The Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness: Could It Be Lyme Disease? With Dr. Diane Mueller (Episode 210) 

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The Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness: Could It Be Lyme Disease? With Dr. Diane Mueller (Episode 210) 

When someone has active Lyme, we don’t start by going after Lyme. We first need to ensure optimal thyroid and adrenal function, optimal nutrient levels, and support for the lymphatic system.
Lyme disease, mold toxicity, and other complex chronic illnesses can be hard to navigate. Dr. Diane Mueller joins Dr. Doni to talk about the importance of identifying root causes, using specialty testing, and adopting a healing mindset.

In this episode I’m glad to introduce you to Dr. Diane Mueller. We’re going to be talking about Lyme disease, mold toxicity, and complex chronic illness in general. 

Dr. Diane and I discuss: 

  • How to use your mind to help you heal
  • Lessons from her healing process
  • How to know whether you have Lyme
  • Why it’s so hard to diagnose and get effective help with Lyme
  • That having normal blood results doesn’t mean everything is okay
  • How complex illness develops
  • How naturopathic doctors look for root causes
  • Navigating the healing process by celebrating small wins

For those dealing with chronic symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, and pain, and feeling like you’re searching everywhere, trying everything, and not getting better, this is exactly the conversation to help you.

Dr. Diane is a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist who has been practicing for many years. She’s written several books, including It’s Not All in Your Mind

How Your Mind Can Help You Heal

Dr. Diane shared that the brain distorts reality because it’s looking for things that are wrong. The brain can be our worst enemy, focusing on the negatives. But it can also be one of our greatest tools. We can harness the power of the mind to re-regulate our immune system and nervous system, and begin to get that healing response. 

When a symptom disappears, sometimes we don’t realize it’s gone because we’re focused on the other symptoms. As practitioners, when we check in with patients, we are observing for even slight improvements as a positive response. 

Dr. Diane was in chronic pain for years. She found that trying to stay positive was “more than a full-time job.” When we are stuck in our pain body, it limits our healing.

One of her biggest lessons in her healing process was to realize that two things are possible at once. We can be frustrated with how we feel AND we can be taking steps to heal.

She wants you to know that YOU ARE STRONG and YOU HAVE THE POWER TO HEAL.

The Battle with Our Own Bodies

When people go through chronic illness, with pain, fatigue, and depression, they can get into a mental battle with their own body. 

They’re angry this has happened, that their body is not healing, or angry they’re in pain. When that oil light starts blinking, is it tempting to just be angry at the light.

In order to heal, we need to shift that mindset and realize we need to do something to take care of our body. That takes a real shift in mindset.

It’s natural and normal to get angry when you’re not feeling well. It’s natural to get depressed, anxious, all these things – the rage, the upset – when you don’t feel well for days, weeks, months, years. Of course you’ll have emotions around that. That’s human.

Unfortunately, what comes with that is adrenaline, cortisol, and typically a decline in the anti-stress hormone GABA. When that happens, we are literally molecularly changing our body to send out signals to break down tissue and not heal.

While the emotions are natural, normal, and valid, the stress response can worsen the disease process because of the tissue breakdown. Then we feel worse, the emotions get worse, and things spiral. It’s a vicious cycle.

So while it’s normal to feel frustrated, we need to figure out how to allow ourselves to feel our feelings without coming to a standstill or making things worse. We can learn to time box a bit more by developing practices where we feel the anger, allow it, and find ways to healthily express it. 

Because if we get stuck in those emotions, even though we’re valid to feel them, they can get in the way of our healing process. We have to become empowered to say, “I’m going to allow myself to feel this, but I’m also going to be empowered not to get stuck there.”

We need to allow the processing of feelings, not dismiss ourselves, AND at the same time think: how can I facilitate the healing process instead of stressing myself out, which only works against me?

Why Standard Testing for Lyme and Mold is Not Adequate

Not too long ago, testing for active Lyme and mold toxicity was limited, and it was hard to diagnose because the technology didn’t exist. We went by symptoms and history, putting the puzzle pieces together as best we could. It was common to say: “you might you have Lyme” or “you may have mold toxicity.”

Now there’s better testing, but it’s not available from a standard lab, and most practitioners are not aware of this type of testing. 

With standard tests for Lyme, if it shows positive, that gives you the answer you need. But if the result is negative, that doesn’t necessarily mean absolutely negative. 

One study showed that the standard Lyme test was shown to by falsely negative 67% of the time. That’s really high. That means that if your result is negative, the test wasn’t good enough to give you a clear answer.

Dr. Diane shared that Lyme disease is classically caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. And Borrelia has a lot of sibling bacteria. Borrelia burgdorferi is “Lyme.” There is Borrelia miyamotoi, Borrelia californiensis, Borrelia afzelii. All these different types. These sibling bacteria, technically most doctors would say are not actually Lyme. However, they can cause all the same symptoms. And a standard Lyme blood test doesn’t even test for them.

We don’t want to know about just one microorganism. We want to know about any of the microorganisms that could cause the disease or associated symptoms of Lyme. 

Also, a lot of people don’t know they were bit by a tick. If we’re talking Lyme, we’re assuming the person knows they had a tick bite, they saw the tick, and they got the Lyme test. But that’s only a small percentage of the time. A lot of people never even knew they had a tick.

The rash does not show up on even half the population. Things we’re taught, like bullseye rash – well, it’s not there a lot of times. It doesn’t even necessarily look like a bullseye. It is common for a tick to bite us on our scalp, and we won’t even see that because it’ll be under our hair.

And there are a couple limited studies actually showing that mosquitoes and even possibly fleas carry Lyme. So now we’re not even just talking about deer ticks.

So we need to test, and we need to use the type of tests that actually provide the information we need. And then we need to work with practitioners who understand Lyme enough to interpret the test results. 

Because just like thyroid or anything else in naturopathic medicine, it’s not just about the test being ordered, but that a clinician really understands the nuances of how to interpret it correctly.

How To Know If You Have Lyme Disease

With Lyme there are acute antibodies, which your immune system puts out immediately when first exposed, and then there are long-term antibodies.

If you do a standard blood test for Lyme a couple months after exposure, if the result is positive, there is no way to know whether it was from a couple months ago, or years ago.

Plus, long term antibodies tell us you were exposed, but they don’t tell us if Lyme is still active. You could test positive for Lyme, but it may or may not actually be causing the symptoms.

That’s why it’s important to work with a practitioner who understands which tests to run and how to interpret the results.

Lyme also has the ability to be inactive, and then become active again – just like EBV, and just like varicella, which causes chicken pox and shingles. Many practitioners are not aware that Lyme and EBV can become active years after exposure, when a person is depleted. 

Understanding how to interpret antibody results in a way where we are incorporating that knowledge and not just saying “this just can’t be active Lyme because it’s IgG.” Additionally, different labs interpret antibodies differently.

And now T cell testing allows us to identify active infection. This is an out-of-pocket blood test that is has not been integrated into standard care but can provide so much clarity about whether you are actually experiencing active Lyme. 

For mold, there are labs that are able to accurately identify mold toxins in a urine panel. So you don’t have to be guessing; you can know for sure whether mold needs to be addressed. 

What is Complex Chronic Illness?

For most people with chronic illness, it’s due to health issues that were not addressed and instead they compounded into multiple issues. 

For example, it can start with feeling more tired, waking up with a headache, getting heartburn. Those things accumulate. By the time we reach chronic illness with many symptoms, it’s so many different things all happening at the same time. 

We’re trained to think there’s one disease process for a symptom, but with chronic illness, there are many symptoms and often several disease processes at play.

We’re still trained to think about health issues from an acute illness mindset. That works well in the emergency room, but for chronic health issues, we have to think about things differently.

Someone’s disease process might start with moving into a moldy house. The mold toxins could build up in their body due to a genetic anomaly where they can’t detox. The toxins attack nerves like the vagal nerve, affecting the nervous system and gut health.

The gut gets out of balance, maybe developing SIBO or bacteria overgrowth. Because so much of our immune system is in the gut, immune abnormalities develop. Then dormant infections like HPV, Lyme, EBV, that were hidden, start to get worse because of the immune dysregulation.

So it’s like a domino effect, that progresses through the body and leads to more and more diagnoses being added to the list. 

Why It’s Common to See Multiple Practitioners Without Getting Definitive Results

In the conventional medical system, and even with functional medicine, people can get lost and stuck with all these symptoms and issues, feeling unsure what to do next. That’s because practitioners are not trained to think about addressing underlying causes, and even if they have that training, they may not have the experience to guide people through the complex recovery process associated with chronic illness. 

Instead, in the conventional medicine (the standard medical system), it is common for patients to be prescribed more antibiotics, pain meds, antidepressants. But that’s not going to solve what is really happening at a deeper level and can actually perpetuate the situation.

Frustration from not getting help, while feeling worse, can cause even more stress for patients with chronic illness. Practitioners like me and Dr. Diane help patients with chronic illness every day, making it possible to access the specialty testing and protocols needed to finally heal.

Particularly with Lyme, patients get diagnosed after being sick for so long. Lyme affects so many organs, glands, hormones, and other parts of the body. It makes sense why practitioners either miss that Lyme is involved, or say that Lyme is causing everything.

When we get a diagnostic label like Lyme, mold, EBV, or even fibro (fibromyalgia), it can sometimes be an endpoint for doctors and patients. They stop looking for what is underlying that disease process. 

How a Naturopathic Approach to Chronic Illness is Different

Dr. Diane and I keep asking why. Why is this person susceptible to Lyme, for example? By keeping curiosity open, we are more able to figure out why a person is not getting better. 

Maybe it’s the wrong treatment, or maybe it’s only one piece of the puzzle. 

If we don’t keep looking for root causes, that’s when people get lost and, in some cases, unfortunately give up on the possibility of healing. 

Whenever someone says they’ve tried something but aren’t getting better, as naturopathic doctors, we immediately think, what are we missing? We have some good information, but we must be missing something.

As naturopathic doctors, we come from the principle that the body can heal. We know the body has the ability to heal when we give it the right support and address what needs to be addressed. If a body is not healing, it means we’re not addressing what needs to be addressed yet. We need to dig deeper.

Lyme or mold often become the label, but we still have to look underneath that. Why is Lyme able to proliferate? Why is EBV or HPV able to proliferate? Sometimes it’s mold toxicity, but it could be other things too. What are some of those other things that are getting missed, that people didn’t realize?

The Fundamentals Often Get Missed

As naturopathic doctors, we are positioned so well to help chronic disease situations. We look at it organ by organ, gland by gland, system by system, nutrient by nutrient – what is out of balance? We realize all these areas can create disease.

With thyroid issues for example, sometimes the basics haven’t been ruled in or out properly to say if it is or isn’t a thyroid problem. We need to do a full thyroid panel including reverse T3, Dr. Diane says.

People think if they ran a CBC and CMP, the standard basic blood tests, they’re good. Those tests areimportant to run, but they don’t give us all the information we need. 

Dr. Diane shares that what people don’t realize is that basic blood tests (covered by insurance) don’t tell us about micronutrient levels at a cellular level. We can be super deficient at a cellular level in something like calcium and would never know based on standard blood work.

Our heart needs calcium to contract. We have hormones that stabilize our blood calcium levels within a narrow window. Because heart contractility trumps bone health, our bodies will take calcium out of our bones to stabilize our blood so our heart can beat. And in the process, our internal cellular level of calcium becomes depleted.

A missing link, such as a nutrient deficiency, may be identified by doing advanced tests (often out of pocket) to evaluate micronutrient levels, even for people eating a good, healthy, wide variety of foods.

Investing in Your Health

You might have had regular blood work that was normal, but as naturopathic doctors, we tend to be detectives and are likely to recommend other specialty tests. 

Some of those tests you might be able to have done at a regular lab under insurance, and for some, you need to go through a specialty lab and pay out of pocket.

If you’ve tried everything that’s covered by insurance and you’re not feeling better, it’s worth it to invest in out-of-pocket testing and experts to help you get information that can shift your healing process.

In health and medicine, it really is pay now or pay later. Unfortunately, some of this has to be an investment. 

If you’re having symptoms, that’s your check engine light. It’s your body saying something’s not right. We can pay for the oil change or wait till we need a new engine. If we can fix the symptom now, it could prevent the huge medical bill later.

Insurance doesn’t cover everything, even in the standard medical system. We have to think about it as: this is my body and I need to take care of it. We can’t go to the body store and get a new one. 

It’s common to be in denial that our body needs attention. We push ourselves, society teaches us to push ourselves harder, and expect our bodies to keep up. But eventually we realize, this is a human body, not a machine. I can’t just get a new one, I need to figure out how to take care of the body I have.

Getting to the Root Cause of Lyme Disease

Still, if we’re thinking there’s a possibility that Borrelia has reactivated, we have to ask: why did it reactivate? Why is it happening now in your system? 

It’s easy to go after Lyme with antimicrobials. A person could be taking antibiotics or antimicrobial herbs for years, but if we don’t identify the underlying reason it is active, we’re not getting anywhere.

Is there a nutrient deficiency? Is there a hormone imbalance? Is there something else going on that’s making you susceptible to reactivation at this moment in time?

When someone does have active Lyme, we don’t start by going after Lyme. We first need to ensure optimal thyroid and adrenal function, as well as nutrient levels. We also start by supporting the lymphatic system.

Over, what matters is the answer to why. The diagnosis oftentimes is when the curiosity shuts down when it should really kick up. Why is this happening? Why would it reactivate? 

But then also, to come full circle, successfully healing requires a healing mindset and recovery from stress. Most commonly, when people relapse it is because they have not addressed their mindset and have not fully optimized their stress hormones and stress response system.  

Visualizing Your Future

Sometimes it’s a matter of really checking in with ourselves and saying, “Hey, what do I really want to be doing in my life? What’s my goal?” 

But we need to be compassionate with ourselves and start small and celebrate the little wins. This will allow us to get our mind out of that vicious cycle and feel gratitude. 

Sometimes it’s as simple as, “Wow, I’m thankful I have a really good bed or comfy slippers to walk to the bathroom, because that’s all I can do today, but at least I get to do that in my comfy slippers.” As crazy as that can sound, sometimes that type of shift in perspective can be really helpful. 

And then celebrate the small wins. If today’s goal is a five-minute walk, that’s what we’re working up to. And when we do that, we celebrate a five-minute walk, and we move on to seven minutes the next day.

Maybe you’re looking forward to just sitting at the table with your children and your partner, and just being able to stay focused throughout a conversation without losing track of it because your brain fog is so bad. All of those tiny little things can be really big markers and can also create that motivation we need to heal.

We need to see that healing is possible. That recovery from pain, whatever the cause of the pain, is possible. And to start to dream about what our future might hold for us, because that will start to pull us forward, little by little.

Next Steps in Your Healing Process

If you would like to learn more about Diane and how she can help you check out her website here. You can also find her on Facebook @LymeDiseaseDoctor. She also has an online Lyme quiz at solvesickness.com and you can check our her book It’s Not In Your Mind here.

Thank you so much for joining me here today, Diane! 

I believe it is possible to eliminate the effects of stress, trauma, toxins and infections by resetting our stress hormones and helping our body and mind to recover. I help patients with chronic complex illness in my practice every day – by phone and zoom, anywhere in the world.

To learn more about my approach using my Stress Recovery Protocol® which involves optimizing cortisol and adrenaline levels to heal the adrenals, as well as neurotransmitters, using nutrients, herbs and C.A.R.E.™ – my proprietary program to support clean eating, adequate sleep, stress recovery and exercise – I encourage you to read all about it in my latest book Master Your Stress Reset Your Health.

For the most comprehensive support, even with the most difficult health issues (including Lyme, mold and other chronic symptoms), and for access to the tests I mentioned in this episode, it is best to meet with me one-on-one, which is available to you no matter where you are in the world (via phone or zoom). You can set up a one-on-one appointment here.

If you would like to start by following a detox program, please look no further!  So many detox programs cause people to feel worse, which is exactly why I developed my 14-Day Detox Program.

This program includes two protein shakes per day, and two meals per day with a meal plan that I created based on making sure you get adequate protein for healing, while avoiding inflammatory foods and resetting your blood sugar levels. 

I teach you how to eat mindfully and how to detox gently but effectively without feeling worse. This can all be done without pushing yourself too hard and while carrying on with your daily activities and routine. 

Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of How Humans Heal. Please subscribe if you haven’t already, so you don’t miss the next episode. And I look forward to connecting with all of you again very soon.

We’re here to help you!

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