Although most people don't realize it, the vector of one of the most debilitating diseases of the modern world can often be found crawling around in the hedges, shrubs and tall grasses of the typical American backyard.
Carried by several common species of tick, Lyme Disease - which leaves many of victims struggling with long-term chronic illness, Post-Lyme Disease (PLD) - is one of the fastest-growing infectious-disease epidemics both here and abroad, according to recent research.
How widespread is the current U.S. outbreak of this bacteria-triggered illness - which leaves many of its victims struggling for years with fatigue, headache, mental confusion, memory impairment, shortness of breath, sensitivity to bright light, abdominal pain, chronic muscle and joint pain and several other nasty complaints? (Symptoms can vary, but most PLD victims experience from four to six of the eight listed here.)
While some estimates put the total number of new cases each year at 300,000, the actual spread of Lyme is extremely difficult to measure. There is disagreement among the nation's physicians over the duration of the disease. According to some influential physicians, the bacterial infection can be cured in three weeks with heavy doses of antibiotics. Conventional wisdom dictates that if we drive out the Lyme bacteria (a spirochete named Borrelia burgdorferi) with germ-killing drugs, the painful symptoms of the disease will rapidly leave the patient.
But this assertion regarding the duration of PLD is now being challenged by thousands of Family Practice physicians around the country. Increasingly, the Family Practice docs are grappling with cases in which the major symptoms of Chronic Lyme persist for years, despite proper antibiotic treatment in patients.
Many physicians feel that diagnostic tests for Lyme are unreliable, due to differences between strains of the bacteria, and the potential for co-infections with Babesia or Ehrlichia. There are no chemical tests for the disease-causing toxin B. burgdorferi produces and release into human body, even as antibiotics are killing the bacteria. Without such tests, the medical debate over whether or not Lyme can be quickly cured has surged in recent years, provoking frequent battles in which physicians have attacked each other's credibility and integrity (and in a few cases, even their medical licenses).
All too often, suffering patients have been left in the middle, essentially ignored by doctors who contend that their long-term symptoms aren't the result of Chronic Lyme, but of "fibromyalgia," "depression," or "irritable bowel syndrome." These more familiar disorders allow the doctor to make a speedier diagnosis of an ailment for which there will be no "positive" lab test, either. In this way, patients can be quickly "helped out the door" - after the doc scribbles a prescription for an anti-depressant, or maybe an acid-blocker.
Already struggling with the debilitating symptoms of their tick-borne disease, Post-Lyme sufferers are patronized with insulting regularity by physicians who don't understand the biochemistry involved in chronic, neurotoxin-mediated illnesses, of which PLD is only one. As a result, these frustrated patients often wind up bouncing from physician to naturopath to herbalist to acupuncturist, among other "non-traditional healers." Along the way, they frequently spend tens of thousands of dollars on useless treatments.
But that situation is about to change, as more and more Family Practice physicians like Dr. Shoemaker find themselves treating Chronic Lyme in patients who tell them about their "years of brutal headaches and aching joints," while also describing themselves as "desperate to find a cure."
Why have so many medical researchers failed to understand the chronic aspect of Lyme disease?
In many cases, the problem has been that they simply don't understand the dynamics involved in the movement of organic neurotoxins throughout the human body.
Like the microorganisms that produce other toxin-linked diseases - such as the dinoflagellates Ciguatera and Pfiesteria, and the fungi that cause Sick Building Syndrome - Borrelia bacteria likely manufactures a nasty suite of neurotoxins which circulate in human fatty tissues, such as those found in nerve, muscle, brain, lung and bile, rather than in the bloodstream (as happens with more common illnesses such as pneumonia).
Because these bacterial poisons are moving through the body's fat storage system and bile, they cannot be reached by the "antibodies" that search out and destroy invading microorganisms in the bloodstream. Instead, they continue to travel throughout the tissues for years at a time, triggering such classic symptoms of Lyme Disease as fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, joint aches and short-term memory impairment.
Frequently found today in the backyards or playgrounds of America's fast-spreading suburbs, the deer and Lone Star ticks that spread Lyme disease (named for the Connecticut town where it was discovered a few decades ago), take in the disease-causing Borrelia while ingesting the blood of deer or mice. When they later bite humans, the bacteria move from the mid-gut of the arachnid - now found commonly in all 50 states - into their human host. Within a matter of days, these spirochetes begin producing the brain-damaging neurotoxin(s) that cause the blurred vision and the muscle fatigue so commonly seen in cases of Chronic Lyme.
While treating hundreds of Chronic Lyme patients in my Maryland-based Family Practice in recent years, I was fortunate to come upon an already existing but little noticed physiologic test of neurologic function in the visual system- the "Visual Contrast Sensitivity" test, or VCS - that can tell a physician in five minutes whether or not the patient is suffering from the harmful effects of neurotoxins on the brain's ability to distinguish contrast between black, white and gray. The deficit in the visual pathways mirrors the adverse effect the neurotoxins are causing throughout the body.
The good news for Lyme patients everywhere is that VCS now gives the physician a reproducibly reliable, inexpensive and non-invasive test (it takes only five minutes) that makes a virtually foolproof diagnosis of Chronic Lyme readily available.
Once the VCS test pinpoints the diagnosis, PLD can be effectively treated with a toxin-binding drug ("cholestyramine," or CSM) that filters the offending neurotoxins out of bile in the lower intestine. It was Dr. Shoemaker's good fortune to be able to demonstrate as much, while presenting the first scientific paper in the world's medical literature on "Treatment of Chronic Lyme Disease Using VCS and Toxin-Binding Therapy" in April, 2000, at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. That paper showed that VCS was a better test for confirming the presence of Lyme neurotoxins than any blood, urine or DNA test for the organism, itself.
Moreover, the VCS Test showed improvement with CSM treatment as symptoms abated.
A follow up study, first presented in the Biotoxin Symposium chaired by Dr. Hudnell's during the 8th International Symposium on Neurobehavioral Methods and Effects in Occupational and Environmental Health, Brescia, Italy, June, 2002, shows a 92-percent improvement rate in more than 200 patients with PLD. Their case histories prove conclusively that Chronic Lyme can be diagnosed effectively with VCS - and that it can be treated effectively with drug therapy, provided that it takes place under the rigorous supervision of a clinical physician expert in management of CSM therapy and drugs to downregulate proinflammatory cytokines.
Patients should never take this drug on their own, because it can trigger intensification of symptoms in the absence of pre-treatment by a physician to manage the cytokines.
As each summer's tick-and-Chronic-Lyme season begins in earnest, it's important to remember that you can catch this highly infectious and debilitating disease right in your own backyard. It's also important to understand that you can't prevent tick bites by "rolling up your pant legs" or applying a standard insect repellant, which has no effect on arachnids such as ticks. (The blunt fact is that the usual public health recommendations for preventing tick bites simply don't work.)
Remember, also, that more than 30 percent of Lyme patients don't get a rash, never even realize they'd been bitten by a tick - since many bites from these tiny parasites go unnoticed.
If you do get sick (and many people will, as the epidemic continues to spread), ask your physician about using the VCS Test as a diagnostic tool.
These days, the good news for Chronic Lyme sufferers is that the list of physicians who understand the links between long-term illness and neurotoxins is growing rapidly.
Why suffer needlessly from the painful symptoms of this debilitating disease? Instead, why not take the step of obtaining an inexpensive, five-minute diagnostic test? Then go get the toxin-binding therapy you need to resume a healthy and productive life.
For more check out chronicneurotoxins.com!