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Tick talk: Lyme disease + long-term health

Lyme disease is the most common infectious diseases caused by bug bites, and it’s all thanks to the spirochete bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi carried by ticks.[1] While it’s highly treatable, it’s not something to take lightly.  

What is it? 

 

Most people aren’t aware of a tick bite unless a rash (erythema migrans) appears. This rash might occur 7 to 14 days after the tick has detached, but only for about 70-80% of people who are affected.[2] In other words, you can still have Lyme disease without the rash. (Likewise, the rash doesn’t always indicate Lyme disease.) 

The flat to slightly raised rash is usually larger than 5 cm in diameter and can be round or oval. The mark can increase in size to be larger than 12 cm. Occasionally, there is a visible bite in the centre.[3] 

The lesions can vary in appearance. Some are nearly uniform in colour, while others resemble the bull-eye appearance most people associate with Lyme disease. On the lower extremities, the rash may be reddish or purple.  

Often, the rash is found on the back, calf, thigh and shoulder. The mark is typically painless, but sometimes the area can feel warm, cause slight discomfort or be itchy. There might also be slight swelling of nearby lymph nodes.  

Early warning signs 

 

Initial symptoms of Lyme disease include generally feeling unwell, neck pain, headache, fatigue, joint stiffness that seems to move around, or chills and fever. Other early symptoms are cranial nerve palsies (weakness and loss of feeling), especially facial palsy. Meningitis can also occur. Lyme carditis is a rare early reaction that causes inflammation and blockages in the heart, leading to light-headedness, fainting, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or chest pain.[4]   

Get treatment a.s.a.p.   

 

Early diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease is important and can help prevent later stages of the disease. Left untreated or not fully resolved, Lyme disease can lead to arthritis that primarily affects large joints, particularly the knee. Severe fatigue and sleep disorders, cognitive problems including decreased concentration and memory, irritability, and nerve damage in the arms and legs can also arise weeks or even years after a tick bite.[5]   

Immune defences 


After bacteria enters the bloodstream, they head straight for cells in particular tissues, including the joints, heart and nervous system. Both the innate and adaptive immune responses are activated to fight the infection and eliminate the organisms. 

Immune cells including macrophages and T cells produce both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory signalling molecules called cytokines. In lymph nodes, adaptive T-cell and B-cell responses produce antibodies to eradicate the bacteria. (1)  

When the immune system doesn’t stop 


When a threat is eliminated, the inflammatory processes triggered by an infection typically calm down.[6] Sometimes with Lyme disease, however, inflammation remains revved up. This can lead to ongoing pain and joint stiffness. Physicians often suggest non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications for the lingering pain and inflammation. (1) However, excessive use of NSAID medications has been linked to liver toxicity and other adverse health outcomes and is not an ideal long-term solution.[7] 

In other cases, an autoimmune reaction may develop that causes damage to the protective, fatty myelin sheath that enables rapid movement of electrical impulses between nerve cells. The myelin sheath is similar to the insulation around electrical wires. If myelin is damaged, signal transmission is interrupted and may stop completely. This may be one explanation for nerve damage associated with Lyme disease. 

In the case of chronic Lyme disease, the immune system can attack the myelin sheath with anti-myelin antibodies. Some researchers showed that anti-myelin antibodies were more commonly found in the younger females (age 31 years) in their study.[8]  

How mushrooms might help  

 

While mushrooms don’t take the place of medical care, they may be useful for providing compounds to help your body with symptom relief. For example, cordyceps is a known immune system modulator. Research has shown that cordyceps helps to tone down inflammation caused by immune system activity, and as a result, it may be helpful in autoimmune conditions. The anti-fatigue power of cordyceps is also well-known.[9] 

Lion’s mane contains compounds that stimulate the production of nerve growth factor, which is a protein that regulates growth, development and maintenance of neurons. [10] Animal studies have shown that lion’s mane may promote nerve regeneration and repair.[11] [12] 

Other research focused on the impact of lion’s mane on myelin found that mushroom extracts protect myelin and increase the rate of myelination (growth and repair of myelin) in a laboratory setting.[13] Studies also show that lion’s mane may be helpful for mild cognitive impairment including concentration and memory.[14]  

Prevention is the best medicine 


As you start to spend more time outdoors, remember to cover up when you’re near tall grasses and woods. Do a tick-check on pets and each other when you come in the house after a hike. Seek medical care immediately if you know or suspect that you’ve been bitten by a tick.  

 

This article was written by Lisa Petty, PhD

 

REFERENCES:

[1] Touradji, P., Aucott, J., Yang, T.,  Rebman, A., & Bechtold, K. (2019). Cognitive Decline in Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, Volume 34, Issue 4, 455–465, https://doi.org/10.1093/arclin/acy051

[2] Wormser, G. Lyme Disease. In Lee Goldman MD (Ed.),Goldman-Cecil Medicine, 2020 305, 1991-1996.

[3] Murray, T. S., & Shapiro, E. D. (2010). Lyme disease. Clinics in laboratory medicine30(1), 311–328. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cll.2010.01.003

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lyme Carditis. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/treatment/lymecarditis.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Flyme%2Fsigns_symptoms%2Flymecarditis.html

[5] National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Neurological Complications of Lyme Disease. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/neurological-complications-lyme-disease

[6] Steere, A., Strle, F., Wormser, G. et al. Lyme borreliosis. Nat Rev Dis Primers 2, 16090 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrdp.2016.90

[7] Bessone F. (2010). Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: What is the actual risk of liver damage?. World journal of gastroenterology16(45), 5651–5661. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v16.i45.5651

[8] Rysková O, Vyslouzil L, Honegr K, Lesná J, Horácek J, Skrabková Z. Lymeská borrelióza--výskyt antimyelinových protilátek v séru [Lyme borreliosis--incidence of serum anti-myelin antibodies]. Epidemiol Mikrobiol Imunol. 2002 Apr;51(2):60-5. Czech. PMID: 11987581.

[9] Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011.

[10] Ma, Bing-Ji., Shen, Jin-Wen., Yu, Hai-You., Ruan, Yuan., Wu, Ting-Ting., & Zhao, Xu. (2010) Hericenones and erinacines: stimulators of nerve growth factor (NGF) biosynthesis in Hericium erinaceus, Mycology, 1:2, 92-98, DOI: 10.1080/21501201003735556

[11] Wong KH, Naidu M, David RP, Bakar R, Sabaratnam V. Neuroregenerative potential of lion's mane mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (higher Basidiomycetes), in the treatment of peripheral nerve injury (review). Int J Med Mushrooms. 2012;14(5):427-46. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushr.v14.i5.10. PMID: 23510212.

[12] Wong KH, Kanagasabapathy G, Naidu M, David P, Sabaratnam V. Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers., a medicinal mushroom, activates peripheral nerve regeneration. Chin J Integr Med. 2016 Oct;22(10):759-67. doi: 10.1007/s11655-014-1624-2. Epub 2014 Aug 26. PMID: 25159861

[13] Kolotushkina EV, Moldavan MG, Voronin KY, Skibo GG. The influence of Hericium erinaceus extract on myelination process in vitro. Fiziol Zh. 2003;49(1):38-45. PMID: 12675022.

[14] Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, Tuchida T. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2009 Mar;23(3):367-72. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2634. PMID: 18844328.