Lyme Disease & Other Tick-Borne Illnesses:
The Carolina Center’s Approach
Basics of Tick-Borne disease. Lyme Disease is the primary infection associated with ticks. The main cause, a bacterium called Borrelia burgdoferi, is transmitted by the bite of a deer tick or black-legged tick. Other common infections transmitted by ticks include other species of Borrelia, various strains of Babesia, Bartonella and Ehrlichia and now even more organisms are being identified with increased frequency including many parasites. It is the combination of the effects of these multiple infectious organisms and the extreme inflammatory reaction to the proteins in their cell walls that contributes to the severity of Lyme Disease/Tick-Borne Illness. Because many physicians lack adequate training in identifying the many symptoms, signs and laboratory findings that point to this condition, it is usually either overlooked or misdiagnosed.
Acute versus chronic Lyme disease. Acute Lyme disease involves flu-like symptoms that may occur soon after a tick bite, but only 40% of cases involve a bull’s eye rash. Many people never see the tick, and an acute illness can subside after 7-10 days. This phase is much more like any typical acute bacterial infection. If treated quickly with the appropriate antibiotics for approximately four weeks, most individuals will recover and not have any residual effects. The challenge occurs when co-infections predominate in which case the typical course of antibiotics for Lyme will not be fully effective. If co-infections were missed or the illness was simply left untreated, it may persist as a chronic infection and hyper-inflammatory response with symptoms that include severe fatigue, brain fog, headaches, mood swings, arthritic pain, and irregular heart rhythms. These symptoms will be worse in individuals with metabolic detoxification disorders, whether genetic or acquired through environmental exposure, dietary or nutritional factors. The inability to process the many toxins generated by the inflammatory response to these infections significantly worsens symptoms of the illness and creates more challenges during treatment.
The Carolina Center’s approach. Antibiotics are invariably the first course of action for anyone who has experienced a tick bite with acute symptoms; treatment outcomes can be 100% successful if treated within a few weeks of the acute illness. For chronic Lyme, antibiotic treatments must be specific for all three stages of the life cycle of the Lyme organism and must also address the co-infections. But because this is more than just an infection – it is also a very powerful hyper-immune and inflammatory response as well as a bio-toxin burden issue – our approach must address all these factors.
Prior to any commencement of anti-microbial therapies, our initial goal is stabilization—accomplished by addressing nutrient deficiencies, immune dysfunction and hormone imbalances, as well as addressing secondary digestive system disorders included dysbiosis, the overgrowth of potentially pathogenic bacteria, yeast and parasites. Controlling symptoms is addressed through the integration of pharmaceutical, nutritional, herbal and homeopathic formulas. Hormonal support is critical to stabilization as these systems are often improperly functioning due to hypothalamic and pituitary dysfunction. Most important is improving the body’s natural systems of detoxification in preparation for the release of toxins that typically are associated with anti-microbial treatment. Once these steps have been accomplished, patients are generally feeling better and more functional and ready to begin the next phase to actively treat the infection.
Nutritional & herbal therapy. Nutritional and herbal therapies can be very helpful for attacking the Lyme-related organisms and supporting healthy immune system functioning. Herbal tinctures are extremely powerful tools for overcoming antibiotic resistance and helping patients get off antibiotics sooner. This combined strategy can be very effective, as reported in the September 2009 issue of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
A comprehensive treatment approach. The key components of our integrative medical approach to Lyme disease are as follows:
- Stabilization of chronically ill patients, occasionally using intravenous as well as oral nutrient therapies and detoxification therapies (colon hydrotherapy and other methods);
- Treatment of hormonal deficiencies or imbalances that are often linked to Lyme-related damage to the hypothalamus.
- Anti-microbial treatment for secondary infections such as gut dysbiosis (bacterial overgrowth, yeast and/or parasites);
- Antibiotic treatment of the Lyme organisms and its coinfections, along with herbal therapy to support the immune system and target the infections.
- Ongoing digestive and liver support to prevent potential side effects and complications from treatment. The performance of “safety labs” is performed regularly to monitor liver and bone marrow health and make treatment adjustments if problems are detected.
- Integration of therapies to break down the “bio-film” material that coats colonies of organisms, protecting them from the effects of antibiotics and the immune system.
- Alternating periods of treatment of infections along with bio-film therapies with periods of detoxification focusing on the use of glutathione, liver-gall bladder cleansing, and fibers to absorb toxins from the intestines. “Kill off then clean out”.
- The use of hyperbaric therapy to promote cellular repair, immune system stimulation and detoxification. This is especially good for improving the function of the nervous system.
- The use of immune boosting pharmaceuticals and supplements necessary for the body to ultimately control the infection when antibiotics are no longer being used.
- Note: For patients who have been on prolonged antibiotic therapy prior to coming to the Center, we often recommend a break from those treatments to assist with improving detoxification, immune function and gut repair, often discovering that the symptoms they are experiencing are primarily from the inflammatory reactions that persist and/or the effects of untreated co-infections.
About Dr. Pittman. Dr. Pittman is widely considered to be the leading Lyme-literate physician in North Carolina. His overall approach has been shaped through his extensive involvement with the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. Regularly attending their annual conferences and training courses since 2006, Dr. Pittman furthered his knowledge of Lyme and Tick-Borne Illness by participating in their sponsored Physician Training Program in 2011 and 2012. Working with Dr. Richard Horowitz of Hyde Park, NY and Dr. Bernard Raxlen of Manhattan, NY, he has had the opportunity to fully grasp the seriousness of these conditions in the area where the cases are the most numerous and severe. Dr. Pittman has also undergone training with Dr. Joseph Jemsek of Washington, D.C., and continues their collaboration which began over 10 years ago when Dr. Jemsek was treating Lyme Disease in Charlotte, N.C. In 2013, Dr. Pittman and Carrie Yerkes, P.A-C. travelled back to New York for more intensive training with Dr. Horowitz and his staff, further solidifying their understanding of the nature of this illness. On a state level, Dr. Pittman is a founder and past president of the North Carolina Integrative Medical Society and has collaborated closely with other physicians in the state on issues related to tick-borne illness. Dr. Pittman regularly attends the NC Department of Health and Human Services Vector-Borne Task Force meetings where important information about transmission rates and trends are shared and there is an opportunity to connect the epidemiological aspect of these conditions with our real world clinical experience.
About the Carolina Center’s Lyme-related services. The Carolina Center is a full-service integrative medical facility and is set up to provide a wide range of services for our patients. Antibiotic therapy is typically incorporated in the treatment process and while oral antibiotics are often extremely effective for many of our patients, there are those individuals who may need parenteral (injectable or intravenous) treatment. We are set up to provide intramuscular injections of penicillin as well as IV antibiotics if indicated. A central concern voiced by many patients has been finding a home health facility that can provide affordable IV treatments and other services. We have been successful in finding the lowest prices for IV antibiotics as well as methods of helping patients obtain as much insurance coverage as possible and continue to explore new ways of helping our patients afford these services.