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Kill the Bug: UNH Lyme Disease Research Group

As the saying goes, seeing is believing. And most importantly, seeing leads to understanding. Where Lyme is concerned, understanding is the first step in healing.

Even in a science lab, it is a big challenge to see something as small as the Borrelia bacteria. However, thanks to donations provided by private foundations such as LymeDisease.org, and individual contributions, Dr. Eva Sapi and her team of scientific researchers are able to see high resolution images with the help of a high-tech gizmo called an Atomic Force Microscope. You can see these images, too, as they become available (follow their Facebook page for more on that).

The Lyme Disease Research Group's groundbreaking work helps reduce the suffering of Lyme disease patients. Below, read our conversation with Dr. Sapi to find out what her team is discovering, and see where they are headed next.

You might not know this, but federal and state funding is not provided for this important research, and this hardworking team of professionals and graduate students depends on the kindness of people who care. If you are interested in helping support the number-one goal of Dr. Sapi's research team—to kill the Lyme bug—join the UNH Facebook page and check out the links to Atomic Force Microscope images of Borrelia. Your purchase can help fund their research in the coming year.

Read the interview with Dr. Sapi here
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A brief history of fitness in my post-Lyme life

Ten years ago, when first diagnosed with late-stage Lyme, I weighed 108 lbs. I'm 5' 4” and had always been strong. But I had lost a lot of weight in a short time. I was frail and getting weaker.

The doctors said to apply for disability and buy a wheelchair.

What? I thought: No way! Not me! They must be talking to the wrong person.


I couldn't even open my mouth to object. I couldn't say a single word without stammering. As I later found out, the Prednisone I'd been prescribed had pushed the Lyme bacteria into my brain. Normal speech was impossible for many long months.

I sounded like a dimwit and felt like one, too.

The IDSA doctor dismissed my Lyme diagnosis.
I remember that afternoon. I wanted to tell that doctor where to put his wheelchair, but couldn't manage to spit it out.

I was half afraid that he was right. But deep down, I knew somehow I could get well. Although the medical establishment hadn't given me any cause to think so.

After all, that doctor had seen my Lyme diagnosis with his own two eyes. I sat and watched as he read it, and blinked in disbelief as he looked me in the eye and dismissed it.

He was convinced the real problem was MS. He and his team were pushing for a spinal tap to “prove” it. I objected, and luckily fate intervened. Due to a bad rash that made that procedure unsafe, I never was subjected to it.

I was 46, and I was a wreck. I had stabbing pains deep in my muscles. My hands and head shook with palsy, my joints ached, and my heart was slamming around like a ball in a racquetball court. I'd developed a staph infection from the rash that nearly killed me. I was overwhelmingly fatigued and yet
I couldn't sleep.

But there was no way was I going to let illness define me for the rest of my life!


I had already decided what to do.

I would fight.

But first, I would find a different doctor – one who understood Lyme disease. One who would support me and battle it with me.

I found that doctor (a whole 'nother story), and started on antibiotics. One day, after many weeks in bed, I ventured out on a walk by myself.

Five minutes in, an unfamiliar dog rushed towards me on the sidewalk. I wobbled, as vulnerable as a rabbit. I thought I was toast. If he had knocked me down I wouldn't have been able to get up. But he didn't, and I made it all the way around the block.

I went out again the next day, and the next.

Eventually, I joined a gym. Then eight years after my diagnosis, I found a martial arts teacher and started practicing Taekwondo.

I've worked hard to build my stamina, endurance, and strength. Build muscles, and you can build your life again.

Muscles are the engine of youth
When the subject of TKD arises with people my age, they often say their grandson or granddaughter “is into that, too.”

I get it. We're a youth-obsessed society, and us old farts should be content sitting in the stands.

I beg to differ! And so does Kenneth Singleton, MD, a physician who overcame Lyme disease himself. In his book,
The Lyme Disease Solution, he states, “It is my advice that you get on a regular exercise program and stay on it.”

A regular workout increases oxygen, which kills the Lyme bug – a good thing. This is why increased oxygen is so helpful for improving chronic fatigue and stamina.

Dr. Singleton believes you should continue to apply healthy practices for the rest of your life. He advocates for Lyme patients to “recognize that health is a journey without end.”

If you are recovering from a chronic disease, age doesn't matter. My philosophy is, start where you are.

An exercise program is not a quick cure. It's a lifestyle. And it can transform your relationship to your body and to your state of health.

I never imagined myself lifting
Who lifts? Body builders. A bunch of sweaty, grunting guys. With huge biceps and even bigger egos, eyeing themselves in the mirror.

I've had my hand crushed in too many handshakes by some guy who didn't know his own strength. Ouch! The stereotype exists for a reason. But lately I've been lifting, and I'm discovering there is much more to strength training than meets the eye.


“Ultimately strength training is a microcosm of the macrocosm of your life,” states leadership coach and human performance expert Rob McNamara in his book,
Strength to Awaken. “How you train reflects how you live the rest of your life.”

Acknowledging the stereotype, he says “For the millions trapped in conventional forms of strength training, they are also trapped in the conventional egoic habituations of day-to-day life.”

Strength training is more than just a reboot for your body and mind. A regular practice frees you from the tyranny of living in the future or dwelling in the past.

“Most people go through both their workouts and life wanting something else, desiring something else and rejecting what is right here and now in favor of some imagined future or recaptured past, neither of which actually exists,” says Rob McNamara.

Reconnect with happiness and peace
Living in the here and now means radical acceptance of your situation. Paradoxically, it also means that as you practice, your situation will change. It will improve. Your oxygen intake increases, your blood pressure and moods stabilize. You reconnect with joy, happiness, and peace of mind.

If you are too sick right now to exercise physically, take heart. Try this suggestion of Dr. Singleton's:

“Try the following exercise twice a day after a time of prayer and thanksgiving: Sit in a comfortable and relaxed state, take a few very deep breaths, and picture your white blood cells (such as the CD57 NK cells) hunting down and finding Lyme germs and then injecting them with lethal chemicals.”

Healing from Lyme Disease takes everything we've got.
Approach it from every angle. I don't have Lyme anymore. I have muscles. Staying healthy in a post-Lyme life takes practice.

Note: Always consult your Lyme literate doctor before starting any exercise program.


References
Singleton, Kenneth (2010-08-19). The Lyme Disease Solution (p. 430). Kindle Edition.

McNamara, Robert Lundin (2012-01-04). Strength To Awaken: An Integral Guide to Strength Training, Performance & Spiritual Practice for Men & Women (Kindle Locations 1037-1041). Performance Integral. Kindle Edition.


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Can antibiotics heal Lyme disease?

Can antibiotics heal Lyme disease?
Yes. If Lyme is detected early on, antibiotics can be effective in stopping the infection and killing the bug.

But what if you’ve completed antibiotic treatment, and you still feel more zombie than human? Quality of life matters.

When you dig a little further, you find that Lyme disease is often complicated by many factors. So it makes sense that Lyme is difficult to treat with just one pharmaceutical drug.

For one thing, the nasty co-infections that can accompany Lyme infection may go unresolved.

Research increasingly shows that a tick bite often downloads additional pathogens along with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme. Co-infections such as Babesia and Bartonella seem to be the rule, and not the exception, for people with Lyme.

So why do most doctors take this one-drug-for-one-bug approach to treatment?

The answer is, as in so many cases, because that’s what they’ve always done.

It’s historical.

One drug for one bug
Monotherapy is the treatment of a condition by means of a single pharmaceutical drug. This idea of “one drug for one bug” was developed after World War II. Monotherapy came into use with the “first generation” antibacterials, as some epidemiologists and researchers refer to them.

But humans, our systems, and our environment, have evolved since the 1940s.

Consider the communication system. The computers my dad worked on in the 60s were as large as my kitchen, and had a fraction of the capacity of my smartphone.

Back then, people even had to get up and walk to the telephone.

Bacteria evolves too. Lyme and its co-infections are a new challenge for doctors as well as patients. These bacteria are stealth pathogens, with the ability to evade the immune system and antibiotics.

Outsmarting the smart bugs
Monotherapy offers only one weapon against the complexity of a Lyme infection.

Lyme, Babesia, and other co-infections are newly emerging infections, sometimes called “second generation” infections. These difficult-to-cure diseases require more holistic and complex approaches to treatment.

Stephen Buhner, author of Healing Lyme Disease Coinfections, questions the sole dependence on antibiotics as a treatment for Lyme disease.

“Technological medicine,” he says, “while a great adjunct, is not capable, at this point in time (if it ever will be), of dealing with this second generation of infectious agents.”

Especially when it is not detected in the early stage, many of us find that Lyme is not an easy disease to cure.

Plant medicine is considered by alternative medicine practitioners to be a smart healing ally, because as living organisms, herbs evolve right along with bacteria.


Get a handle on it
For me, killing the Lyme bacterial complex—as I call the numerous pathogens that we call Lyme—has been an ongoing challenge that has transformed my life. I have to say, it hasn’t been an altogether bad thing.

I try all feasible pathways to vitality and good health. My focus is on healing through daily attention to body, mind, and spirit. Most precious of all, I have a better handle on what truly matters.

I’ve had much good luck with herbs and plant medicine over the years since battling Lyme and its co-infections. Although I’d be the first to tell you to run to the ER with a severe infection—because that ain’t nothing to mess with—I consider herbal medicine one of my primary allies in staying healthy in my life post-Lyme.

Co-infections complicate Lyme. They can muck up the healing process and delay the gift of living a vibrant life.

Plants might be able to help. Most people I know who've healed from Lyme have taken herbal medicines along with their standard protocol. According to Stephen Buhner and other herbalists I've interviewed, there is generally no problem with taking herbs at the same time as taking pharmaceuticals. But as always, I recommend asking your doctor or medical team for their opinion before doing so.

“Those with co-infections tend to be sicker longer, have more difficult symptoms, possess a lower quality of life, and are much less likely to heal from the use of monotherapies such as antibiotics,” says Buhner.

Get well soon!

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The monkey mind and the mandala

Lets talk about the body/mind connection.

How does it work, exactly? For starters, let's consider the monkey mind.

At any given moment, we all have a load of chit-chat streaming through our thoughts.

You recognize this phenomena: the familiar little monkey mind skittering up, down and all around your inner landscape, ceaselessly chattering, never at rest.

What's your monkey mind saying?

Do you ever get quiet and listen?

It may be repeating worries, fears, or other negative memes. I know mine does. Sometimes it gets the upper hand, like in the middle of the night when I'm lying awake, and it seems like everybody else on earth and their dog is snoozing peacefully.

Can this inner voice and its repetition of fears create underlying physical stress?

Some healers believe that negative thoughts, repeated ad nauseum by our monkey minds, can actually soften the way for infection in our bodies. I don’t know for sure.

One thing that's for sure is the amazing connection between the body and mind. One way to access and strengthen this body/mind connection is to draw. This is where art – the act of making art, that is – can actually help open the doors to healing.

Yep. Just pick up a colored pencil or marker, nudge your inner kid awake, and just draw.

Or you might want to try coloring in a delicious looking coloring book of mandalas. Coloring book for adults! What a country.

The claim is that many people who are ill or in the throws of a healing crisis find the act of coloring is quite helpful.

Hold on. Coloring is good for you?

Now we’re talking.

Mandala studies shows that when you are coloring, your conscious mind is turned off. The chatter is turned down at least. Similar to being in a dream state.

As the standard chatter recedes, your unconscious mind, which is vastly larger than the conscious tip of the iceberg, is able to get a word in edgewise. Answers to conundrums may suddenly pop into your mind. You may receive key information about the next step on your healing journey, because healing mechanisms can be triggered by the simple act of coloring.

When I heard about this, my inner coloring-book lover did a happy dance.

If there are inherent lessons in illness, I suspect it has to do with realizing that we must give 100% participation in our own cure. It's learning to accept that we've embarked on the hero’s journey.

A hero who has stepped onto a landmine and can't move off.

So let's face it. The hero needs tools. And maybe a fistful of colored markers.

Any kind of coloring will work. However, mandalas are special for many reasons, and probably the best kind of design to bring harmony to your senses because of their circular symmetry.

Try it.

You might think it's pure synchronicity, but while you are fully concentrating on coloring, you may be given a reprieve from your pain. If it works and you feel better, who cares if it's synchronicity or if it's some sort of mandala magic?

Art saves lives.

At the very least, it can calm the monkey mind for a few minutes and give us a break from its tiresome chatter.

With practice, it may strengthen the bridge between that vast part of us that is perfectly well, not affected by disease, and give our body the rest it needs to heal deeply.

No matter what the doctors say, no matter what anybody else says, no one lives inside our bodies but us.

Only we can really know how we feel, what we need, and in any given moment, what can make us healthier. Our bodies are magnificent, and capable of self-repair and self-healing beyond our wildest imaginings. I believe this.


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Sugar cravings and nightsweats: What is your gut trying to tell you?


Causes of autoimmune disease.
Dr. Peter Muran is like the Sherlock Holmes of Lyme literate doctors.

A physician who specializes in natural, alternative, and complementary medicine, with a background in engineering and chemistry, he says disease doesn't just happen.

He explains that preceding every disease, including chronic Lyme, there is a pathway, a chronological timeline that led to the condition.

Take, for example, the classic killer heart attack.

“Someone doesn't simply have a heart attack and die,” says Dr. Muran, who, along with his wife, Dr. Sandy Muran, practices Functional Medicine at Longevity Healthcare in San Luis Obispo, California.

There are factors that lead up to the cause of death, he explains. If you take an engineering approach and look for the clues, you can discover a telling storyline.

The heart attack does not come out of the blue. First, an occurrence of some sort leads to the clogging of the arteries, and then, this disease of the arteries develops until they get blockage, and then finally, the result is a heart attack.


Nudge it with a sledgehammer?
As he sees it, the doctors' job is not to come up with a diagnosis so that a label can be slapped on the illness, and a code to treat it can be decided upon.

Instead, his goal is to investigate the chronology leading up to the illness, to locate just where along the line the imbalance occurred. Then, he says, the doctor's job is essentially to get out of the way and allow the body to heal itself.

But in their effort to heal the patient, doctors can make errors in judgement.

For example, it only takes a nudge, a very mild or slight tuneup of the hormonal system for tremendous results, says Dr. Muran.

“When Prednisone is given to manage a slight cortisol deficiency in the hormonal system, it's like using a sledgehammer when all you needed was a tackhammer.”

What does this mean for us patients? It means that we can have some degree of control in changing our particular situation.

While there is no way to change the fact that we got Lyme to begin with, chronic Lyme can be examined objectively, looked at and analyzed the way one would a story—or a crime.

And a good place to start looking for clues is in our diet. Conventional doctors are not schooled in nutrition, so we'll get little help from them.


SAD but true
Most Americans, finds Dr. Muran, live to eat, intead of eating to live. The SAD (Standard American Diet) causes stress and inflammation and creates imbalances in the immune system. Under these conditions, diseases which we could normally keep in check are instead allowed to flourish.

Dr. Muran finds that patients dealing with chronic disease often do have problems in their GI tract.

Night sweats, sugar cravings, and other disturbances are often a result of the inflammation and imbalance in the gut caused by an unhealthy diet.

He points out that we are not subjected to anything separate from the earth, or sterile. “Our GI tract has 100 billion cells living in it,” he says, which is ten times the number of cells that make up our body.

It doesn't take an engineer, or even a Watson, to recognize that our bodies have an ongoing and continuous relationship with the earth, meaning the flora and fauna that live inside us, and that actually play a key role in our wellbeing.

Our bodies are miraculous and resilient. Given half a chance to survive, we may even begin to thrive. Making positive shifts in our lifestyle and diet can help us manage chronic Lyme.


Members, for further information about Dr. Muran's approach to managing chronic Lyme Disease, please listen to our 4-part interview with him in our Lyme Experts audio interviews series in the membership portal.


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