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Natural Awakenings Central Florida / Orlando

Identifying and Treating Lyme Disease: An Integrative and Functional Medicine Approach

Apr 29, 2024 09:24AM ● By Jill Valerius, M.D., ABoIM, IFMCP, ATC
closer image of a bug

Erik_Karits from pixabay

Lyme disease, a complex and often misdiagnosed illness, affects approximately 476,000 people annually in the United States. Found in all 50 states and every continent but Antarctica, it is transmitted primarily by the Ixodes tick, more commonly known as the deer tick or black-legged tick. If not promptly addressed, the ailment can lead to long-term health complications. Thanks to advancements in medicine, the identification and treatment of Lyme disease continues to evolve and improve.  


Historical Context 

The story of Lyme disease began in the 1970s with a community outbreak of facial palsy and arthritis in Lyme, Connecticut. An explanation for this mysterious illness did not surface until the early 1980s, when Willy Burgdorfer, an investigator for the National Institutes of Health, discovered a bacterium in ticks from the area (Borrelia Burgdorferi), laying the foundation for modern testing and diagnostic methods.


Diagnosing a Complex Disease

There are several complicating factors that make a Lyme disease diagnosis difficult. The characteristic bullseye-shaped rash is present in less than half of cases and may disappear quickly. Early signs and symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle pain, headache, joint pain, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes are easily mistaken for other illnesses.

The utility of early lab testing is limited because the process takes several weeks and can lead to false negatives. This leaves physicians to rely on observable symptoms and rule out other possible causes. A doctor will also ask if a patient has been out in the woods or grassy areas where they might have been exposed to black-legged ticks.

Tom Moorcroft, DO, the founder of Origins of Health and an investigator of medical mysteries, refers to Lyme disease as “the new great imitator and instigator,” describing its ability to mimic various other diseases, often at the same time. For people experiencing persistent symptoms, comprehensive lab testing may be needed to distinguish between Lyme and other tick-borne and non-tick-borne diseases.


Treatment Options

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), untreated Lyme disease can produce a wide range of symptoms, including fever, rash, facial paralysis and arthritis. While conventional antibiotics remain a cornerstone for early-stage treatment, emerging research increasingly recognizes and supports the role of natural and botanical medicine.

In a 2020 study published in Frontiers in Medicine, seven botanical agents were identified as promising treatments for Lyme disease, including black walnut, Japanese knotweed, sweet wormwood, cat’s claw and Chinese skullcap. Cryptolepis sanguinolenta extract caused a complete eradication of the B. Burgdorferi bacterium in their study. The scientists recommended additional research to determine dosages and extract combinations that might offer hope for those suffering long-term symptoms.

The integrative and functional medicine approach to treating Lyme disease is multifaceted and customized, taking into account an individual’s health history, environmental factors and unique physiological responses. The overarching goals are to target the infection, bolster the immune system, manage symptoms and promote overall well-being. According to Dr. Darin Ingels, a licensed doctor of naturopathic medicine and author of The Lyme Solution, “All other therapies, no matter what they are, probably aren’t going to be as effective until you’ve really taken care of your gut health and your mental and emotional being.”

Lifestyle interventions are critical in this holistic treatment. A diet rich in whole foods, clean proteins and minimal grains, dairy, sugar and processed foods can mitigate inflammation and aid recovery. Complementary practices such as regular exercise, sauna sessions, Epsom salt baths, sufficient sleep and stress management techniques play vital roles in healing and preventing long-term complications.


Prevention Tips

Prevention is integral in combating Lyme disease. Tick repellents and protective clothing can significantly reduce bites. After spending time in wooded or grassy areas, thoroughly check the skin for early tick detection and removal. Upon discovering a tick, remove it promptly and monitor the bite area for signs of a rash or infection. If symptoms appear, quickly seek guidance from a healthcare professional with expertise in Lyme disease.

A healthy diet, regular exercise and sufficient sleep are essential for maintaining a robust immune system and can bolster the body’s defenses, potentially reducing the risk of developing chronic Lyme disease.


Staying Informed

•   International Lyme and Associated Disease Society ( is a global nonprofit that promotes research, education and policy associated with Lyme and associated diseases.

• offers support and information curated by patients.

•   TickSpotters from the University of Rhode Island ( provides tick identification information and science-based risk assessments.

•   Local health departments can provide updated information and recommendations for specific areas.


Meeting Future Challenges

Lyme disease presents a significant global health challenge, necessitating a multifaceted and individualized approach to its management. Integrative and functional medicine offer an effective strategy, combining conventional medical treatments with lifestyle and natural therapies. This holistic approach empowers individuals to take an active role in their health journey, ensuring not just the treatment of Lyme disease, but also the promotion of long-term wellness and quality of life.

Jill Valerius is a dual-board-certified physician in family and integrative medicine with an additional certification in functional medicine. Learn more at
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