Written by Bob Quinn, DAOM, LAc
Many writers in the popular and professional press refer to chronic Lyme disease as a modern scourge. For years it has been identified primarily as an East Coast phenomenon, but that has never really been true, although it is certainly the case that it is more prevalent in New England than elsewhere. (It was originally identified in Lyme, CT, and, thus, the name Lyme disease.) Cases of acute Lyme disease are diagnosed here in the Portland area every year, primarily it seems from ticks in the Columbia Gorge.
Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness, that is often effectively treated with antibiotics if it is detected early and a long enough course of the drugs is given. The problems emerge when it is not caught early in the process, and the spirochetes (spiral-shaped bacteria) can become established in the body. These invaders are clever and pernicious, able to hide out in many different parts of the body, from joint spaces, to the brain and heart, and other vital organs.
To make matters worse for patients there is a professional war going on between competing medical societies, the Infectious Diseases Society of America at the CDC (IDSA) and the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS). IDSA claims there is no such thing as a chronic stage of Lyme disease, and ILADS claims there indeed is. The real losers in this argument are the patients with a perplexing complex of debilitating symptoms.
Because of this professional turf war insufficient resources have been identified to properly study these patients who are seriously chronically ill. Into this void many medical professionals have entered in the attempt to help these desperate patients. A perplexing array of protocols are promoted in books, articles, youtube videos, and websites. There is the Zhang protocol, the Buhner protocol, the Cowden protocol, the Byron White protocol, various Rife machines, and many other treatment options. Some ILADS doctors have had good luck with long-term antibiotic use for these patients, but it has hardly been a cure-all, and of course there is a downside for the body in long-term antibiotic use.
What does Chinese medicine have to offer these chronic Lyme patients? Long ago similar complexes of symptoms were classified as Gu Syndrome. Gu was seen as a type of spirit possession. (see interview conducted by Onkodo’s Bob Quinn with Heiner Fruehauf, Ph.D, a noted expert on the classical Gu literature.)
Although modern people do not like to think in terms of “spirit possession,” it remains true that the herbal strategies evolved to treat Gu Syndrome are quite helpful in treating chronic Lyme disease. Fascinating! It is also curiously true that many chronic Lyme patients, without ever having read about Gu Syndrome, say that they “feel possessed” or “not themselves.” They also claim to be “hollowed out” by the disease process, which is a classical Gu expression.
Many modern herbal approaches (not all though) lack the sophistication of the Gu formula approach. The modern idea seems to be to try to mimic antibiotics with strong herbs that kill parasites. This, of course, has it place. But a more nuanced approach bears better fruit. The herb formulas have to rebuild the damaged nervous and other systems at least as much as they need to kill spirochetes. How we think and conceive our mission in treatment is important.
The spirochete infection will invade the nervous systems of the patients. Because of that these patients are unusually sensitive. What this means in terms of treatment is that they need to be handled with care. The acupuncture needs to be gentle—even non-insertive techniques need to be employed. Their nervous systems are easily over stimulated by strong acupuncture, and this is not a good idea when those same nervous systems are under attack by the disease itself.
Gentle therapies developed in Japan seem to be a great match for these Lyme patients. In Japan 40% of the practitioners are blind. This has led them to develop exceedingly gentle needle techniques, as blind people often have more palpatory sensitivity. These techniques are a godsend to damaged nervous systems. Little by little with the use of these Japanese treatment styles patients start to rebuild their strength. As they get stronger, they more effectively ward off the disease and can begin to reengage life more fully again.
Direct moxibustion, the practice of burning of dried Asian mugwort on acupuncture points, is a therapy that is especially useful for chronic Lyme patients. Its stimulation is quite a bit different from what is provided by acupuncture needles. The amount of warmth provided is minute but it makes a big difference. And importantly, patients can do moxa on themselves at home every day. The patients who do this recover at a faster rate.
Gentle bodywork is another key component that practitioners at Onkodo Clinic bring to bear in the treatments of chronic Lyme patients. Sotai, a Japanese style of work, and qigong tuina, a gentle Taoist type of work are the styles we most commonly turn to in helping chronic Lyme patients. In these therapies, as with moxa, there is helpful homework that patients can do for themselves every day.
Many chronic Lyme patients have a background that includes trauma of one sort or another. There are various types of therapy that can be brought to bear to deal with this trauma. One interesting piece of this puzzle pursued at Onkodo Clinic is Chinese medical dreamwork, a style of working with dream images pioneered by Bob Quinn. This work is an outgrowth of his long study with Jeremy Taylor, a noted dream interpretation author and expert. In our core medical classic, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, two chapters are devoted to the diagnostic significance of dreams! It seems the Chinese were well ahead of Freud and Jung ̶ 2000 years ahead.
Another piece we can offer for this trauma side of chronic Lyme disease is intuitive healing work. Casey Steele is one of our Onkodo providers. With her MSW she is trained in counseling, but what she finds most helpful for her chronic Lyme clients is a less standard counseling approach and a more intuitively-based way of working. Additionally she works as a sort of Lyme-resource person; she is plugged in and informed about the various other options that might be helpful for chronic Lyme patients.
We invite you to explore what we have to offer at Onkodo Clinic. If you suffer from chronic Lyme disease and its co-infections, we would love to be a part of your team of providers. Please contact us to chat about options. Many different types of insurance are accepted by our providers.
Blessings to you on your healing journey.
Onkodo Clinic providers