The problem with treating Lyme disease with antibiotics

An estimated 329,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year. The prevalence of the disease is also rising across the world. Once doubted as a “real” disease, Lyme is finally widely recognized as a very real condition that can have chronic consequences. One of those consequences is Lyme arthritis, which can cause swollen and painful joints. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat Lyme arthritis, but a recent study shows they may not be as helpful as some believe.

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Researchers examined synovial fluid from inflamed joints of patients with Lyme arthritis. They found that the fluid contained antibodies called peptidoglycans, which come from the outer covering of the Lyme bacteria. The study’s lead author, Brandon Jutras, explained that the immune response “appears to be an important part of Lyme arthritis.” He continued, “So if we can prevent that response, we suggest that this could expedite resolution or eliminate symptoms entirely.”

Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose, as it mimics a number of disorders such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome and even Alzheimer’s disease. Conventional treatment for Lyme typically involves a short course of antibiotics. However, it is often unsuccessful and a substantial portion of patients continue to experience various symptoms after the antibiotics have run their course. Now scientists know why. This recent study found that bits of the Lyme bacteria can reside in patients’ inflamed joints, even after the patient has taken antibiotics.

“Whenever and wherever the bacteria grow, they shed peptidoglycan, so it seems plausible that it may be important in other late-stage Lyme manifestations,” Jutras said. Researchers are hopeful the new findings could play an important role in understanding and treating Lyme arthritis and other symptoms associated with Borrelia burgdorferi — the tick-borne bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

If you suffer from Lyme disease, there’s likely nothing you want more than symptom relief. But long-term antibiotic treatment can have life-threatening adverse effects. It can harm the gut microbiome and increase your risk of fungal infections, which is a common issue in Lyme disease. Natural immune functions can also be diminished, increasing the risk of antibiotic-resistant infection. Before turning to a round of antibiotic treatment, consider natural alternatives for symptom management.