme disease or those who are otherwise immunocompromised can treat CMV with antiviral medication.

When deciding on a treatment plan, Lyme disease patients and their providers need to be aware of the possibility of co-infections like CMV and treat them along with Lyme. It is only when co-infections are addressed along with Lyme disease that a patient can make a full recovery.

Infectolab - scientist in laboratory

Lyme Co-Infections: What Is Babesiosis?

Spring is finally here. As the temperature climbs and the days lengthen, leaves are unfurling and flowers are beginning to bloom. After a long and bleak winter, the northern half of the world is suddenly exploding with color.

Unfortunately, the arrival of spring means another kind of explosion is happening: the tick population is suddenly increasing as recently-laid eggs start to hatch. Particularly problematic for humans are black-legged ticks, also known as deer or Ixodes ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease and other infections with a single bite.

What is Lyme disease and how is it transmitted?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Certain types of rodents, birds, and deer act as vectors for Borrelia burgdorferi, meaning they are carriers of this and other disease-causing bacteria. When a black-legged tick bites and feeds off of one of these disease vectors, it becomes infected with Borrelia burgdorferi and can then transmit it to humans, causing Lyme infection.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is typically divided into two stages: early and late. Also known as acute Lyme disease, the early stage is characterized by these symptoms:

  • Erythema migrans, an expanding red rash that may resemble a bullseye or target
  • Headaches and neck stiffness
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness or paralysis of facial muscles
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Heart palpitations or chest pain

Ideally, Lyme disease is diagnosed and treated during the acute phase. If the disease isn’t caught early enough (or if treatment is unsuccessful), Lyme disease can enter the chronic stage. Some symptoms of chronic Lyme disease are:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Muddled thinking, also known as “brain fog”
  • Neuropathy (including nerve pain, numbness, or tingling)
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in mood
  • Digestive issues
Infectolab - lack of concentration
Patients with chronic Lyme disease may have trouble concentrating.

Because many practitioners aren’t well trained when it comes to spotting Lyme symptoms, and because these symptoms mimic those of common illnesses like influenza, Lyme disease can be extremely difficult to diagnose and treat. And this difficulty is often exacerbated by the presence of Lyme co-infections.

What are Lyme co-infections?

Black-legged ticks can carry a number of different disease-causing bacteria along with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. This means that in a single tick bite, a person can be infected with Lyme and a host of other illnesses at the same time. These illnesses are called Lyme co-infections, and they are believed to affect over 50% of Lyme patients.

Since even Lyme-savvy physicians aren’t always aware of their existence, these co-infections often fly under the radar. Let’s take a closer look at one of the most common Lyme co-infections: babesiosis.

What is babesiosis?

Babesiosis is a malaria-like infection caused by Babesia, protozoans that act as parasites on red blood cells. Black-legged ticks are carriers of Babesia, which is why babesiosis is a co-infection that often occurs along with Lyme disease. Babesia can also be transmitted from mother to child or through an infected blood transfusion, since most blood banks don’t currently screen for Babesia.

Symptoms of babesiosis may resemble those of Lyme infection and include:

  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Jaundice
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Drenching sweats
  • Shortness of breath

Babesiosis is known as “canine malaria” in dogs, but it’s rarely diagnosed in humans because of the inconspicuousness of its symptoms. In a healthy individual, babesiosis may be so mild as to go unnoticed. However, in a person with complications like a weakened immune symptom (which can happen as a result of chronic Lyme disease), babesiosis can become quite severe.

How do you test for babesiosis?

Although it may be detectable under a microscope within the first two weeks of infection, babesiosis can be most effectively diagnosed using a Babesia ELISpot. The ELISpot is a tried, tested, and reliable method that has been used for years to detect Lyme and its co-infections (like babesiosis).

The newest ELISpot incarnation, LymeSpot Revised, can deliver detailed information about infections, including whether they are active or latent. LymeSpot Revised makes it possible to determine whether patients’ problems are being caused by their infection, inflammation, or an autoimmune process.

How is babesiosis treated?

Babesiosis is typically treated using a combination of antibiotics and anti-malarial medication. For babesiosis patients with compromised immunity, atovaquone combined with higher doses of azithromycin (600–1000 mg per day) has successfully been used.

Infectolab - antibiotics
Babesiosis is typically treated with antibiotics and anti-malarial medication.

As with other Lyme co-infections, babesiosis needs to be diagnosed and treated separately from Lyme disease. It is only when practitioners specifically address each co-infection (while also treating Lyme disease) that a patient has the best chance of making a full recovery.

The arrival of spring and, consequently, disease-carrying ticks, means that physicians and patients alike need to be able to spot symptoms of Lyme disease and Lyme co-infections like babesiosis. When we know what to look for, we’re more likely to catch these illnesses before they become severe.

Infectolab - exercise

Is It Safe To Exercise With Chronic Lyme Disease?

If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, you might be wondering if it’s still safe for you to take part in exercise. The answer is yes – as long as you tailor your fitness regime to fit your symptoms. Being active can actually be a huge help in supporting your health by boosting your immune system and building up your strength and endurance. Here’s what you need to know about exercising with chronic Lyme disease.

Continue reading “Is It Safe To Exercise With Chronic Lyme Disease?”