Finding a competent doctor to effectively treat Lyme disease is a daunting task for most patients. There is insufficient recognition of chronic Lyme disease in the current system of allopathic medicine resulting in an insufficient number of medical doctors diagnosing and treating the disease. Naturopathic doctors play a crucial role in supporting community-based Lyme patients. This is more of a reality in Canada due to our socialized health care system. However, only a handful of Canadian Naturopaths have preceptored with physicians from the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society and built the necessary expertise to be effective. Still fewer have the ability to provide access to necessary antibiotic medications. What can a Canadian patient do when selecting a Lyme Doctor?
Most importantly, the treating doctor should have the following credentials: MD, ND, or DO. These professionals have an essential set of competencies. They have the ability to diagnose infections, understand the patient’s current health status, delineate related and unrelated health issues, and determine the medications and other supportive therapies that may be required. The worst outcome for a patient is that a practitioner labels their symptoms as Lyme disease when its not.
The treating doctor should be able provide antibiotic medication or have a referral system whereby patients can access necessary medications. Antibiotic treatment is suitable for the vast majority of Lyme patients. Complementary therapies are used to enhance the results of antibiotic therapy, and potentially lessen dosages and exposure times as long as the right progress has been made. In our experience some patients in extensively weakened states need natural therapies ahead of more aggressive antibiotic therapy in order to manage the physical challenges of Lyme disease.
The treating doctor should also be supported by other doctors in the practice that have a track record in effectively treating Lyme disease. Without access to colleagues that are deeply experienced in treating Lyme disease a doctor, unless in unusually isolated circumstances, should refer on to more experienced colleagues. Many chronic Lyme patients have a long cycle with the disease until it is knocked back to a manageable state. Not having managed difficult and varied cases puts the Lyme patient at an unfair disadvantage.
Patients should ask whether or not the doctor has completed the International Lyme and Associated Diseases (ILADS) physician training program. Also, whether or not the doctor is a member of ILADS. Completing this process demonstrates a fundamental interest and openness to work with others in the fight against Lyme disease. Doctors receive a well-rounded introduction to treating a variety of Lyme patients and what it takes to meet their needs as patients.
The treating doctor should have an active referral network for services that they do not or cannot provide at their practice, but may be necessary for the patient. As every jurisdiction is different in what it permits health professionals to do, doctors need to be resourceful in meeting a patients needs. Perhaps it’s co-managing a case with a US-based colleague or helping a patient connect with a German-based hospital to receive extreme whole body hyperthermia. There are many varied and important tools, and to our knowledge, not all of them exist at one clinic.
The treating doctor should have access to the maximum set of tools available within their scope of practice. Lyme patients need support on many different levels. There is no “silver-bullet”, but a wide ranging arsenal of tools that come to play when battling this disease. A doctor needs to fundamentally address killing the infection, optimizing the immune system, restoring the digestive system, enhancing detoxification and restoring hormonal health. Overall, creating increased health and a sense of balance.
Avoid “cook book” programs that see each patient doing the same series of treatments. Each patient is unique and in need of different level of care. Some patients resolve easily. There is no need for anything but the right antibiotics and they return to a healthy state. Long standing illnesses often leave patients debilitated and takes a complex layered approached to therapy. These patients get better too. They may never fully leave Lyme disease behind, but their lives are changed significantly for the better.
Avoid practitioners that discount the value of antibiotics and over emphasize their danger. Since Lyme disease is a bacterial infection in many cases, without these necessary drugs Lyme patients will continue to deteriorate from their disease. There are also many therapies that have a dramatic impact similar to antibiotics. Hyperbaric oxygen administered in the range of 2.4 to 2.8 atmospheres, extreme whole body hyperthermia where the core body temperature is raised to 42 degrees Celsius under hospital conditions, intravenously administered Artemisinin, and ozone and hydrogen peroxide are a few examples. Most often, these therapies allow antibiotic therapy to be used more judiciously and effectively. Antibiotics can sometimes be avoided and we respect individual patient wishes and needs.
Doctors that use integrative approaches may have better results, as improving the fundamental health status of the patient should be an equal goal to killing the infection. We may not know that an infection has been eliminated due to testing limitations, but we do know that it is not active enough to cause further problems. This outcome is enhanced with the right integrative therapies. Understand what integrative means. The use of proven medical tools to support a wide ranging response from the body to support the key therapies carrying out the main objective—knocking back the infection to a level managed by the innate immune system.
Lyme patients should not go in search of miracles, but rather demonstrated competence. Neither do they need to immediately pursue treatment outside of Canada. There are many doctors that can effectively help. Those doctors should refer on to specialized treatments not available locally if they are necessary. Patients should take the time to see if there is a doctor that has completed the ILADS physician training in their area and what options are available for treatment. Treat the first appointment as an interview.
Naturopathic doctors Jennifer Nardella and Meghan Haggarty are both Lyme-literate doctors and members of ILADS. Additionally, they have both completed the ILADS preceptorship under physicians Dr. Richard Horowitz and Dr. Stephen Harris. Naturopathic Doctors Haggarty and Nardella also both possess advanced training in integrative medicine, IV therapies, hormone management, and auto-immune disease. They continue to attend conferences and advanced training courses both in Lyme disease, and therapies that are useful in the treatment of Lyme disease such as:
- Ozone and Ultraviolet Blood Therapy
- Intravenous therapies
- Antibiotic therapy
- Hyperbaric medicine
As naturopathic doctors with a focus on functional medicine, their experience allows them to both address underlying infections and the systemic imbalances that results from the infection. Our doctors also work collaboratively with other practitioners around the world to facilitate treatments such as hyperthermia, and stem cell therapy. Without being able to reach out to other colleagues a doctors capacity to treat Lyme disease is compromised. A network of professionals to work with is necessary to help field the tough questions and deal with any limitations, so that the patient can receive optimal treatment.
The Naturopathic Doctors at the Nardella Clinic have the experience and ability to guide patients in the use of both natural and prescription medications for the treatment of these complex disorders. With over 20 years experience treating complex, chronic conditions, our naturopaths have successfully been helping patients with Lyme and tick-borne disease for nearly a decade. Our naturopaths are innovative, thorough, and understand the complexity and individuality of each Lyme disease patient.