LDI: Part 2. On hold

For me, LDI started out well, and I believe it’s going to end well.

But lately, it hasn’t been going very well,  so for the reasons I’m about to share I’m taking a break from Low Dose Immunotherapy.

I’m not sure why, but at about four months into treatment, the positive trend I had been enjoying started to shift. I hoped this would quickly pass, but it didn’t. I’d feel a bit better, then a bit worse, or maybe a lot worse.

Some days were okay, others dreadful.  “This reminds me of something,” I thought to myself. “The year when I first got sick with Lyme.”

Before going further, I should briefly explain LDI to those not familiar with it. It’s a treatment for Lyme disease and co-infections developed two years ago by an Alaskan doctor, Ty Vincent, that seeks to improve patients’ immune system tolerance and effectiveness. Many have seen fantastic results, and the use of LDI is rapidly spreading among Lyme physicians.

But while response has been mainly positive, some patients have had mixed results or even seen their situations get worse.

After investing a significant amount of time and money in LDI, it was hard to admit to myself that I was starting to go backward health-wise and that I had to do something about it.

Fortunately, I chose the right something – antibiotic herbs. I started with a microdose and gradually upped it from there. I’m happy to say that I’m now feeling a whole lot better.

I realize that Dr. Vincent says patients had best not take microbial killing protocols while doing LDI because that makes it more difficult finding the correct dose, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

I didn’t think it would happen this way, because, as I said, my LDI adventure had a good start.

My first dose was a fairly standard 15C (doses are diluted homeopathically and contain a minute amount of dead microbes). I had moderate flaring the first week or so, but the symptoms weren’t problematic. Following this came about a month of feeling pretty well, a bit better than I had been feeling in the months before starting LDI. Then came a couple of weeks where things slid a bit, although that was barely noticeable.

This is called a mixed reaction. I felt a bit worse when flaring, then a bit better afterward.

Because I had flared,  the LDI rules said I had to wait at least seven weeks for the next shot. My doctor weakened the dose to 17C, and again there was some flaring, this time milder, and again lasting about a week.  And again, I then experienced a month or so of feeling pretty well, followed by a couple of so-so weeks.

I hadn’t hit the magic target dose, but overall I was making progress. Until just before I was scheduled to take the next injection. I woke in the middle of the night feeling a bit nauseated, and my doctor decided later that morning to delay the shot until that cleared.

Good call. That bit of nausea turned into a two and a half week flare that I had an awful time shaking off. When I did, I received an 18C injection.

Again, a week or so of flaring followed. But then there was only one week of feeling a bit better. Following that, I felt like the flare had come back. That added up to nearly a month of nausea, body aches, and a general malaise to a degree I’d hoped I’d never experience again.

What went wrong? I’m almost positive it wasn’t some flu, because no one I was in contact with had anything like that. And I’ve had enough Lyme flares in my life to be almost certain that this was the culprit.

My main theory is that I was biting off more than I could chew. The LDI doses are homeopathic nosodes of Lyme and co-infections, and the purpose of a nosode is to stimulate the body to fight the microbes. I also found it interesting that an energy medicine practitioner I know said he was seeing strong evidence that LDI patients he worked with were significantly reducing their loads of the Lyme bacteria.

So I think I was killing more Lyme than my body could comfortably handle. It may have been a cumulative thing where I reached a tipping point where I could no longer manage the die-off nearly as well.

I believe winter was also a problem. I live in Canada, and even mild winters like this one mean that my immune system gets a lot less help from sunshine and fresh air and a lot more challenge from spending extra time indoors and from having to deal with the various colds and other bugs that circulate this season.

For the time being,  I’ll continue taking antibiotic herbs. But the reason I decided to try LDI  was because it has the potential to bring me from a point of being shy of fully well to being fully well. So I plan to resume LDI sometime in the spring when conditions seem more favorable.

For some people, LDI works right away, like magic. But it’s my sense that the majority of patients find it a winding road. That’s certainly what my path has been like, and I’m hoping that the bumpiest part of the journey is now behind me.


LDI: The great Lyme hope

I am a guinea pig.

By this, I mean I’m early on the boat when it comes to Low Dose Immunotherapy or LDI, which is considered by many to be the most promising new Lyme treatment to come along in years.

In a nutshell, these are the LDI facts. It was pioneered nearly two years ago by an environmental medicine practitioner named Dr. Ty Vincent, who hails from Alaska. He had been having difficulty getting his Lyme patients well, so he tried a new approach that spun off a treatment called Low Dose Allergen Therapy (or LDA).

With LDI, patients are given by injection or under the tongue an incredibly small dose of dead particles of many strains of the Lyme bacteria, Borrelia, as well as many strains of co-infections like Bartonella, Babesia, and Ehrlichia. Along with this, the patient is given an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase, a substance that helps build T regulatory cells, an important part of the immune response.

The idea is to develop more immune tolerance to the microbes.  Vincent’s theory is that most people with persistent Lyme are sick mainly because their immune systems are overreacting to the bugs and causing a negative cascade of chemical reactions in their bodies.

Somehow,  in a way that I don’t fully understand, the combination of the low dose dead microbes and the enzyme can cause the immune system to deal more efficiently with the microbes. The trick is getting the dose just right. When that happens, patients feel much, much better, and don’t experience any flaring.

It’s Vincent’s view that millions of people carry these bugs without getting sick, and that a lot of people ill with Lyme and co-infections could carry them too if their immune systems were properly regulated.

There’s more to it than that, but that covers the basics.

The question is: Does it work?

Early results looked fantastic, as, after several months, Vincent was saying 90 per cent of patients on LDI were improving, and many were totally better. That percentage has dropped substantially as the technique has spread and more doctors have incorporated it into their practices, but no one knows what the batting average is now.

I am not the guinea pig type, and rarely try a treatment until it has an established track record. But I tried LDI because for a long time I’ve felt that immune overreaction has been a major problem for me, and because many well-respected Lyme doctors speak highly of it and use it on their patients.

And, because it offers hope. I’ve gotten a lot better, but I’m stuck at a point shy of being fully well. LDI could change that.

So how am I doing? It’s nearly six months since I started, and I’d say I’ve been helped a bit in some ways and made worse a bit in others.

My first dose was a 15C potency. That’s a pretty normal starting point. The range is usually between about 5C and 23C depending on how sensitive your practitioner thinks you are. The potencies are homeopathically diluted, and according to Vincent, a 5C potency is equal to one part in 10 billion of the actual substance. Now that’s low dose.

I hoped my immune system would react to the treatment by shutting off inflammation and responding to the Lyme and co-infections in a more effective way. Then I’d feel great. This happens to some people. Not to me.

My reaction was mixed. You’re told to give it 10 days from the day of treatment before making any judgments, and after that period had finished, I had gone through some moderate flaring of symptoms, but overall I felt a bit better. But the mild improvement could have resulted from other factors.

One of Vincent’s rules is if you flare at all, you should go to a weaker dose after a seven or eight week period is up. The waiting period is because the dose, he says, is educating the T regulatory cells, and that process takes about 55 days.

So I tried 17C next. This time, there was mild flaring, and I felt much the same after 10 days. After another break of about two months, it was 18 C with very mild flaring, and at the end again I felt much the same.

The main question I have is this. When is a flare a good thing and when is it a bad thing? Vincent’s goal is to get patients not to overreact to the microbes and not have a flare, but he says getting a flare means your body is reacting, and that should mean that eventually you’ll find the right dose. He feels the worst thing is no reaction at all, which probably means the treatment won’t work for you.

But I wonder if perhaps a flare can in itself be positive. The diluted dead microbes are essentially homeopathic nosodes, and my neighborhood homeopath tells me the purpose of nosodes is to stimulate your body to fight the germs you are carrying.

In this case, a flare could mean that I may feel lousy, but my body is whittling down the microbial load I’m carrying. And that’s a good thing, as long as I’m strong enough to handle the flare. Having a severe flare when you are in a highly weakened condition is usually a very bad thing in my experience, as it can lead to serious setbacks.

My other question is that while getting the dose right means you’ll start reacting to the microbes more effectively, does missing the right dose lead to your body to deal with the microbes less effectively?  I sometimes get the sense that since starting LDI my body has become more likely to overreact to the germs.

There’s also the opportunity cost of LDI. Vincent recommends patients stay off killing protocols until they’ve found the correct, or target dose, which will be given regularly once it’s been established as a way of keeping patients well. But I’m six months in and really at much the same point as where I started. Would I have been better off now if I’d gone with other treatment options?

As guinea pigs go, I’m a stubborn one, so I’ll give it at least one more try. There are many cases where people go many months searching for the target dose, and once they find it, it’s like sticking a key in the ignition switch. Vrroom, vroom, and life is all of a sudden a whole lot better. Knowing that makes it very difficult to give up on the great Lyme hope.

Beating Lyme with the anti-inflammatory lifestyle

People with Lyme disease hear the words all the time. Eat anti-inflammatory foods, take anti-inflammatory supplements, and if you need to, take anti-inflammatory medications.

This makes sense, as the smart doctors tell us that inflammation is a key problem in Lyme.

But what about taking this one step further and living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle?

Now, what is an anti-inflammatory lifestyle? The idea occurred to me a while back as I was rushing around just trying to get things done that needed doing.  Basically, it means chilling out.

Having Lyme cuts into the number of productive hours I have in the course of a day. Let’s face it. Like many people with Lyme, I’m a type A personality, and I like packing as much activity into a day as I can.

But let’s face something else. Being type A might be one of the reasons I got very sick with Lyme. When it first hit, I’d probably have been better off if I’d been a couch potato. Just lying around and resting was what my body badly needed at that point, and I wasn’t wired to do that any more than necessary. The doctors said nothing was wrong with me, so I couldn’t justify quitting work and laying low as I should have.

My fight with Lyme has chilled me out quite a bit, and now I watch out for overdoing things. In fact, I don’t have a lot of bad days any more, but they usually come after I’ve done a bit too much activity. The problem is most likely to happen if try to pack too many things into a short space of time.

So I’m making a major change. It goes something like this. Remember the Seinfeld episode where George decides the way to success is to do everything contrary to the way he usually does it. That’s the basic idea of a Type A switching to the anti-inflammatory lifestyle.

Oddly enough, my nose is an indicator of how well I’m doing. When I start to rush around too much, my nose starts to get a bit inflamed and red. At least in my case, there is clearly a direct correlation between rushing and doing too much and inflammation. The more I rush, the bigger and redder my nose gets.

This gives me both a guide and incentive, as my natural nose is a nice size and color and my inflamed nose isn’t.

Here are some of the changes I’ve made.

  • I used to like combining trips, thinking how much time I could save. Now, when possible, it’s point A to point B and back again, followed by a five-minute rest.
  • I used to drive a bit fast, but now I follow the speed limit.
  • I used to think there was no way I could meditate. Bo-ring! But now I meditate 20 minutes a day, and throw in 10 deep breaths three times a day on top of that.
  • I used to eat fast. Now I try very hard to eat slowly whenever possible.
  • I used to hate napping. Now I schedule a few 10-minute mini-naps daily, and whenever I feel my system is going too fast, I’ll toss in another one.
  • I used to rush around trying to do things as quickly as possible. Now I’m trying to take my time and enjoy doing basic things that I couldn’t do when I was very sick with Lyme.

The idea is to keep my body in the parasympathetic, or relaxed mode, so the immune system can better do its job. Too often our busy lives throw us into sympathetic, or fight and flight mode, which impairs the immune system and gives Lyme an edge. Sometimes rushing can’t be avoided, but as soon as the rush is over, I’ll lie down and rest for a bit.

So far, I’ve found the anti-inflammatory lifestyle works well. It keeps the inflammation down, gives Lyme a hard time, and it even keeps my nose from looking like I should be driving Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve.

Anatomy of a Lyme flare

Ooooo. My stomach. Ooooo.

I’m lying in bed feeling as if someone has poisoned me. “Okay,” I say to myself. “What was it this time?”

Nearly everyone with Lyme knows all about flaring. Some call it a die-off reaction, while optimists call it a healing crisis. Others call it herxing, a short form of the official name of this not so little piece of hell, the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction. Jarisch and Herxheimer were two dermatologists back in the day who get credit for discovering it. Thanks, guys.

I’ve had my share of flares, and more often than not, they give you a fair bit of time to flake out in bed and wonder what on earth caused it to happen again.

Through the latter months of 2015, things had been going well on my Lyme healing journey. A few not so hot days here and there, but no real flares. Then came the night of Jan. 7.

I woke up around 1 a.m. feeling a bit nauseated. No big deal, I thought. I’ve woken up feeling queasy many times. It nearly always goes away quickly. But then I woke up again at 2 a.m., and this time it was really bad nausea.

It kept getting worse, and I scanned the room to see where the barf bucket was in case I couldn’t reach the bathroom in time. The nausea continued all night.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to empty my stomach’s contents, but when I got up, there was a stabbing pain in my neck to add to lingering gut distress.

My flares usually last only a day, so I was hoping that all would be well later that afternoon. But it wasn’t. Was this a several day herx, or even one of the dreaded ones that last a week or several weeks?

The next few days I spent a lot of time in bed, and added shoulder soreness and gas pain to my symptom list.  On day three I tried going for my usual walk, but got about halfway and turned back. Mark this one down for a week or more. Grrr.

It felt like the flu, and this time of year a lot of that is going around. But I didn’t have any fever, and none of my roommates, friends or others I’d been in contact were sick, so Lyme herx was the likely offender.

So for a week I lie low, only doing what I have to do, and resting a lot. I don’t feel that bad any more, as long as I don’t do much of anything.

On day eight, I feel a lot better and figure it’s time to start upping my activity level – get back to my regular exercise, catch up on some errands, that sort of thing.

Mistake! For me, the cardinal rule for flare recovery is being totally honest with myself and making sure I’m really ready to get back into the normal routine. It’s like spraining an ankle. If you try to run on it before it’s ready,  you sprain it again, and you’re back to square one, or worse.

So I overexerted myself and the next day I felt lousy again. Not much in the way of symptoms beyond a bit of nausea, but I had that Lyme malaise that’s so hard to explain to doctors. Mega-blah.

This pattern continues for another week or so, before finally I feel human again and can get back into my old routine.

That adds up to a two and a half week herx, so I had a lot of time to figure out what went wrong. If I could determine the problem, then maybe I could avoid it happening again.

Not an easy piece of detective work. The body is so complex, and Lyme so complicated that I run about 50 theories through my head, then give up and pray and seek divine guidance. I’m not sure if I got any of that, but here’s what I think happened on Jan. 7.

In retrospect, I can see that it didn’t just happen all of a sudden. A few things took place leading up to the event that may have been tip-offs.

One was the weather. I tend to have most of my severe herxes in November, December and January. I think this is because it’s the most humid time of the year where I live. It doesn’t feel humid because it’s cold outside, but since there is so little daylight and no hot sun, the humidity is almost always high.

I’m not sure why this causes me problems. Maybe it’s because the high humidity allows bacteria to flourish, and I wonder if it may have something to do with humidity spikes stimulating my immune system and causing it to overreact. Whatever the case, I’ll often wake up after rain or snow in the overnight hours and feel under the weather.

And since we’re blaming climate change for everything else these days, why not give it some blame for my flare? This time of year brings even more changeable weather than usual, and the barometer swings seem to have a negative effect on me.

Some other factors may have come into play. Overexertion is one of the most leading causes of flares, and I may have been guilty of that. But while being very careful about what and how much you do is so important in trying to overcome Lyme, few people realize it’s just as important to watch diligently what medications and supplements you put into your body.

In most cases of persistent Lyme, the bugs are hiding out in various parts of the body. You want to chase them out of their holes and kill them, but you want to do it when it’s advantageous for you. If you’re feeling horrible, it’s usually not the time to stir the pot.

It’s kind of like fishing. As long as you take the same meds and supplements at the same time every day, the bugs know what’s coming. But when you alter the routine, you can trick them, and out they come into the daylight where you can kill them.

Looking back at my journal, I see I had a B12 shot on Jan. 4. And while I used to have these injections regularly, now I have them every now and again with no fixed schedule.

For the most part, I feel these shots are beneficial, but they are a leading cause of my flares. I’m not sure if they’re stirring up Lyme or other microbes, but there’s no doubt that on infrequent occasions they cause reactions that slow me down for a week or more.

Low-dose immunotherapy may have also led to the herx. I’ve been trying this new therapy, which aims at getting the immune system to deal more efficiently with Lyme, since September.

It seemed to be helping at first, but lately I’m not sure what it’s doing. I see in my Facebook LDI for Lyme group that while the treatment has helped many people, many others have had severe flares.

The other suspect is grape seed extract, a seemingly harmless substance. Made of, you guessed it, grape seeds, I find this supplement reduces inflammation. When I take it, I always do so before bed, but on the afternoon of Jan. 6  my left knee was aching a bit. Since I try to avoid taking NSAIDs whenever possible,  I reached for the grape seed. It may have stirred something up I wish had stayed dormant.

That’s the best sleuthing I can do. Maybe I’ve guessed the problem and maybe I haven’t. Now I’ll make renewed efforts not to overexert myself and to be more careful about what I put into my body.

But like I said before, Lyme is a complicated beast and sometimes you can do all the right things and still have a flare. Not a very happy thought, especially when you’re lying in bed clutching your gut and squinting to see the licence plate of the truck that just ran over you.


Photo by Monica Holli. Accessed through http://www.Creativecommons.org


The double-edged sword of exercise

Exercise. Sometimes it’s been my best friend and sometimes it’s been my worst enemy.

I’ve always been an athletic person, so it’s difficult to admit that exercise was probably one cause of my getting sick with Lyme.

Here’s what I mean. It appears I was carrying Lyme and various coinfections for years until the perfect storm hit and several stressors gave the microbes the upper hand.

Things like picking up a bad flu bug, working in a sick building, living in a moldy house, and doing too much exercise.

There were few activities I enjoyed more than cross-country skiing. I’d go for miles and miles, and I’d always feel exhilarated when finished. Until suddenly I started feeling exhausted.

I had no clue the last thing I needed was to further wear out my adrenal glands, which Lyme was stealthily battering. The doctor said I was fine, but I soon knew I had to stop knocking myself out on the ski trails.

As my health began spiraling downward, I gave up exercise altogether. The Lyme took off, and I quickly found myself bedridden.

My first mistake was too much exercise. My second was too little. While the idea of expending energy for anything besides essentials seemed preposterous, doing no exercise contributed to my getting weaker and weaker. At one point, I had to switch from 16-ounce water bottles to eight-ounce bottles because the larger container was too heavy.

Eventually, I decided I’d do whatever exercise I could manage. It was a good move, if you’ll pardon the pun.

I started with the invisible nautilus. I figured I had enough strength to do exercises I once did at the gym – things like arm curls, bench presses and leg raises – if I used zero weight.

Slowly I advanced to wall pushups. Then I could start walking again. One day to the first telephone pole on my street, a few days later to the second telephone pole and so on. I was walking at the speed of a 95-year-old, but I was walking.

In retrospect, I credit exercise as a factor in a return to much-improved health. The arm curls advanced to two-pound weights, then three pounds, four pounds and upwards and onward. The walks got a bit longer and longer. Moderate exercise became possible once again.

I haven’t strapped on the cross-country skis yet, but I look forward to the day when that happens. The key for me with exercise is always, always, always, do only what I feel confident I can manage and no more. So now that I have a grasp of what my limits are, exercise has once again become a real good buddy of mine – all the time.

Solving the wobbly legs dilemma

I’m standing in the supermarket checkout line with three people in front of me. I’m thinking, “Hurry up everybody, don’t you realize my legs could give out at any time.”

Ever been there? Legs left so wobbly by Lyme that you’ve lost confidence they can hold you up for more than a few minutes. It feels like driving an old car that could quit on you at any moment. Not fun.

After going through this several times, I decided I had to do something. I bought a cane, but I hated using that. Vanity perhaps, but really, does anyone want to use a cane?

Then an idea came to mind. I used to cover Olympic sports as a journalist, and I remembered how athletes sometimes wore compression clothes on their legs to gain an edge.

Usually made of spandex or similar material, compression clothes come in upper and lower body varieties. I needed help with the lower. That could mean running pants, cycling pants, knee supports, knee braces and athletic socks among other items. The compression increases microcirculation in the body and thus increases strength and stability.

A bit of research told me that testing showed compression clothes could increase your leg strength by five to 10 percent. Not a lot, but maybe it could make a difference.

My web search started with compression cycling pants. I eagerly awaited their arrival, and when they came, I pulled them on quickly and headed outside. Then I just stood. I stood for five minutes, and it felt good. Then I stood for 10 minutes, and it felt just as good. Eureka!

I quickly found that the cycling pants solved my checkout line dilemma. I could now comfortably stand for a half hour or more instead of less than five minutes.

The experiment continued with online shopping for compression running pants, compression cycling shorts, compression knee supports, compression knee braces, compression running pants and compression athletic socks. 

The first thing I found out is that I needed a high-quality product for it to work. That meant cycling pants and shorts a serious cyclist would wear, running pants and knee supports fit for an Olympian.

Everything did work, but some things worked better than others. My fave combo is compression cycling shorts, compression knee supports and compression socks. I also found that the lowest grade of compression socks (high grades need a doctor’s prescription) felt best for me.

This combination can be counted on to hold me up for an hour, which is as long as I’m called to stand.

Another bonus is this can all be worn under your pants, so nobody knows. Not so in summer, though. At first, I felt a bit goofy, having the black knee supports stick out from underneath my shorts. But then I remembered that a lot of National Basketball Association players wear pretty much the same stuff, and they’re some of the coolest folks on the planet. Besides, it beats the heck out of carrying a cane, and it beats even more heck out of falling down at the supermarket.