Rachel Aide’s Lyme disease story is one that resonates with an unfortunate number of Canadians.
A teacher living in Toronto, Rachel suspects she was bitten by a tick while travelling on the east coast of Canada, leading a school trip in the wilderness. She spent the next two years battling the symptoms of a Lyme infection.
Rachel’s journey to recovery involved magnesium — amongst the whirlwind of other supplements, antibiotics, and natural treatments.
The full story of Rachel’s Lyme disease treatment includes Natural Calm magnesium — but goes far beyond. Here, we’ll share her experience so other Canadians can be more aware of what Lyme looks like and how to recover from infection.
What is Lyme Disease and Why Should Canadians Care?
Lyme disease, transmitted through tick bites, and often misrecognized as Fibromyalgia or Lupus, is becoming a genuine threat to Canadians.
Throughout the past decade, Canada has seen quickly increasing blacklegged tick population and with that, an increase in Lyme disease cases and other tick-borne illnesses.
Lyme Disease is a general term used to describe many different strains of illness, transmitted through ticks. Infected ticks possess a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, which in humans causes Lyme Disease.
Ticks spread Lyme disease to people and animals when they latch on to feed on a mammal’s blood. In fact, ticks contract Lyme disease from the animals they feed on in their larval and nymphal stages and pass it from mammal to mammal. As the tick feeds on its host, the bacteria move from its belly to its salivary glands, transmitting the bacteria, which passes into the bloodstream. This means that the longer a tick is undetected, the longer it has to potentially transmit Lyme.
The bullseye rash, or erythema migrans (EM) rash, is the most famous early symptom of Lyme infection. But this easy-to-spot sign is experienced by less than half of Lyme disease patients — meaning many Canadians can’t pinpoint the origin of their infection.
What’s more, because the spread of ticks across Canada is relatively new, many Canadians aren’t aware of the risks — and don’t take precautions against infection.
Diagnosing and treating Lyme disease entails particular challenges for Canadians navigating a health care system not prepared for the surge in Lyme infections.
For all these reasons, too many Canadians suffer from debilitating symptoms of Lyme without knowing the cause.
Rachel’s story illustrates the challenges to getting diagnosed and treated in Canada, as well as tips from someone who’s been through it, and the light at the end of the tunnel for others struggling with Lyme.
Why Lyme Disease is a Health Risk in Canada — Wherever You Live
Until recently, most Canadians believed that the risk of being bitten and infected by a tick was relatively low – provided we stayed away from the known tick risk areas, we were safe.
Thanks to the changing climate, areas of Canada that were previously uninhabitable for ticks have become much more subject to ticks. No longer limited to secluded forest areas, Lyme disease-carrying ticks are now found in and around some of Canada’s largest cities.
The number of people affected by Lyme disease in Canada has quietly but steadily been growing since the early 2000s. Despite the fact that Lyme disease is grossly under-reported, numbers have risen from 144 reported cases in 2009 to over 1,400 in 2017 (NCCID). Ontario, in particular, has seen a marked rise in reported cases, with 987 of the 2017 total coming from the province, and 78 from Toronto itself.
Public Health Ontario advises that people are mindful of ticks in all forested areas. It is possible, though unlikely, that blacklegged ticks can be found anywhere that their habitat is supported. Grassy and wooded environments are best for ticks, where they can stay until a host, be it animal or human, passes by for them to attach to.
Rachel’s Lyme Disease Story
Rachel Aide has spent close to 3 years living with Lyme disease, learning about it, and recently, recovering from it.
Like many Lyme patients, Rachel didn’t experience the bullseye rash, making it hard to pinpoint where and when exactly her infection took place, however, she suspects she was infected in Saint Andrews by-the-Sea, NB, in 2016, while taking a walk in tall grasses.
Most likely, Rachel was bitten while the tick was in its nymph stage, when the tick is very small and harder to see. When small ticks go unnoticed, they often have enough time (36 to 48 hours) to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium before being noticed and removed.
Rachel — like so many others — didn’t suspect Lyme disease because she didn’t remember having a rash or being bitten.
The Early Warning Signs of Lyme Disease
Because Rachel didn’t get the bullseye rash, understanding her symptoms was difficult.
Initially she experienced numbness in her tongue and thought it might have to do with the mouthwash she was using. After that, came a range of other peculiar symptoms including tremors, fatigue, and tinnitus.
She started to realize something was wrong when her combination of symptoms persisted and worsened, even after negative testing for a number of different diseases.
These were Rachel’s early signs of Lyme infection. But what are the typical signs of Lyme disease Canadians should learn to recognize?
The unfortunate answer is, it depends. Symptoms vary from individual to individual.
If the bullseye rash does occur, it will present at the site of the tick bite within 30 days (usually after about a week). It grows in size, and will feel warm to the touch, but is hardly ever itchy or painful, which is another reason for which Lyme is often dismissed as nothing serious.
Those who don’t experience the infamous bullseye rash, often have flu-like symptoms as the first physical signs of the disease – fever, headaches, chills, congestion, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes.
Because the symptoms of Lyme disease are so indistinct and varied, many people are misdiagnosed with a common cold or flu. As the symptoms persist and Canadians with Lyme disease search for answers, the correct diagnosis is often elusive.
Rachel’s Full-Blown Lyme Disease Symptoms
Over a period of 18 months and even during intensive treatment, Rachel experienced a variety of Lyme related symptoms:
- Panic attacks while trying to fall asleep
- A burning sensation in her spine
- Muscle flutters
Symptoms would wax and wane with time, and eventually became almost absent, however this only became the case after about 3 years.
Typically, Lyme disease progresses from early flu-like symptoms just after the tick bite, to more severe signs over time.
Weeks to months after the infection, patients will experience a combination of:
- More serious headaches, dizziness and instability
- Joint pain and swelling
- Short term memory issues
- Muscle/joint aches and stiffness
- Fever and flu-like symptoms
- Chronic back pain and disc degeneration
- Bell’s palsy
- Brain fog/decreased cognitive function
- Noise and sound intolerance
- Blurry vision/eye discomfort
- Eye pain
- Tooth pain
- Paraesthesia (burning and tingling in feet and hands)
- Muscle twitching
- Chest pain/ irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
The symptoms are periodic and unpredictable, and can be experienced for varying lengths of time.
“How sick someone becomes is dependent on how weak the immune system is and the natural aggressiveness of the microbe… Once infection becomes established, however, a vicious cycle of immune compromise is perpetuated by the microbes, and chronic misery can set in for a lifetime.” (Rawls, p. 28)
A constant obstacle for Lyme patients is that it is an invisible disease. Though patients may outwardly seem well, they could at any time be experiencing numerous invisible symptoms. Lyme is periodic.
One could feel fine for a few days in a row, and be incredibly sick for the next week. Symptoms come and go in a seemingly random way, making it even more difficult to combat.
Getting Diagnosed with Lyme Disease in Canada — Harder than You Might Think
Rachel was officially diagnosed in July, 2017, through a US testing centre — after numerous tests in Canada failed to detect her Lyme infection.
From official diagnosis, her full recovery took approximately 18 months.
She had an MRI, the Ontario Lyme test, nerve sensitivity and damage tests, all of which came out negative, but her symptoms continued to worsen so she pursued further testing.
Rachel began to worry that she might have vertigo or early onset Alzheimer’s based on her short term memory loss, symptoms of dizziness and disorientation.
Before learning of Lyme, many patients are confused by the seemingly sporadic and eclectic symptoms they experience. They are tested for lupus, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) before most Canadian doctors even consider Lyme disease as an option.
In extreme though not uncommon cases, patients are referred to psychologists and psychiatrists because doctors believe their symptoms are completely psychosomatic.
Why Canadians Are Getting Tested for Lyme Disease in the USA
In Canada, physicians familiar with Lyme disease are faced with a challenge, because the diagnostic tests in Canada are not fully effective yet. They can diagnose from symptoms, however, doctors take a risk when they begin treatment without a formal Lyme disease diagnosis.
Unfortunately, waiting for a formal diagnosis can be a long and frustrating procedure, and as with Rachel, tests sometimes lead to a false negative. And the longer a patient waits for treatment, the longer recovery will eventually take.
A Positive Diagnosis for Lyme Disease with the IGeneX Test
Rachel first considered Lyme disease as a possibility in March, 2017. Although she had already tested negative, her GP recommended sending her blood to do the IGeneX test in California. This test is more accurate as it tests for many more types of tick borne illness than the Ontario test does.
Rachel’s IGeneX test came back positive in July 2017, and the diagnosis was official.
Many Canadian Lyme patients experience this – because Lyme research and medical care is less advanced in Canada, patients often test negative until they seek more extensive help from labs in the United States.
This initial negative testing has proven to be harmful for many patients. Since they are tested negative, they stop seeking care until symptoms return, and the lengthened period between the infection and treatment makes the subsequent recovery longer and more complex.
After the Diagnosis: Treating Lyme Disease Medically and Naturally
As Rachel can attest, treatment and recovery from Lyme disease is no easy process. It took time, money, and numerous micro changes to her lifestyle.
Treatment for Lyme depends on the patient’s stage of infection. More intensive treatment is required if the infection goes undetected for longer, whereas with an early diagnosis, milder treatments may be effective.
Given the peculiar constellation of Lyme symptoms, patients may require a complex combination of treatments to address various aspects of the disease. There are many naturopathic treatment options to support the Lyme recovery process. That said, it is highly recommended that patients combine holistic treatment with antibiotics.
Rachel’s recovery involved both medical intervention and natural treatments. Here, we’ll explain why both were necessary and how each contributed to Rachel’s recovery. You’ll also learn about the side-effects of medical treatments and how supplements, including Natural Calm, can help.
Antibiotics: the First Line of Lyme Disease Treatment
Right after her diagnosis, Rachel began oral antibiotic treatment using Doxycycline, and taking probiotics to maintain balance of her intestinal bacteria. Antibiotics are the only proven way to kill off the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
Previously, it was common practice for doctors to prescribe just one round of antibiotics, regardless of the stage of the disease, however it is now believed that such a prescription would not be effective in treating more chronic cases. This is especially true considering cases which have been left untreated for longer periods of time and need long term treatment plans.
Doxycycline, Rachel’s prescribed antibiotic, had certain unpleasant side effects including extreme nausea. The nausea made her feel as though her symptoms were worsening, when in fact, the opposite was the case.
The bacteria release toxins as they die, resulting in what are called Herxheimer reactions. Lyme patients experience Herxheimer reactions as seemingly worsening symptoms or pain as the bacteria are being killed.
Since the bacteria don’t die at fixed intervals, the more intense symptoms are very sporadic.
Rachel mitigated the nausea by taking antibiotics on a full stomach and with anti-nausea medications.
Ultimately, it was doxycycline that eliminated the infection, but throughout the recovery process, it was the treatment with the most severe side effects. Rachel spent 8 months on Doxycycline and subsequently took other antibiotics.
The Complete Course of Lyme Treatment Medications
Medical or allopathic treatments for Lyme disease range from oral antibiotics to intravenous and intramuscular administration of medication. Patients with chronic Lyme disease may undergo pulse and combination therapy, which is a reasonably new choice for Lyme patients. It requires specific antibiotic treatment that coincides with symptom flare-ups. Doctors will instruct their patients with individual regimes that often include periods on antibiotics followed by periods off. Not all antibiotics should be pulsed. It is important to consult your doctor about which methods will work for you.
Rachel’s full list of prescription medication included:
- Doxycycline – an antibiotic used to stop bacteria from growing and spreading
- Gravol for nausea
- Pristiq – antidepressant to treat Lyme-induced depression
- Auro-cefixime antibiotic used to kill bacteria by disturbing its cell walls
- Mint-Hydroxychloroquine to prevent inflammation and to treat potential post-Lyme arthritis
Natural Treatments for Lyme Disease
There are a number of Lyme treatments recommended by naturopathic practitioners. These include:
Magnesium – Often, Lyme disease results in a magnesium deficiency. Taking additional magnesium supplements can help the body to create energy, as well as having a calming effect and help patients to sleep better. We detail the relationship between Lyme disease and magnesium below.
Dietary changes to incorporate anti-inflammatory, high antioxidant, and probiotic rich foods, and to exclude as much as possible gluten, dairy, and sugar, which are inflammatory.
Supplements for immunity and cellular function, including D and B vitamins (particularly B6, B12), omega-3, turmeric and probiotics.
Essential oils – clove, oregano, chamomile, vetiver
Steam rooms or saunas for detoxing
Rachel’s natural regimen for Lyme recovery included the following:
- Natural Calm magnesium daily to improve sleep and reduce panic attacks
- Curcumin to minimize Herxheimer reactions and reduce potential brain damage
- Omega 3,6 and 9 for cellular repair and an energy boost
- Valerian and melatonin to help get her sleep schedule back on track
- Kava kava to minimize anxiety and stress
- Nystatin Compounded to prevent yeast overgrowth, which can be caused by antibiotics
Rachel also made a number of lifestyle changes to cope with Lyme symptoms and the side-effects of treatment.
Sleep was essential to Rachel’s recovery. Her body was working hard to fight off the infection, and she experienced the typical fatigue.
Like many other Lyme patients, Rachel was no longer able to work on a regular basis. She took an eight-month leave from her work. Symptoms of exhaustion and dizziness meant it was unsafe to drive and impossible to carry on with most normal daily activities.
Whenever her energy levels allowed, Rachel began low-impact exercise, including yoga. Getting outside, when possible, also helped Rachel feel better.
Rachel found that hot yoga and infrared saunas helped with the detox process. She also used baths and exfoliating brushes to accelerate the detoxification process.
Rachel believes that these natural and lifestyle changes did help. In particular, she found that Natural Calm magnesium and kava kava significantly improved her sleep and reduced the intensity and frequency of anxiety and panic attacks.
Magnesium — including Epsom salts soaks — quickly took the place of the everyday Advils and Aspirins. These methods may also have helped with the pain associated with Lyme inflammation once regular painkillers became ineffective.
Magnesium Deficiency in Lyme Patients
For years, Canadians with Lyme disease have been using Natural Calm magnesium as part of their treatment. We often hear from Natural Calm customers who tell us how magnesium helps. In fact, we’ve been approached by Lyme support groups who openly advocate for Natural Calm.
But why does magnesium help relieve symptoms of Lyme disease?
Research on the relationship between magnesium and Lyme disease is still in early phases. However, authorities in natural medicine believe magnesium can mitigate certain symptoms associated with Lyme disease.
Lyme patients have magnesium deficiencies for a number of different reasons. Lyme bacteria require magnesium to complete their life cycle, drawing magnesium from the patient’s stores. Magnesium must be replaced daily, so patients are wise to supplement.
In cases of Chronic Lyme disease, the body is under excessive stress for prolonged periods of time and magnesium levels drop, meaning that they need to be replenished as much as possible.
As Dr. Rawls explains in his book, Unlocking Lyme, Borrelia “microbes prefer collagen-rich tissues, such as joints, brain, muscle (heart muscle especially) eyes, and skin. Most symptoms associated with chronic Borrelia infection originate in these areas. The microbes are also fond of myelin, a fatty substance that forms a sheath around nerves.” (p. 26) Inflammatory symptoms of Lyme disease are most pronounced in areas of the body rich in collagen and myelin.
- Magnesium may be effective for Lyme disease patients because of the role of the key mineral in:
- Nervous system health (including the brain)
- Proper functioning of muscles (especially the heart)
- Synthesis of protein, including collagen
- Optic nerve health (in the eyes)
- Energy production (to offset Lyme-related fatigue
- Countering inflammation, a key symptom of Lyme disease
For these reasons, Lyme literate doctors will often suggest that patients add magnesium to their diets or take supplements.
Important to Note: Magnesium Interactions with Lyme Medications
Doxycycline, a common antibiotic to treat Lyme, and the one that Rachel took, is a tetracycline antibiotic. This means that magnesium can attach to the antibiotic in the stomach and reduce the body’s absorption and the effectiveness of the antibiotic.
To avoid this interaction, take magnesium two to three hours before or after your antibiotic dose.
Recovery and Life After Lyme Disease
Unfortunately, there is no real way of determining if a patient is “cured” of Lyme forever.
Lyme disease tests locate antibodies that are created in response to the bacteria, which may remain after the infection itself is gone. Some patients experience symptoms even after tests claim that the bacteria is no longer present in their bodies. These cases would be considered cases of Chronic Lyme Disease (PTLDS).
For those reasons, it’s not easy to articulate what it means to be recovered from Lyme. Like so many other aspects of the disease, recovery looks different in every case.
Now, almost two years after her diagnosis, Rachel has a different perspective on her general health, but most other aspects of her life have gone back to normal. She has returned to work, driving, and reading, and has found that her memory has become sharper.
She still has to be careful of her balance, stamina and coordination, which are not things that she had to think about before being ill.
Rachel alludes to a newfound feeling of vulnerability, and uncertainty of her health in the future, and for that reason she is now more careful to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise.
Rachel notes that the experience of having Lyme disease affected her physical body, her emotional life, her personal life, and her professional life. She emerged from the experience with an “altered perception of self.”
The Recovery Prognosis for Canadians with Lyme Disease
Given the dissatisfactory Lyme care in Canada, many patients go months or even years without a diagnosis, though once they are diagnosed and given the appropriate medication, recovery can happen as fast as several weeks after the antibiotics.
Patients experience recoveries across a spectrum, depending on how fast they obtained treatment after being infected, and how their bodies responded to antibiotics. For up to 20% of Lyme patients, subdued symptoms last up to six months after antibiotic treatment.
The majority of Lyme patients do make a full recovery. The only exception is in chronic cases, when patients have gone long periods of time without treatment or diagnosis. Some chronic Lyme disease patients experience permanent or long lasting joint pain and damage to their nervous systems, but even then, it is expected that symptoms become more manageable with time.
Rachel’s Recommendations for Suspected Lyme Disease
After her long but successful experience treating Lyme disease, there are steps Rachel would recommend to anyone who believes they may have a Lyme infection.
First and foremost, seek treatment from a Lyme literate specialist. There are medical and naturopathic doctors in Canada with expertise on Lyme. They may refer you to tests only available in the US, however, a Canadian doctor is your first step.
Rachel also recommends talking to other Lyme patients and connecting with Lyme advocacy groups during treatment. Emotional support helps.
The medical treatment was, Rachel believes, essential to her recovery. But she would point anyone with a Lyme diagnosis to the natural treatments and lifestyle changes detailed above. Most of the supplements and practices listed here are essential to wellness whether you have Lyme or not and will support a healthy immune system that can fight off infections.
Why Canadian Healthcare Isn’t Ready for Lyme Disease
Rachel’s experience with the Canadian healthcare system mirrors that of Lyme patients from all over Canada.
The often lengthy process of diagnosis leads to continual symptoms, and the Canadian regulations around antibiotic prescription make it even more difficult for them to get sufficient prescriptions.
Many Canadian doctors won’t prescribe more than 4-6 weeks of antibiotics for fear of violating certain regulations and potentially losing their licences, even though that amount wouldn’t be effective in fully killing off bacteria. Symptoms can return after short treatment, if infection took place several months ago (which is usually the case).
The Canadian guidelines restrict doctors from prescribing more than four weeks of antibiotics, which presents an obstacle for Lyme patients seeking slightly more long term therapy.
Since the same guidelines do not apply in the United States, many Canadian patients look to American doctors for prescriptions that they can’t get in Canada. This process, however, becomes expensive over time.
“…There are substantial number of patients who either don’t get a diagnosis or don’t get appropriate treatment.” -Dr. Ralph Hawkins, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Calgary.
Hawkins notes that although prescribing longer rounds of antibiotics is uncommon, it is not prohibited and he does not worry that his medical licence is at risk. This suggests that Canadian doctors could be doing more to help the growing number of patients, but given a lack of education about the disease in the medical community, those patients are not yet getting the care they deserve.
But there is hope!
While the Canadian healthcare system hasn’t quite adjusted to the new Lyme hazard, the government has recently been taking steps to inform the provinces of the risk and what they can do to prevent Lyme disease in their communities.
The new government warnings for ticks throughout Canada are a stark contrast to the nonchalant attitude the Ontario government and healthcare has had to ticks and Lyme disease in the past.
The next step is for the healthcare system to catch up with rising awareness of the Lyme risks, so Canadians can get adequate treatment for Lyme disease.
Raising Awareness of Lyme Disease in Canada
Rachel, along with countless other Lyme patients, believes that the lack of public awareness of Lyme disease needs to be addressed. Rates of infections are rising throughout Canada, and yet the available medical care has not changed accordingly.
She hopes that certain things can change so others will not have to experience what she did. Within the medical community in Canada, she hopes for wider education of Lyme disease, leading to more Lyme literate doctors, better diagnostic tests, and more accessible treatment.
Among the general public, she hopes that people, if they get bitten, seek immediate antibiotic treatment even as a protective measure. She can attest to the fact that a few weeks of antibiotics is much more manageable than a few years of Lyme symptoms.
At the moment, more and more Canadian Lyme patients are beginning to speak out about feeling failed by the healthcare system, but there is still a long way to go. Moving forward, Lyme education needs to be made a priority in schools, workplaces, and healthcare facilities.
Rachel Aide still loves gardening and the outdoors. Her favourite colour is still green, although lime is not her favourite shade. She wishes she hadn’t had to experience Lyme, but she is beyond thankful for the love and support that came from all corners of her life when she needed it most.
Where to Find More Information on Lyme Prevention, Treatment and Support
Other training, information, research, products, support groups:
Tick Safety Training – https://danatec.com/products/1570-wood-tick-safety-online-training
Touched by Lyme – https://www.lymedisease.org/news-blogs/touched-by-lyme/
Lyme Moms advocacy group – https://www.lymehope.ca/
CanLyme – Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation – https://canlyme.com/
Lyme Disease FAQs
Why is Lyme disease spreading in Canada?
Canadians are more susceptible to Lyme disease infection because of the spread of blacklegged ticks across the country. Many of these ticks are spread by birds.
With the change in climate bringing migratory birds to parts of Canada they hadn’t previously been, and the birds bringing ticks with them, areas of Canada that had never before been at risk of tick bites and Lyme disease are beginning to find themselves with some of the highest numbers of cases. Because of the birds that ticks latch on to, ticks are beginning to show up even outside previously recognized tick areas.
Where are Lyme-disease carrying ticks found in Canada?
The Public Health Agency of Canada states that ticks can be found in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia, and although eastern Canada is more at risk, caution should be taken throughout Canada.
Although British Columbia has historically had a greater risk of Lyme disease given its tick population, their Lyme disease rates have reached a standstill in recent years, while other province’s rates have skyrocketed.
Is Lyme disease fatal?
No, Lyme disease is not fatal. Left untreated, however, it can lead to a longer and more complex recovery. It can also be a catalyst to further complications, but the infection itself will not cause death.
What are the treatment options for Lyme disease? Can it be treated naturally?
While numerous beneficial and natural treatments for Lyme exist, it is recommended that patients also complete a round of antibiotics as prescribed by their doctors. Treatment can come in different forms – oral, intravenous, and intramuscular – and which form to use depends on the stage of the disease.
How long does it take to recover from Lyme disease?
Recovery periods depend on how quickly after the infection the patient was treated. Often, doctors will prescribe antibiotics in 2-4 week rounds, and courses of antibiotics will also depend on how long the patients have been infected for.
Canadian Tick Risk Areas
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