In this second show snippet, Q&A from our interview ‘Is it Lyme Disease or an Autoimmune Condition?’ we welcome Dr. Julia Greenspan in this intriguing Q&A excerpt where we explore is Lyme an autoimmune and can it cause autoimmune?
Listen to the full compelling interview at www.UnderstandingAutoimmune.com/Lyme for more about Lyme disease and how often it is misdiagnosed as an autoimmune condition.
Dr. Julia Greenspan has recovered from Lyme and one surprise she shares in the interview is, ‘you don’t have to see a tick on you or the circular, outwardly expanding rash common with infection to have contracted Lyme.’
SHARON: I want to turn our attention to this idea of “Is Lyme disease a true autoimmune or is it a precursor to autoimmune? Does it create autoimmune?”
DR. JULIA: As far as it creating autoimmune, we’re just going to talk specifically about spirochetes because I think it would get too big if we try to talk about the other tick-borne infections.
I just want to start with the fact that the biggest issue with them is that spirochetes are shaped like spirals. They’re like little corkscrews and they’re very fast. Their corkscrew shape helps them propel themselves to the body.
So once a tick bites a human, this goes into the human’s bloodstream. Spirochetes don’t want to be in the blood. They don’t want to be around oxygen. They don’t want to be in that space.
They love fat and sugar. Fat is going to be your neurological system; sugar and proteins are going to be related to your joints. Those places are perfect homes for them.
So they go and find homes there. And they can drill through tissue and go and land in those spaces. Just their mere presence there ─ this is where it gets a little squirmy.
SHARON: I had a little bit of shiver there. It sounds terrible.
DR. JULIA: I do this every day so I forget that it can be a little bit yucky. Let’s say, somebody has a genetic predisposition, a family history of creating autoimmune disease, or let’s say, they have an HLA-B27 genetic marker, people who more commonly will develop rheumatoid arthritis or some sort of autoimmune issue ─ Sjögren’s or lupus or something along those lines ─ if Lyme goes into those cavities, the body doesn’t want it there and it will keep trying to clear it from those areas by creating inflammation, by regulating the immune system to that area.
It starts to look like an autoimmune disease because as the body tries to attack or fight or get rid of this microbe that it doesn’t like being there and that doesn’t belong there, over time, it can’t necessarily clear the infection very efficiently but it keeps creating this cyclic inflammation pathway over and over again; and cytokines are released which are immune cells that can create an inflammation response and participate in that.
And so, if that keeps happening over and over again, the tissue starts to release things like rheumatoid factor and ANA. In your bloodwork, you’d start to see positives on certain panels for autoimmune disease because those tissues are under stress and distress but a microbe isn’t necessarily thought of as the cause.
So, then, a lot of times, people get labeled as having autoimmune disease because “Here, look at these proteins. They’re elevated. This is happening and we don’t know why this is happening. This is just happening to you and you either you have a family history of it.” Or even if you don’t, usually, with autoimmune, you don’t have to have a reason for it to happen.”
Then, it becomes more symptom management at that point because they exist and you’re having the pain in your joints.
But the original instigators were the potential spirochetes in those spaces in your body and this repeated inflammation cycle that happens. And then, you mix that with your own genetics and your own body milieu, your own stressors, and other aspects of your health. It can be a perfect storm for up-regulating something where you might not have created or manifested autoimmune until later in life. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened to you at all or it wouldn’t happen until you’re in your sixties or seventies.
But now because of Lyme entering the system, it’s like a key and it just pops it in and turns on those pathways and up-regulates and creates an autoimmune picture or autoimmune disease.
SHARON: If we’re aware that we’ve been bitten by the tick and we’re aware that we have this spirochete, can we eliminate them medically or are they’re there and they’ve just drilled into everything and we have to deal with it?
DR. JULIA: Both. With Lyme, if you catch it early enough in the infection in the acute phase like right when you got bitten, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll find a tick on you or see a bull’s eye rash which everybody thinks in terms of Lyme; and only a small percentage of people compared to the majority of people who get bitten get that rash at all so a lot of people dismiss and think,
I’m fine. I didn’t get anything. And we pull off the tick and go, I didn’t get the ring so I’m okay, and they don’t treat.
But that doesn’t mean you didn’t get infected.
As far as treatment, the reason why I say “both” is because, physically, I don’t know if Lyme ever really officially gets cleared or cured. I don’t want to say that it can’t either. I don’t know for sure. And no doctor could really tell you whether that’s the case or not because there’s no way they could go in and find out if those microbes were left over in the system.
But can it be treated? Yes.
Can somebody treat and then be off treatment and go have a high quality of life without requiring treatment and go years without needing anything? Yes.
Can you get re-bit after being treated and get re-infected and go through the same cycle over again? Yes.
So just getting it once doesn’t mean you can’t get it again. It really depends on how the body takes in medications. Typically, in my office, depending on what the patient wants, I will do a combination of antibiotic therapy along with natural medications: herbs, homeopathy, dietary changes, natural medicine in combination together.
And some people just choose to do natural medicine alone. But it really depends on where somebody is starting with the disease when they’re first coming in for medical care. If it’s early on the disease, you have a much easier time of completely eradicating it. If you go and deal with the bite right away and you get treated for an adequate amount of time at the get-go, you’re reducing significantly the chances of becoming a chronic illness patient or heading down that road of autoimmunity And, before the infection imbeds in the system. Lyme has different stages. In the acute stage, it’s just entered the body. There isn’t a large population of them. They haven’t really had the chance to get deeper into deeper into the tissue.
The longer an infection stays in the body, the more it goes deeper into different areas of the body: the neurological system; joints; muscle; organ systems.
And so, the delay in treatment is a big factor.
SHARON: What else should we know about Lyme? Let’s say, we have it and we’ve gone through protocols. Does it flare or is it actually a re-infection?
Does it flare?
DR. JULIA: Yes, it does. There’s also something common in the Lyme community. It’s officially called the “Jarisch-Herxheimer” reaction named after two scientists who discovered that when the body is trying to get rid of toxins, it will up-regulate an inflammation reaction. It’s sort of like a hangover. The closest, easiest, or simplest way would be to think of it in terms of a hangover.
But, in Lyme, when you start to treat Lyme, people’s symptoms will get worse before they get better. The flare will go up and down and up and down for a period of time.
As a practitioner, I know that the patient is getting better when I have them on the same treatment and they’re not getting the flares anymore. And we treat until those flares disappear for a good period of time before I stop.
A good chunk of people end up not having flares come back or end up not having a relapse but a lot of patients do because their body is not just done or time goes by and spirochetes repopulate or they got bit again.
In this area where I am, it is so completely easy. It could go either way. It could very easily be a new bite that they didn’t even know about especially if they’re well for a couple of years and then, all of a sudden, they have a flare.
But you also have to take into consideration that if Lyme patients are doing well, all of a sudden ─ just as I’m sure with autoimmune ─ if there’s a death in the family, if they have a car accident, if something happens like even kids leaving for college or just any major life transitions like they get fired from a job and shocked by that, that can cause a flare.
So stress definitely, just like with any other illness, plays a role here.
SHARON: Do diet and nutrition, other than the obvious, play a role? I know, a lot of times in autoimmune, they play much more integral roles than just the obvious of getting the right nutrients and vitamins.
DR. JULIA: Absolutely! I would say that most of my patients usually end up needing to remove gluten from their diet. They end up becoming more sensitive to it and they get more joint pain, more brain fog, and more symptoms from food. Their gut becomes a little bit more sensitive to things because the immune system is so bogged down with an infection that it’s now starting to overreact to foods that it normally didn’t before.
So, a lot of times, I’d do food sensitivity testing with patients or look into gut permeability. Leaky gut is a term that comes up quite often. I’d look into those components and make sure that the gut is healthy and that we’ve removed things from the diet.
Obviously, there’s also the component of common sense: reducing or eliminating sugars that are not healthy for us. My hard and fast rule is that anything white powder or white sugar or white flour and into something like pasta, a bread, or any grains, pastries, and things like that just got to go.
And it’s not easy for a lot of patients to make that change but once they finally do, it can make a huge change in how they move through them and progress and start to improve and get better and get over it faster.
SHARON: I think that’s critically important ─ the curiosity of your own body and coming up with your own wellness path… Thank you, Dr. Julia! So helpful. Everyone, that’s Dr. Julia Greenspan sharing common symptoms and diagnosis of Lyme and tick-borne disease. Find the complete audio and video of this interview at www.understandingautoimmune.com/lyme
Dr. Julia Greenspan is a naturopathic doctor and author of the book “Rising Above Lyme Disease.” Dr. Greenspan is a Lyme Literate Doctor with a majority of her patients having some form of the tick-borne disease. She has been listed in the Top Doctor’s Reader’s Poll with New Hampshire Magazine several times and interviewed as an expert on tick-borne illnesses on TV, radio, podcasts and in print media. Dr. Greenspan’s website is www.greenhousemedicine.com.
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