Sunday, March 27, 2016

Our Response to Lyme: Medical

When Lyme first appeared in the latter half of the 20th century, we treated it with antibiotics, and that was that. Late-stage cases did occur, and we figured that out, and then we treated that antibiotics too. But not everyone got better--at least right away. These were cases that people started calling "chronic Lyme disease."

Like a lot of chronic diseases that medicine doesn't seem to quite have a handle on, the world of Lyme disease sufferers developed a parallel medical world full of "Lyme doctors" who prescribe immense doses of oral and intravenous antibiotics, alternative practitioners advocating various protocols using herbs, nutritionals, multiple homeopathic remedies, and other methods. I hear reports from people that suggest that sometimes these work for some people. But as I tell my students: Every modality has cured every disease--at least once. Meaning: just because it worked once for someone else doesn't mean you can rely on it to cure you. That's one of the weird things about human biology and medicine.

So the trick is to figure out what modality is going to work most of the time.

So far, I've only found a few modalities that will. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and classical homeopathic medicine are two general systems that work. Dr. Andrew Weil, the physician and writer about all things alternative, notes in his book Health and Healing that there are only a few methods of medicine that are broad and systematic enough to serve as true alternatives to traditional Western medicine. TCM and classical homeopathy are two of the few. Most other modalities are more complementary to the healing process. Some modalities, like Western medicine and naturopathic medicine, are broad, but they don't have a coherent theory to provide the systematic structure of diagnosis and treatment that could more reliably address conditions that are not so straightforward.

Post-Lyme treatment syndrome (PLTS) is one such condition.

PLTS is believed to be caused not by lingering B. burgdorferi infection, and not by so-called co-infections with Babesia and other related germs. Rather it is believed to be a perverted immune system reaction to the infection in the first place. In this way, the symptoms of PLTS are really a crazy immune system reaction. We see parallels in syphilis, HIV, and even type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome--in these latter three cases, the diseases seem to emerge after even a simple viral infection causes the immune system to attack the body's own pancreatic cells and nerve cells, respectively.

Our response to these types of problems, using Western medicine and many alternative approaches, is to try to cobble together a treatment that fits within our rudimentary understanding of things. An example would be trying ever-increasing doses of antibiotics, over ever-longer durations of treatment, despite known side effects of such medications. Another example in the alternative world could include various supplements. Often I have observed such patients to be on literally dozens of supplements! That just can't be good for a person's health (and it's not good for their wallet either).

Both classical homeopathy and TCM begin with the assumption that one doesn't need to know what specific features are malfunctioning, deficient, or excessive, so much as they rely on understanding the pattern of these features that are made visible to the practitioner through the pattern of the patient's symptoms. In this way, we recognize that each person's "imbalance" is unique, and simply fits into a pattern that we already know. Find the pattern, find the cure.

It's not that some nutritional supplementation, exercise, or even medical drugs aren't needed ever in such cases. It does mean that one ought to view the system--the person--as a whole that is responding in every cell of his or her body to the imbalance imposed by the accident of the infection, and that each person's reaction can fall into one of hundreds of patterns of imbalance.

Next: Our response to Lyme (and things like it), as a society.

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