Rickettsia are bacterial intracellular parasites, considered a separate group of bacteria because they have the common feature of being spread by ticks, fleas, mites, and lice.
Perhaps the most familiar rickettsial disease is Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread by ticks. The causative bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, is a corkscrew shaped microorganism (called a spriochete) that resembles the syphilis organism. More than 100,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported to the CDC since 1982, and it is spreading rapidly across the United States, going from fourteen states at the time it was discovered in 1972 to forty-eight states by 1992.534
Lyme disease manifests as an inflammatory disease that affects the skin in the early stage, and spreads to the joints, nervous system, and other organ systems in its later stages. If diagnosed within a few weeks, most cases can be cured easily with antibiotics. Yet, even a short delay can lead to a life of misery and possibly to death.
The disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose. The least accurate test, the ELISA, is known to return an unusually high number of false negative results. The Western Blot Test is more accurate, but can produce false negatives in the 30 to 40 percent range. The PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which measures the bacteria's DNA, is by far the most accurate, but if the organisms are hiding in body tissues, the PCR test also may be negative. Once antibiotic treated is begun, the PCR test becomes a more accurate measure as dead organisms are released into the blood, exposing their DNA.
Once the organism enters the body, it quickly leaves the blood stream and burrows deep into tissues throughout the body. Chronic infections can lead to severe arthritis, cardiac injury, and neurological injury. In addition, infected individuals often suffer from headaches, muscle pains, weakness, and fatigue.
It is much more difficult to cure the disease once it has burrowed into tissues and organs. One reason is the phenomenon of stealth bacterial conversion (L-form bacteria), where the bacteria becomes invisible to the body's immune system, as well as to antibiotics. When this occurs, the only way to combat the organism is to give antibiotics over a long period of time, usually more than three months. Even then, some cases remain uncured.
In the nervous system, the organism can cause a condition called neuroborreliosis, which appears to involve the glutamate neurotransmitter system. In fact, viral infection acts through the same mechanism. It has been shown that the bacteria or virus activates microglia in the nervous system, which move around within the brain and spinal cord seeking out the spirochetes. When it encounters them, the microglia are activated and begin to pour out large amounts of free radicals and immune chemicals (cytokines). Together, these two block the uptake mechanism for the glutamate neurotransmitter.535
As we have seen, elevated glutamate levels in the nervous system can result in widespread damage to neurons and other normal cells. The more intense the immune response, the greater the damage. Yet something worse can occur if the immune system is impaired. While a normal response will end an infection quickly, a prolonged response—which is the result of an impaired or unbalanced immune system—can produce long-term damage, leading eventually to neurodegeneration.536 This happens because glutamate levels that remain elevated for long periods of time will cause the death of large numbers of neurons.
We also know that, when activated, microglial cells themselves secrete two excitotoxins, glutamate and quinolinic acid, in large quantities.537 This may be why neurologic disorders are sometimes associated with Lyme disease. In essence, our own immune systems, especially if they are impaired by disease, can cause damage over and above the infection the system is attempting to cure.
In fact, quinolinic acid and glutamate account for most damage associated with nervous system infections. In addition, certain cytokines secreted by these immune cells block the glutamate transport proteins that normally prevent glutamate accumulation. Viral encephalitis has been linked with this particular mechanism. It also emphasizes the importance of avoiding dietary MSG and aspartame.
Another disease caused by ticks (especially the deer tick) is known as babesiosis, a parasitic infection caused by a protozoa living in the red blood cells, much like malaria, which is more likely to occur in the spring and summer months: tick season.
Until recently, babesiosis was thought to affect only animals, but now is recognized as one of the most widespread blood parasites in the world, second only to trypanosomes;538 however, more infections probably occur than are reported. The biggest problem is that many doctors still have never heard of the disease, and therefore do not know to test for it.
The infection can be either asymptomatic or produce rapid death, especially in those who already have weakened immune systems. Some people may have the disease and never know it because their immune system clears the infection before symptoms manifest. In others, the disease may cause mild symptoms such as muscle aches and joint pains or headaches, while others suffer severe weakness, headaches, migratory muscle pains, joint arthritis, nausea, and vomiting.
Because the organisms frequently invade the heart muscle, heart failure is a major risk in severely affected individuals.539 This is especially likely in someone whose spleen has been removed, or in those suffering from extreme immune suppression. In such cases, the blood and organs are filled with babesia organisms. Blood transfusion and high doses of antimalarial medications are necessary.
The babesia organism can also invade the brain, and pediatricians have been warned to suspect babesia infection in children showing sudden behavioral changes. The infection is very similar to cerebral malaria. As with Lyme disease, neurological damage is most likely produced by an immune-triggered excitotoxic reaction.
A third tick-borne disease, Ehrlichosis, is caused by the Ehrlica chaffeenis organism, a bacteria that lives within cells. While some people will experience no symptoms, others will experience chills, fever, flu-like symptoms, weakness, muscle pains, chronic fatigue, and headaches.
Until recently, it was not recognized that two or more rickettsial infections could co-exist in the same person, however it is now estimated that 10 percent of people diagnosed with Lyme disease are also infected with another rickettsial organism. This would be especially true for those who have been treated for Lyme disease, yet never recover. These unfortunate people may be suffering from Lyme disease along with babesia or Ehrlichia. Most unfortunate is that the strategy for curing these diseases differ, so diagnosing and treating only one does not solve the problem.
It follows that someone suffering from a dual infection will experience symptoms much worse than those infected with only one organism, including severe muscle pains, arthritis, heart damage, intense weakness, night sweats, and neurological disorders. Babesia can result in severe shortness of breath as well. Both babesia and Lyme organisms can damage the heart.
Because at least two of these diseases can infect the nervous systems, special precautions must be taken when treating them. It has been known for some time that when people are treated with antibiotics or antiprotozoal medications, they may suffer from acute worsening during the course of the treatment, called the Herxheimer reaction. This is because tissues and blood are suddenly flooded with dead and dying organisms. Once the dead organisms are cleared, symptoms begin to improve.
This brings us to a special concern of mine: killing organisms too rapidly without sufficient protection. When microorganisms invade tissues, the immune system sends in billions of white blood cells (mostly lymphocytes, phagocytes, and NK cells) to kill the organism. As part of this process, the white blood cells generate a storm of free radicals and release powerful cytokine immune chemicals that result in inflammation of surrounding tissues.
It is possible that the microorganism massacre releases such a large antigenic load that the ensuing immune response is greatly magnified, producing exaggerated damage to the surrounding normal tissues. In the case of the heart and nervous system, this could have devastating consequences leading to heart failure or neurological deterioration.
To help prevent this, it would be wise to increase antioxidant and anti-inflammatory vitamin, mineral, and flavonoid intake significantly before beginning the antibiotic/antiprotozoal course.540 This is especially true if you will also be taking immune stimulants in conjunction with those medications. Doing so will greatly improve your chances of a good recovery free of severe complications.
I recommend beginning the following supplements at least several days to several weeks before starting the medications.
Alpha-lipoic acid 200 mg
Take one twice a day with meals.
Vitamin E succinate 400 IU
Take one twice a day.
Vitamin C (as ascorbate) 1,000 mg
Take three times daily on an empty stomach. Do not eat for one hour afterward to prevent iron absorption.
N-acetyl L-cysteine (NAC) 750 mg
Take one twice a day. This will increase cellular glutathione, which reduces cellular damage. Quercetin 500 mg
Take two capsules twice a day with food.
Curcumin 500 mg
Take one three times a day with food. Multivitamin/mineral (without iron or copper)
Start one of the following immune stimulants two days after the Herxheimer reaction subsides.
CoQIO 150 mg (oil based)
Take one three times a day with meals. This will increase your energy level, improve immune function, strengthen the heart muscle, and protect the brain.
Take two capsules three times a day on an empty stomach and do not eat for one hour afterwards. After two weeks stop the supplement.
Other immune stimulants are also useful. Of particular interest is Lactoferrin, which also chelates iron. I would avoid IP-6 because of the danger of excessive iron removal. Chronic infections naturally cause a severe loss of iron and this can increase fatigue, free radical generation, and risk of heart failure.
It is also vital to take probiotic organisms during antibiotic treatment and for at least one month afterward. This should include prebiotic (bacteria food) such as FOS.
The high-dose antioxidants and anti-inflammatory supplements should be continued throughout the treatment period. Afterwards, switch to your regular maintenance supplements that I discussed earlier.
One of the greatest dangers during prolonged antibiotic treatment is a secondary yeast infection and overgrowth in the colon, which could lead to a rapid infiltration of yeast organisms throughout the body causing your symptoms to return. In addition, the yeast will depress immunity and can trigger the same excitotoxic reactions as the rickettsial organisms. Stool test for dysbiosis should be done following completion of antibiotic treatment.
What About All Those Stories Concerning Dangerous Supplements?
Virtually every day another headline appears exposing the dangers of nutritional supplements. Vitamin C causes cancer! Vitamin C causes heart attacks! Herbs destroy the liver! Vitamin E causes hemorrhages! Ginkgo biloba can result in hemorrhaging! What is going on? Are supplements really that dangerous?
Make no mistake: behind all of these scare stories is money, the love of which is the root of all evil. The alternative medicine sector of health care has grown into a multi-billion dollar business and people are abandoning traditional medical care for these alternatives. They are sick and tired of the way they are being treated by their doctors, and tired of taking bags full of pills that often make them sicker than the condition for which they are taking them. Pharmaceutical companies, feeling the pinch in their pocketbooks, are fighting back any way they can. What they have chosen to do is attempt to discredit natural health treatments and portray them as both dangerous and ineffective.
Wait, you say, it isn't pharmaceutical companies from whom we're hearing scare stories. It's universities and doctors who are pointing out the dangers of alternative medicine. True. So let's follow the money.
Major funding of medical schools often comes from pharmaceutical company grants and gifts. One pharmaceutical giant recently donated $20 million to one of our most prestigious medical centers. It would be disingenuous to pretend that amount of money doesn't carry serious influence.
Pharmaceutical companies also fund many of the research projects conducted in our major medical centers. Doctors in private practice receive mountains of free samples, and often are sent on luxurious vacations in exotic places. Many carry out drug trials for the pharmaceutical giants, for which they receive compensation.
When I was in medical school, pharmaceutical reps would take us to lunch at some of the best restaurants, give us leather medical bags, expensive medical textbooks, stethoscopes, and other "toys" to buy our loyalty. They were always friendly, and over time, we did become close friends with them. In private practice, we joked that a drug rep couldn't see us unless he brought some toys.
The 1960s and 1970s saw an attack on such practices, and soon the federal government stepped in and outlawed much of this activity. A significant number of doctors refused to see drug reps, leaving pharmaceutical companies with few avenues to the prime source of their sales. After all, only doctors could prescribe medications.
At first, pharmaceutical companies stepped up advertising, some of which ran for four pages, in the medical journals and weekly magazines sent to doctors' offices. Soon, such ads constituted the medical journals' major source of funding, and while they continue to deny it, publishers are influenced by the pharmaceutical industry in choosing which articles to print. Articles concerning alternative treatments, such as the use of nutritional supplements, are few in number in clinically oriented journals, and usually are routinely rejected in favor of articles extolling the virtues of a prescription drug or surgical procedures.
Editors of these journals dispute such contentions, puff up their chests, and portray themselves as standard bearers of virtue and truth. This is pure hubris: they favor their friends, and the pharmaceutical companies who pay their bills. You must realize that most editorial staff members of these scientific journals, as well as editors-in-chief, also receive research funding from pharmaceutical companies, and even hold stock in the companies from which they take money! Their prejudice is towards paradigms that support their funded research. Competing ideas, especially those that endanger their funding, are quickly rejected and buried in some lesser-known journal or never published.
344 • Health and Nutrition Secrets That Can Save Your Life Ulcers: A Case Study In Money Medicine
Take the case of Dr. B. J. Marshall, an Australian physician who, in 1984, noticed that his patients with gastric ulcer disease often had a particular bacterial organism growing in their stomachs. This organism, Helicobacter pylori, had been cultured in the past but was considered to be an opportunistic invader and not the cause of the disease.
At the time, pharmaceutical companies were selling billions of dollars of medications to control stomach acid. In fact, an early one called Tagamet saved its maker from major financial difficulty. Soon, other companies were manufacturing similar drugs and spending huge amounts of money to capture the loyalty of doctors, including gastroenterologists, treating ulcers.
Meanwhile, Dr. Marshall continued to amass evidence that ulcer disease was an infectious disorder, not due to excess acid secretion. He attempted to have his work published in several gastroenterology journals, all to no avail. It just wasn't "interesting" enough, or there wasn't enough "evidence," was the refrain. All the time, the stock for the manufacturers of acid-inhibiting drugs continued to rise. Marshall even tried to address gastroenterologists at their annual meeting. No way, he was told. Finally, he was able to meet with one of the higher-ups in the world of gastroenterology and present his case. Much to his credit, this man did listen and realized that Dr. Marshall was onto something very important.
Now, the high priests of medicine will deny that their ties to the pharmaceutical companies had anything to do with these events, but common sense says otherwise. Money is a very powerful influence, even subconsciously.
Had it not been for the valiant efforts of two people working against an entire industry, people would still be spending millions of dollars every year on ulcer medication that is virtually useless and without a treatment that addresses the cause of the condition. The truth, unfortunately, has not been so lucky in many other cases of modern medical cover-ups, as the examples of Drs. Phyllis Mullenix and John Yiamouyiannis vividly attest.
It is interesting to note that treatment today for the H. pylori infection is still based on pharmaceutical drugs: Biaxin and the acid-lowering Prilosec. It seems that H. pylori is easier to kill when stomach acid is low. However, acid-controlling medications now are only given during the course of treatment for the microorganism. Still ignored is the fact that the H. pylori organism is also very sensitive to garlic extract and vitamin C, both of which can be taken for extended periods of time with much greater safety.
Treating the infection with Biaxin, or any other antibiotic, also increases the likelihood of yeast overgrowth in the colon and dysbiosis. Evidence-based doctors are not routinely giving their patients probiotics when they give antibiotics, despite abundant scientific evidence that they should.
Getting back to our story, the pharmaceutical companies soon realized they didn't need to influence the doctors; they could go directly to the patients. Proof? We are now inundated with TV, radio, and magazine ads extolling the virtues of any number of prescription drugs, the big moneymakers. In one ad, a beautiful woman walks though a field of lilies, silk scarf flowing in the breeze, as a soothing voice tells us how Nasal Blow can free you from all your allergies and give you a full life. As the commercial ends, a subdued voice, speaking a mile-a-minute, informs you that users may experience seizures, heart palpitations, explosive diarrhea, bone-marrow failure, and transient psychotic episodes of suicidal tendencies while taking the medicine.
Despite the commercial success of these campaigns, manufacturers must still contend with the problem of massive customer dissatisfaction with their products and the side effects. As more and more people gravitate to natural remedies, the panic among the pharmaceutical executives is reaching a crescendo. You are now witnessing the results of their latest brain storm: discredit natural remedies and scare the public to death.
Unfortunately, it's working. People think beta-carotene will give them lung cancer and that vitamin C causes cancer, kidney stones, and even heart attacks and strokes. Now we're being told that St. John's Wort is ineffective and Ginkgo biloba induces brain hemorrhages.
The vast majority of stories emanating from the media arise from single case reports, letters-to-the-editor, and poorly conducted research that would never be accepted by the guardians of knowledge occupying the seats of power in our medical universities, and who control the scientific journals. When those working in the area of nutraceuticals attempt to have a paper published in a traditional medical journal, they meet stiff resistance. Yet, those same journals will accept virtually anything from anyone as long as it criticizes non-traditional medicine.
One modern ploy of the medical hierarchy is to release an article summary before the issue in which it is slated to appear is distributed to subscribing doctors. This assures that the media will dutifully inform the general public of the latest danger from non-traditional medicine without giving anyone a chance to critically examine and respond to the article. By the time doctors do read, analyze, and respond to the whole article, it is considered old news by the media—who are already on to next month's big medical news.
Upon its release by the media, the public is told that the story comes from one of the most prestigious medical journals in the known universe, so who could possibly criticize it? This is what we are up against. But, you should understand that to the pharmaceutical companies and the evidence-based medical hierarchy this is a "take-no-prisoners" war.
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