Lyme Disease

Chronic lyme disease is extremely difficult to effectively treat and reverse its destructive course.  There are many patients at The Nardella Clinic in Calgary that do not adequately respond to long-term antibiotic therapies.  Without an adequate response to medications, or a reoccurrence of the disease due to not eradicating the bacteria, hyperbaric oxygen provides patients with a viable therapy option which can yield long-term positive results.  The Nardella Clinic recommends that lyme patients consider hyperbaric medicine in acute and chronic states as it potentiates the effectiveness of medications.

In the 1990s, William Fife conducted a pilot program at Texas A&M University to explore the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for patients with chronic lyme disease.  All patients were confirmed as being positive for lyme according CDC criteria.  Ninety-one subjects participated in the study.  Only one patient did not experience a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction.  Overall, the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen in the treatment of chronic lyme disease was successful in 70% percent of the patients as noted by the researchers.

Why is hyperbaric oxygen helpful in the treatment of lyme disease?  Under hyperbaric conditions and breathing one-hundred percent oxygen, tissue oxygen was raised to approximately 300 millimetres of mecury—a tenfold increase from normal levels.  This level of oxygen exposure has been demonstrated to result in a loss of B. Burgdoferi infectivity.  Moreover, oxygen at this level is kills bacteria.

The benefits of hyperbaric medicine for the lyme disease patient include:

  • Supports the patient’s immune system by improving white blood cell function;
  • Increases the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy;
  • May decrease the length of antibiotic therapy;
  • Decreases inflammation;
  • Improves tissue healing; and
  • Provides neurological improvements.

Research Article: Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy on Lyme Disease

Case Study: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Addresses Systemic Infections

A man in his thirties presented to the clinic with severe vertigo and motion sickness. He was also experiencing numbness, disorientation and decreased memory. These symptoms started two and a half years ago following an illness that the patient described as a bad stomach flu. After seeing a number of specialists the patient was left undiagnosed. His blood work and MRIs were reported as being normal. The Nardella Clinic in Calgary tested for Lyme Disease. The testing was performed by a specialized US laboratory where the diagnostic evaluation is different than the traditional tests performed in Canada. This is due to an impaired immune response in people who are suffering with chronic diseases. The patient does not remember being bit by a tick and did not develop a Bulls-eye rash. However, this is consistent with typical experience. The patient’s test was positive for the bacteria Borellia Burgdoferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. As a result, further testing was completed to check for a variety of co-infections. These co-infection tests check for other infections that are carried by ticks. Specific immunological tests that monitor how natural killer cells are responding to the infection were also performed. These tests help monitor the patient’s progress through treatment and act as a guide to the impact the infection is having on the immune system. Critical components of this patient’s naturopathic treatment program included:

  • Antibiotic therapy (prescribed by his MD);
  • IV nutritional infusions for immune support;
  • IV hydrogen peroxide for antimicrobial effect;
  • IV ozone;
  • Supplement regime designed to support the immune system, bolster the effects of the antibiotic therapy and manage some of the negative side effects of antibiotic therapy; and
  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

The patient was prescribed supplementation. The naturopathic supplement regime supported his immune system and increased the effectiveness of antibiotic treatments while minimizing the side effects of those treatments. Treatment for Lyme Disease is highly individualized. Since chronic Lyme Disease is a multi-system disease, many different concerns have to be addressed. In addition to supplements, the patient came in for weekly IV therapies. Various IV therapies were used; some to support the immune system and others to help kill of the bacteria and fight the infection. A key component of the patient’s treatment was hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). Hyperbaric oxygen provides many therapeutic advantages when treating Lyme Disease. Research shows that Borrelia cannot survive in a high oxygen environment and that patient’s benefit significantly from the addition of hyperbaric oxygen to their treatment programs. Hyberbaric oxygen has an antimicrobial effect that kills the bacteria and also supports the patient’s immune system, decreases inflammation, and research suggests it can increase the efficacy of antibiotic therapies. Symptom improvement includes decreased pain, increased mental clarity and a decrease in the number of antibiotics needed and length of time antibiotic therapy may be necessary. This patient underwent a series of 60 HBOT treatments and continues to come in for treatments once per week to maintain his progress.Four months into his naturopathic treatment the patient reported feeling significantly better. Episodes of symptom “flare up” are much less frequent and less severe. Chronic Lyme Disease can take a long time to treat depending on the length of time the patient has been sick and how the patient’s immune system responds.

To appreciate the impact HBOT has one first has to know the impact and cause of Lyme disease symptoms. Inflammation is often a trigger that causes the symptoms to flare. HBOT decreases inflammation through several mechanisms. This calms the system, giving the body a bit of reprieve and relieving some symptoms.  Borrelia Burgdorferi does not tolerate oxygen well. Because Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy causes the body to be saturated in oxygen, it makes for an inhospitable environment and creates a direct assault on the bacteria.

Another benefit of HBOT is that it triggers the formation of new blood vessels. This in and of itself is interesting, but with Lyme disease treatment it’s important. Those new blood vessels help transport antibiotics to tissues it would not normally reach. In effect HBOT helps eliminate hiding places.

Most patients will require 40-60 sessions. The first few are usually the most challenging because of the Jarisch Herxheimer reaction. As the Borrelia bacteria die off they release toxins in amounts greater than your body can clear them in a short time. This makes symptoms worse overall.

The reaction tends to diminish over 2-3 weeks, by which time patients start to notice real improvement. Their memory is better, pain is reduced, and their personality is more level. HBOT used alongside other treatment will certainly give your body what it needs to bring its defenses back.

Lyme Disease: Resolving Neurological impacts with HBOT

The following neurological complaints are usually associated with Lyme disease indicating alteration of cognitive function in the form of:

  • memory impairment or loss (‘brain fog’),
  • slowed processing of information,
  • word-finding problems with reduced verbal fluency,
  • dyslexia and problems dealing with numbers,
  • visual/spatial processing impairment,
  • losing things, getting lost, disorganization, and
  • poor auditory and mental tracking and scanning.

In addition to that, patients described headaches, neuropathic pain and excessive sensitivity to sound, light touch or pressure. In children, indications of neurological involvement include behavior changes, learning disabilities, school phobia, hypersensitivities of the skin and headaches.

Data from animal and clinical studies suggest that HBOT therapy improves healing of neurological symptoms associated with Lyme disease and helping to restore cognitive functions by reducing neuro inflammatory markers and promoting blood flow in chronically affected brain areas.

After a course of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, patients showed improvement of neuro-muscular coordination, clarity and generalized fatigue.


Case Report: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy as an effective adjunctive treatment for chronic Lyme disease 

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