Lyme Disease

Bacteria in the "Lyme" light: Important Info You Need Now

Purpose of This Post

In this article, I will focus specifically on the bacteria known to cause what we currently call "Lyme disease", which are gram-negative, spirochete bacteria in the Borrelia genus. I will explain their infection tactics and mechanisms in a way that is easy to understand and gives insight to the best ways in preventing and healing Lyme infection, which I will refer to as Borreliosis. 


There are 4 known genera of spirochete bacteria that cause disease in humans. These are Treponema, Leptospira, Brachyspira and Borrelia. There are 20 species known in the Borrelia genus that are currently in the Lyme group. B. Burgdoferi is the most common. There are currently 15 species of Borrelia that cause relapsing fever. More are being discovered and added to both groups each year. 

Spirochetes are curious organisms. We know relatively little about them because they can be incredible difficult to study. Syphilis (in the Treponema genus) as an example, after 60 years of dedicated, focused research, can still not be grown in a laboratory. What's more, even if scientists are able to grow certain bacteria- how they behave in a petri dish or test tube scenario is often extremely different than how they behave in a live host.

What Makes Borrelia Bacteria Unique?

Borrelia act more like an intelligent protozoal parasite than a typical bacteria. Unlike nearly all other bacteria, Lyme expert Stephen Buhner describes them as having linear chromosomes, a cytoskeleton and a periplasmic flagelli that gives them rapid motility & unusual chemotactic properties. That means they're fast, (and Lyme spirochetes are the fastest of all spirochetes) faster by two orders of magnitude than our bodies' neutrophils-- which are the fastest white blood cells we have. 

Borrelia bacteria are unusual in that they are among the extremely low number of organisms that do not require iron to live- they use manganese instead. They also possess the largest number of genetic units of replication (DNA replicons) of any bacteria currently known. 

According to Stephen Buhner in his book "Healing Lyme" many bacteria produce a new generation every twenty minutes, but Lyme spirochetes take a little longer and do so between every 8-12 hours. 

What Makes Borrelia Parasitic?

Lyme bacteria are capable of only minimal metabolisms. All nucleotides, amino acids, fatty acids & enzyme co-factors must be scavenged from their hosts. Stephen Buhner emphasizes that the most important thing you can understand about Borreliosis (Lyme) is that the bacteria have an affinity for collagenous tissues. Most of the food the bacteria need is found in collagen containing tissues throughout the body. The bacteria work to break these tissues down so that they can feed on their components- wherever they feed on those tissues is where symptoms occur and this tissue damage is at the root of every symptom they cause. Buhner stresses that if you protect the collagen structures of the body, the symptom picture begins to disappear. 

The Beginning of Infection with Borrelia Spirochetes

Let's use what is currently known to be our most common route of infection as an example: a bite from an infected tick.
    One way or another, a tick that is infected with Borrelia spirochetes manages to cling to your clothing or skin, find an exposed area, bite you and feed long enough for the spirochetes to enter your bloodstream. As soon as that blood meal starts to enter its body, the spirochetes in the mid-gut of the tick become activated and start to rapidly multiply and alter their behavior and genomic structure. Their task is to make themselves as adaptable to your specific body chemistry as they can in order to have the highest chance of survival. 

      Whenever any organism enters a human body, it will find an entirely unique eco-system. Bacteria, especially Borrelia bacteria, have devised incredibly complex and sophisticated ways of making themselves highly adaptable to all kinds of different hosts and environments. Bacteria already in the salivary glands will immediately enter your body. Those migrating from the mid-gut of the tick to the salivary glands will analyze your blood. Next, they rapidly multiply and actually alter their genomic structure and begin to replicate themselves in a way that will produce a wide range of genetically different offspring (taking into account information from their analysis of your blood) to further increase the chances that some, or multiple forms of those offspring will be able to survive in the new host and avoid its immune responses. Take into account that each spirochete has up to 24 extra pieces of DNA segments that are available to it at any given time, containing information about different possible hosts that ticks might feed on.

      You may remember from my previous article "Valuable Information You Never Wanted to Know About Ticks" that tick saliva shuts down part of our immune system and helps give the Borrelia spirochetes a greater opportunity to infect us. 
     So, the tick saliva has hindered your immune system and now there is a flood of Borrelial organisms, all of which are slightly different to very different from each other in genetic structures, flooding into your bloodstream. The bacteria move throughout your body quickly. Some will attach to endothelial cells of blood vessel walls, some to macrophages, keratinocytes, neurons or glial cells. They will cause those cells to engulf the attached bacteria, and create a vacuole (a secure container for hiding in) in which the bacteria will reproduce. Other bacteria will choose to locate extra cellular junctions instead of cells. They will wiggle on in, penetrating them, initiate responses to further loosen those junctions and gain access to the extra-cellular matrix (which exists between cells of the body). According to Buhner's research, this takes only 10 minutes after the initial tick bite. The extra cellular matrix is an ideal location for spirochetes as it has ample food sources and is hard for immune cells to get to. 

The bacteria that chose to hide inside cells in vacuoles, after 48 hours will have created dozens of new spirochetes. Hidden inside our cells, the bacteria can resist antibiotics for many days. Stephen Buhner states that they can resist Ceftriaxone for a minimum of 14 days.

Spirochete levels in the bloodstream, according to Buhner, tend to peak at 60 days of infection and then drop to low levels (undetectable by tests) in the system. 

The Ongoing Problem With These Bacteria

Lyme spirochetes, once in a host, will continue to alter their structure in order to evade your immune responses to them, and to help them gain access to, and colonize different parts of the body. Recombination of the 24 extra DNA segments also continues to occur every time the bacteria replicate (every 8-12 hours), therefor producing even more resilient and "intelligent" offspring.

The spirochetes can live many places in the body but they have a preference for joints, the aqueous humors of the eyes, heart tissue, the meninges of the brain and any tissues that are very rich in collagen like the skin and the knees. 

At this point, I want to stress that a strong and vital immune system will be able to eventually clear the bacteria, no matter what form they are in (I will elaborate) and rid the body of the disease. This is why it is so essential to make sure the immune system is supported as a preventative measure against Borrelial infection (but really any infection) in the body. That being said, these bacteria are extremely intelligent, resilient and crafty at developing ways to prolong infection and maintain a persistent presence in the body. Their DNA recombination tactics alone are incredible and get more sophisticated as the immune system attempts to take the upper hand and kill these bacteria. In fact, the immune system itself is partially what drives the innovation for the recombination events that occur- they try very hard to survive! 

Once under any form of stress (from our immune systems or antibiotics) the bacteria can transform themselves into something called an encysted form, as well as they create biofilms. They will relocate to harder to find niches in the body and reduce their activity to attempt to hide from the "attack". Buhner references a study that shows "Atypical forms [of the bacteria] were seen within 1 hour of exposure to environmental stress". Basically, as soon as they detect that something is trying to kill them, they will quickly transform into their encysted state (which is considered to be a dormant state). This makes them difficult to find in the body; then when they detect the threat is over, they will change back into their active spiral form. Buhner also says that Borrelial organisms "always create some encysted forms during infection; it is one of the techniques they use to ensure continued infection in a new host". Depending on the various species of spirochete, they have been found to survive up to three years in encysted form.

Take a breath. This information can be frightening, but again, knowing about it could be the difference between overcoming an infection or living in a chronically diseased state for decades. Take some comfort in knowing that our immune systems (when healthy) are actually very good at killing encysted forms of bacteria. I won't mention the complicated mechanisms here, but for those who are very scientifically oriented, you can research Neutrophil extracellular traps which is one of the ways our immune systems trap and kill these forms of bacteria. 

The other interesting thing that these bacteria do is form little colonies or cities called biofilms in the body. According to Stephen Buhner, in the initial stages of Lyme infection with borrelia bacteria, about 2% of the bacteria that come into your body will immediately form biofilm aggregates to start setting up their little communities. These biofilms have several types of bacteria that will live together and they create a kind of gel out of polysaccharides that provides protection and nutrients. Sometimes they also create a hard shell made out of calcium, kind of like a sea creature's shell. Don't stress, there are many herbs that can be used to break up biofilms- they key is to do it gently and slowly so as not aggravate disease symptoms. There are examples of beneficial biofilms in people's bodies too- your intestinal tract should have one!

The last thing I want to touch on is how these bacteria are interfering, hijacking and creating cytokine responses in the body. Cytokines are like little messengers that act as cellular mediators during the body's immune responses. Borrelia bacteria either create their own cytokines or else they stimulate our body's own natural cytokine responses by manipulating them to do what they want (not what our bodies need). The reason for this is to cause the break down of our bodily tissues so that the bacteria can feed on the nutrients that are released in the wreckage. Again, there are many herbs that will support the body in properly being able to thwart the bacteria when it comes to cytokines through various mechanisms. The next article I will be posting will focus on herbal support during Borreliosis (Lyme disease) including herbs for inhibiting and modulating cytokine response.


Because of what these bacteria do in the body, and also being that since every person's body ecology is so different, there is an extremely frustratingly wide range of symptoms that can be present (or not) for this illness and the disease will always be slightly different for every single person, every time it occurs. That is why for this disease especially, a one-regime-fits-all protocol is pointless, or worse, harmful. Each person needs to have their protocols tailored to exactly what is going on for them. 

I hope that by outlining what these bacteria are doing in our bodies, that people can gain insight as to exactly what we need to do to try and support the body in dealing with them and protecting itself.

Lastly, if you have a Lyme story, whether the illness has touched you personally, or a family member or close friend, I want to hear about it! Please send me a message or leave a comment below. If you have questions, leave those too! Check back over the next couple of weeks for my next post about using herbal medicine to support Lyme disease. 



Valuable Information You Never Wanted To Know About Ticks

         Ticks carrying Lyme disease are here on Vancouver Island.  In my previous article, "Lyme Disease is on Vancouver Island: What You Can do to Stay Safe" I opened up discussion about this important illness and highlighted some key points everyone should know in order to keep themselves and their families safe. In this article, I would like to delve further down the rabbit hole and focus strongly on ticks and why they are such a huge link to what some are calling the Lyme Disease Epidemic. This information might make you uncomfortable, it might give you the heebie-jeebies and cause you to feel creepy crawlies all over your body- but it might also save your life or prevent illness for someone you love.

Tick Facts:

1. Deer are not the only animals spreading around Lyme infected ticks. According to Stephen Buhner in his book, "Healing Lyme", ticks carrying Lyme feed on over 300 species. Think mice, rats, rabbits, birds (over 60 species of birds are known to carry ticks), lizards, squirrels, raccoons, dogs, cats, and yes, deer. There are no areas left in the world that are free from any risk of contracting Lyme disease (caused by borrelia spirochete bacteria). 

2. Ticks can live a long time- a disturbingly long time. Unfed ticks, no matter where they live, can live up to 7 years without a meal! (More commonly they only survive a couple, though) (see source)

3. Both soft and hard bodied ticks (of all developmental stages) can transmit the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease. This leads us into our next segue, transmission.

Transmission of Borrelia Bacteria Via Ticks:

        Lyme Disease (what really should be called Borreliosis) is caused by a spirochete bacteria in the Borrelia genus. There are 20 species known in the Lyme group, 15 in the relapsing fever group and more becoming konwn all the time. Please note that these bacteria can also be transmitted by other anthropods (think body lice, fleas, etc), sexually or via other routes that I will not be discussing in this article, as my focus here is specifically on ticks.

        It is extremely important to keep in mind that not everyone who is bitten by an infected tick will become sick. In general, the stronger an individual's immune system is, the slower the transmission time of infectious bacteria, and the less likely for infection to persist. Stephen Buhner in his book, "Healing Lyme" discusses how the stronger the immune system, the less severe the symptoms and illness will be if infection does occur.

      Most sources say that if a tick is removed within 24 hours the chances of contracting Lyme (borrelia) are much lower. In my last article, even I used that generalization, but the reality is that borrelia transmission can occur with tick attachment of between as little as 10 minutes and 72 hours. Less than 16 hours is very common. There are many factors that can affect this that I will discuss shortly.

        Lyme causing bacteria of the Borrelial species are not the only infections transmitted via ticks. Transmission of co-infections are typical, the most common (in terms of numbers according to Buhner) being Bartonella, Chlamydia, Mycoplasma and Babesia. Ticks co-infected with other transmissible bacteria actually have faster transmission times for Borrelia. According to Buhner this is the norm- not the exception for most ticks.

        Partially fed ticks will transmit Borrelia bacteria within as little as 10 minutes of attachment VS unfed ticks. Most ticks engage in partial feeding and this is typical, not the exception. Soft ticks have very quick transmission times compared to most hard bodied ticks. The type of tick is also a factor in transmission times, certain ticks transmit organisms much faster. The more aggressive the Borrelial species is the faster transmission will be as well. Another factor to consider is the location of the spirochetes inside of the tick (it takes time for them to travel from the mid-gut VS salivary glands as an example). 

         Another possible way ticks can potentially transmit Borrelia is through their feces. Ticks poop continually while feeding and their feces contain unique biofilms & encysted forms (a way the bacteria protect themselves) that can allow them to enter the break in the skin via the bite location. This is an important reason to properly clean all tick and other biting anthropod bites and avoid scratching. 

        The reason that ticks are a prime transmitter of Borrelial and other infections (as opposed to some other biting anthropods like mosquitoes) has to do with their saliva. Tick saliva actually shuts down (inactivates) part of our immune system (known as the alternative complement system) giving the bacteria an advantage to try and gain a foothold upon which they further initiate means of manipulating our immune systems. If this pathway was not inhibited, infection would not be able to occur. The good news is, that a very strong immune system (as in those whom are healthiest) will stimulate antibodies to tick saliva and prevent future tick attachments. Those antibodies will actually stimulate tick rejection before lengthy feeding can take place. Contact your local natural health providers to learn more about using foods, herbs and supplements to support a strong immune system! 

Why Do Ticks Carry These Bacteria Anyways?

      Bacteria have formed relationships that are mutualistic with all other living things on earth. Think about our own bodies. We have more bacteria inhabiting our bodies than we have our own cells and most of those bacteria are residing in our digestive tracts and on other mucous membrane surfaces. We have beneficial species that live with us such as Bifidobacterium, Viridans streptococci,  physiological Escherichia coli and many hundreds of others. 
      For ticks, it's the same, but their "probiotics" are bacteria such as the Borrelia species. Ticks infected with Borrelial spirochetes are, according to Stephen Buhner, much less prone to dehydration. This allows them to quest longer for a host. The bacteria also increases the fat reserve of the ticks by at least 12%, helps the infected ticks move more quickly, climb higher, take in larger blood meals, live longer and even become more tolerant of insect repellents. As if that wasn't enough, the bacteria also release a kind of antifreeze which helps the tick remain active during freezing temperatures (in case you thought you were in the clear during those January hikes!). 

        When a tick bites a host, it is looking to become infected with Borrelia if it is not already. It actually sends out chemical signals seeking the bacteria and telling them to come to it. (Again, learned from Buhner's book on Healing Lyme). 

What to do If You Find an Attached Tick or If You Suspect Lyme Infection:

      If you find a tick, follow the safe removal techniques outlined by CanLyme (Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation). Under no circumstance should you try smothering it with anything, burning it or using expensive essential oils because you saw someone else try it on the internet. Unorthodox removal methods can cause the tick to panic, regurgitate and speed up transmission of infectious bacteria. Stick to the known safe removal methods, but get it out as soon as you can. I carry a small zipper kit with me at all times and keep one in the first aid kit at home. I have been really fortunate to have never had need of it so far.

      Stephen Buhner recommends putting tincture of Andrographis on the site of the bite (after tick removal) and then putting a dab of Bentonite clay

      Be aware that if any rash forms you need to seek immediate medical attention, or do so if you develop flu-like symptoms a few days to a few weeks after the bite.

      If you suspect that you have had a long-standing infection with Lyme, note that tests are unfortunately not as accurate as one would hope. Tests consistently miss infection with spirochetes. The Elisa test looks at blood serum for antibodies. 40% of people known to have Lyme because of the tell-tale bulls-eye rash still test negative with this test. Stephen Buhner says that the best test of all is a biopsy + culture of spirochetes which he says is still not very effective. He mentions the best test for long standing infection to be the Advanced laboratory Lyme test which he states as 92% effective but it takes 2-4 months for results. CanLyme can recommend testing methods to actually test ticks for infection (you have to keep them alive!). They have directions for this. 

       I feel very called to learn everything I can about this illness and pass along that information. I have met many people in our area over the years who have been suffering with this infection chronically and my heart has ached to be able to offer them more support and understanding around this illness. I have been really fortunate that this illness has not touched me on a personal level. If you or your loved ones in our area have suffered with Lyme infection, I want to hear your story! Please comment or send me a message!

      Over the next few months, I hope to write several more articles on Lyme, specifically on the bacteria and how they affect the immune system and how we can use herbal medicine to support the body and help treat Borrelial infection. Please send me your questions and I will do my very best to answer them in any future articles to do with Lyme! 

       I know this information can get overwhelming- but ignoring it will not make ticks go away. Knowledge really is power and only in knowing more about something can we take active measures to help ourselves and others. 





Lyme Disease is on Vancouver Island: What Can You Do to Stay Safe

      Lyme-infected ticks are, and have been on Vancouver Island for much longer than the public has been aware of. Part of the problem has been that until very recently, health officials here were told that Lyme disease did not exist on Vancouver Island. Medical boards & health authorities did not have accurate information and were not trained to test for Lyme disease.

        Many people on Vancouver Island that have been infected with Lyme disease were given inadequate testing (if any) as well as inadequate treatment, including Dr. Martin Rodgers who was bitten at his home on the Malahat. Rodgers developed a bulls-eye rash (rashes only occur in approximately 30% of Lyme patients with only 9% reporting the classic "bulls-eye" formation) and was given two days of antibiotics and told not to worry. After developing classic Lyme symptoms such as chronic fatigue and pain, he had to obtain a test result from a US private labratory which confirmed the presence of Borrelia Burgdorferi bacteria which causes Lyme Disease.

       Dr. Lucy Kinninmonth, a veterinarian from Vancouver Island has seen about 20 specialists who had tested her for everything but Lyme disease because doctors told her "We don't have Lyme disease here". She finally had to spend 900.00 to send her own blood sample to a lab in California and her result came back as strongly positive for Lyme. 

       There are at least four species of ticks known to carry Lyme disease on Vancouver Island. There is also a species that is carrying another Lyme causing bacteria called "Borrelia genomospecies 2" that is commonly found on rabbits, but can bite anyone and potentially spread Lyme disease. 

      Thankfully, things are starting to shift- largely in part because of the work of non-profit organizations such as the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation (CanLyme) as well as new legislature thanks to Elizabeth May and the Green Party that will start to change the way Lyme Disease awareness, testing and treatment occurs in Canada. Elizabeth May's Private Member’s Bill, C-442, the Federal Framework on Lyme Disease Act was passed unanimously at third reading by the Senate the morning of Friday, December 12, 2014, making it the first piece of Green Party legislation in Canadian history. Just one more reason to love Elizabeth May and the Green Party! 

      Now that the medical community are recognizing that Lyme disease is on Vancouver Island and that it is a serious potential threat to public health, it should make proper diagnostic and treatment more accessible as time goes on. To prevent Lyme disease, it is important that everyone become aware of tick prevention methods as well as safe removal techniques and that people make themselves aware of what to do as far as medical attention and testing are concerned if bitten by a tick. 

      When hiking in the woods, or generally spending time outdoors, wearing light colored clothing can be helpful. It is easier to spot ticks on white or very light colored clothing than dark colors like brown or black. Tying hair back, tucking socks into pants and wearing long-sleeves and pants will help decrease surfaces for ticks to bite. Remember, ticks do not jump down on you from above- they cling to you when you brush by bushes (like Scottish Broom), plants and animals or if you are laying on the ground and crawl up until they find a nice place to bite. 

      When you finish your hike or time outdoors, do a tick check of yourself and kids. Especially inspect around and inside ears, belly buttons, arm pits and the groin area as ticks like dark, moist areas where they will be most concealed. Give your head a thorough check as well. A brilliant and inexpensive tool that can help pull off unwanted, unattached ticks, is a lint roller. Simple roll the lint roller up and down your legs, arms and torso to help remove any ticks you may have missed with just your eyes (ticks can be so tiny!). 

      Officially, the recommendation is to wear an insect repellent with DEET (yikes!) but if you're like me and want to avoid potentially harmful substances- try making your own or purchasing one like I make with herbal tincture and essential oils. My general recipe is as follows: 4-6 oz of Yarrow tincture (1:2 from fresh flowers) with 40-50 drops of catnip, eucalyptus, lavender and lemongrass essential oils and about a 1/2- 1 tsp of vegetable glycerin. I spray this on every 15-30 minutes when tromping through the woods. 

      The Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation (CanLyme) states that Lyme disease is less likely to be contracted if a tick is removed within the first 24 hours of it biting you. They recommend that you NEVER burn or smother a tick, but instead use a pair of needle nose tweezers to gently but firmly pull the tick straight out by gripping its mouth piece. For more information on safe tick removal check out their website here:

      CanLyme also has a really awesome tick kit that includes several tick removing tools, an ID card, containers to place a tick and directions on where to send it, etc. The best part is, it's only 15.00! It can easily fit in your backpack, pocket or first aid kit. I highly recommend it, especially if you have children or pets and love to play outdoors! 

       If you have been experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease and even if you have received a negative test result in Canada- that doesn't guarantee you don't have Lyme disease. Tests in Canada are highly controversial and considered by many to be faulty and inaccurate. Many people have spent months or years trying to get a proper diagnoses only to finally send away their samples to a private lab in the states and get back the result that they are positive for Lyme disease. For more information on testing see here

     Finally, remember that our herbal allies are all around us and they are powerful healing and restorative beings. Herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner (one of my favorites... and he's from British Columbia!) has an entire book dedicated to helping people with Lyme. He outlines the most powerful herbal allies in combating Lyme Disease- with or without antibiotics. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about herbal medicine for Lyme Disease. You can find it on Amazon here.

      Enjoy the outdoors, everyone!