One of the unfortunate realities of Lyme disease is that it can lead to other chronic health conditions. For instance, some researchers and Lyme-literate doctors believe that people with Lyme are at an increased risk for cancer. As it is, one in two men and one and three women in the United States will get cancer at some point during their lifetime, due to the plethora of toxins in the environment, which are responsible for over 75% of all cancers, according to American Medical Research LLC (AMR), a widely regarded medical research company.[i] People with Lyme disease may be at an even greater risk, because Lyme disease damages cells, causes inflammation, influences hormone levels and creates increased levels of toxicity in the body, among other biochemical problems. These issues can lead to DNA and mitochondrial damage that are associated with cancer.
In addition to my work as a Lyme disease researcher, I have helped to write two cancer books involving 15 integrative doctors, and have interviewed over 50 integrative cancer doctors for a podcast series that I host for the Alternative Cancer Research Institute. My work with many doctors has taught me that in today’s toxic world, everybody is susceptible to cancer, but perhaps especially those of us who are already battling chronic disease, so it makes good sense to take steps to prevent it. The good news is that it can often be prevented.
Many integrative oncologists, such as Robert Eslinger, DO, in my book, Defeat Cancer: 15 Doctors of Integrative and Naturopathic Medicine Tell You How contend that the following three conditions in the body can increase cancer risk. Dr. Eslinger calls them the “three I’s.”[ii] They are: Inflammation, Infections and Insulin (or high insulin). People with Lyme disease tend to have all three, which also provides evidence that people with Lyme may be more susceptible to cancer.
Many people with chronic Lyme disease already know that eliminating infections is the first crucial step toward wellness and toward preventing other illnesses, such as cancer. Antibiotic therapy is still considered to be the standard of care for eliminating infections, although many integrative doctors are now incorporating additional strategies, such as herbal remedies, ozone therapy and hyperbaric oxygen into their patients’ regimens. In cases of chronic Lyme disease, and according to ILADS doctors, at least six months of treatment, but more commonly, 2-3 years of treatment are needed to eliminate the pathogen load.
Many people with Lyme disease also have high levels of insulin and blood sugar regulation problems due to hormonal de-regulation, inflammation and other biochemical problems caused by Lyme disease. Nearly every Lyme-literate doctor that I have interviewed over the years has shared this fact, as well. High insulin levels are exacerbated by a high-glycemic and carbohydrate-rich diet, so it makes sense that many Lyme-literate doctors also recommend a low-carb, moderate protein and high-fat diet.
Common dietary recommendations include healthy fats such as nuts, coconut oil, avocados and olive oil; low-glycemic fruits and vegetables, especially dark, leafy greens, and organic animal protein sources such as eggs, beef, turkey, ostrich, lamb, chicken; low-mercury fish such as wild salmon or sardines, and wild game meat. Keeping insulin levels down is crucial for preventing cancer and other conditions such as metabolic syndrome, and I have observed that many people with Lyme disease feel better when they keep the amount of carbohydrates that they consume in their diet to a minimum. Some Lyme-literate doctors also believe that too many high-carbohydrate foods such as white rice and high-glycemic fruits can feed Borrelia and yeast infections, so they encourage their patients to minimize their consumption of these. Inflammation has been implicated in cancer as well as Lyme disease.
In fact, inflammation is the one factor that is common to all chronic health conditions. Most Lyme-literate doctors believe that reducing inflammation is therefore key for recovery from chronic Lyme disease. A variety of supplements have been found in studies to help accomplish this; things such as Vitamins C and D, turmeric, and omega-3 EFAs are among the most well studied. All of these are widely advocated among the integrative cancer doctors that I interviewed for Defeat Cancer because of the immense amount of research backing their effectiveness for cancer prevention and treatment. Lyme-literate doctors often advocate them for their Lyme patients, as well, to support immune function and reduce inflammation.
Finally, exercise has been shown in studies to reduce insulin resistance and combat inflammation, and may therefore also help to support immune function so that the body can not only more easily heal from Lyme, but also prevent cancer. Many people with Lyme disease struggle to exercise, but even 30 minutes of walking, 3-4 days per week, has been shown to lower insulin resistance. For example, one study, the results of which were published in August 2014 in the Global Journal of Health Science revealed that 30 minutes of walking, combined with stretching, lowered plasma glucose levels and insulin resistance in women with type 2 diabetes.[iii]
As a final note, people with Lyme disease often have compromised detoxification mechanisms, which means that their bodies are often overloaded with toxins. Toxicity has been linked to cancer, so people with Lyme may want to work with a Lyme-literate doctor who can help them to effectively remove environmental toxins, such as heavy metals, pesticides, plastics and other common contaminants from the body. Some common detox strategies may include infrared sauna therapy, coffee enemas, intravenous Vitamin C and glutathione, and taking oral toxin binders such as EDTA, DMSA and chlorella. Indeed, many Lyme doctors have found detoxification therapy to be an important component of recovery from chronic Lyme disease for many of their patients.