What is Lyme disease?
To truly understand the complex illness known as Lyme disease, we must first define it. Per textbook definition, Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Acute Lyme disease, if caught early, can be adequately treated by short courses of antibiotics. However, many people are not diagnosed and/or treated, and thus Lyme disease can become chronic.
In my opinion, to define Lyme disease as simply an infection with Borrelia burgdorferi is inadequate. Firstly, we know that there are multiple strains of Borrelia that can be involved. There are also co-infections of Lyme – other bacteria and protozoa such as Bartonella, Babesia, Ehrlichia and Rickettsia that can also be transmitted via the same tick bite. Many chronic Lyme patients are also infected with Mycoplasma pneumonia, Chlamydia pneumonia; viruses such as Epstein-Barr, Cytomegalovirus and Human Herpes virus 6; and experience overgrowth of yeast such as Candida albicans.
However, to truly understand Lyme disease, we must recognize that it is a complex, multi-system illness, potentially involving every system of the body – we see neurological involvement, hormone dysregulation, musculoskeletal damage, immune suppression, digestive issues, and the list goes on. It is in recognizing the widespread impacts of Lyme on the body that we realize the need for comprehensive, holistic treatment modalities. Simply treating with antibiotics/antimicrobials is not enough.
Two fundamental outcomes of chronic Lyme are inflammation and toxicity. Inflammation is created through immune activation – as the immune system tries to fight the overwhelming infection, inflammation is naturally created. Inflammation is responsible for much of the chronic pain that is so common in Lyme, but it can also impact the brain. Neuro-inflammation is responsible for the Lyme symptom
s we refer to as “Lyme Brain” – cognitive issues such as short-term memory loss, problems with focus and concentration, and foggy thinking; along with mood changes ranging from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, rages, and OCD behaviors to name just a few.
Toxicity is also a big factor in Lyme. When bacteria and parasites are killed, they release toxins that the body must deal with. This is known as a Herxheimer reaction (aka Herx), whereby patients can feel worse before better when they start treatment, add a new treatment or therapy. Further, Lyme patients often experience other toxic burdens on their bodies. The two major ones I see are mycotoxins (toxins coming from mold spores), and toxic metals such as lead, mercury, aluminum, and arsenic.
Why are Lyme patients more susceptible to these toxins? Much relates to genetics – gene mutations such as MTHFR, CBS, and COMT compromise one’s ability to detoxify. We also see an increase in oxidative stress with these multiple stressors on the body which causes further cell damage. Variations in HLA phenotypes also appears to play a role in susceptibility to Lyme and mycotoxins through their role in immune regulation. Further, Lyme is immune-suppressive, leading to lower defenses against other toxins and pathogens.
The Benefits of Using an Infrared Sauna
ofor Lyme disease
With that background, we can clearly see the role that full-spectrum infrared saunas can play in Lyme disease treatment. There are several mechanisms by which infrared sauna therapy helps Lyme patients.
- 1. Enhancing Detoxification
In my opinion, the primary consideration is its role in detoxification. This occurs through the sweat glands and the skin.
The skin is the largest organ in the body, covering on average more than twenty square feet. Accounting into 15% of our body weight, our skin is home to at least a thousand nerve endings and 650 sweat glands, all the while serving as that first line of foreign defense against pathogens. Our skin is constantly absorbing and eliminating toxins as we interact with the changes in our external environment.
Many toxins in our body are sequestered in adipose cells (fat cells). The body does this to protect itself – if it can tuck away toxins in fat cells they are less likely to cause damage to vital organs. The heating effect of infrared sauna stimulates the release of toxins from adipose cells as well as other organs and tissues of the body. Sweat glands kick into gear to help the body cool itself in response to that, and the skin provides the vessel through which toxins are removed from the body.
2. Boosting Metabolic Function and Reducing Oxidative Stress
Infrared sauna boosts metabolic function and reduces oxidative stress. Our ATP, which is our “energy currency” is produced in the mitochondria of our cells. Oxidative stress, toxicity, and chronic infections such as Lyme all damage the mitochondria and create more oxidative stress. Therefore, a body carrying out efficient detoxification obtains a higher threshold to tolerate oxidative stress – whether from the environment, negative genetic predispositions, or disease states.
TThe infrared sauna also serves to reduce inflammation within the body. As previously mentioned, inflammation is one of the fundamentals elements to overcome in Lyme patients, contributing to much of patients’ pain and dysfunction.
In many cases, Lyme patients carry genetic mutations such as the MTHFR and HLA-1 and 2. These kinds of mutations serve as roadblocks preventing the body from facilitating proper detoxification. Combine an overload of stealth, slow-growing bacteria, viruses, and parasites to accumulate in the blood and tissues over time and detox is further burdened. Therefore, opening up detox pathways inside the cells is crucial to allow the body to naturally produce healthy antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione, catalase, and amylase – all precursors to leverage high amounts of detox.
Infrared sauna therapy has the potential to benefit the entire spectrum of toxic states, including mold, bacteria, parasites, viruses, heavy metals, chemicals from medications, and so on.
3. Boosting Circulation
Many Lyme patients experience circulatory issues, ranging from vasculitis (commonly seen in the co-infection Babesia), to hyper-coagulation of the blood. Reduced circulation and oxygenation of tissues contribute
s to the chronic fatigue they experience. Infrared sauna boosts systemic circulation up to 200%. With greater circulation comes greater oxygenation to tissues (the blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, and blood and lymphatic fluid carry toxins away from the tissues). More oxygen and nutrients to tissues lead s to an enhanced potential for tissue repair, the movement of toxic substances out of cells, and the removal of inflammatory mediators from tissues.
I have observed that through enhancing detoxification, cellular metabolism, and oxygenation of tissues, infrared sauna
s sessions are helpful in relieving many Lyme-related symptoms, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, pain, cognitive dysfunction (Lyme brain), paresthesia, joint pain, and muscle aches to name just a few.
4. Helping to Eradicate Infection
Heating the body helps fight against the pathogens themselves.
It is common for those who acquire chronic illness to naturally run a low body temperature in which they cannot properly fight off bacteria, parasites, and other underlying infections. As infrared saunas raise body temperature by 3 degrees F, the body can then go into a powerful attack to kill off cancerous tumors, viruses, parasites, yeast, and other harmful bacteria.
Borrelia, Bartonella, Babesia, viruses, parasites and even Candida, are all susceptible to heat. So even in those without inherently low temperatures, raising the body temperature can play an active role in reducing pathogen load, especially as a complement to other antimicrobial therapies such as antibiotics and herbal antimicrobials.
Types of Saunas
Where infrared sauna differentiates itself from regular sauna is the depth of penetration of the tissues, and the enhanced effect that has on whole-body detoxification. Where a regular sauna may get to much higher temperatures, its heat waves do not penetrate deeply into the tissues and therefore it cannot offer the same detoxification benefits. Granted, people will sweat in a regular sauna, but their bodies will not be mobilizing toxins from deep within their tissues to give them the same health benefit. Traditional saunas can also be more uncomfortable given the high heat, and not as pleasant to experience. I have found that most Lyme patients feel significantly worse after traditional saunas due to the extreme temperature.
Within infrared saunas, there are variations of types of heat waves – near, mid and far infrared. Each heat wave will produce different benefits to Lyme patients.
- 1. Near-infrared: these waves penetrate the epidermis of the skin; they do not penetrate the tissues as deeply as mid and far infrared. Near-infrared waves are beneficial for cell health and immunity, wound healing, skin rejuvenation, and pain relief.
- 2. Mid-infrared: Mid-infrared waves penetrate deeper into the body, which sets the stage for increased passive cardiac circulation both during and after the infrared session.
The benefits of this include pain relief, improved circulation, and weight loss. While the weight loss element may appear to be more superficial, many Lyme patients experience metabolic slowing and gain significant amounts of weight often despite very healthy diets. Yet with their level of debility, most are not able to exercise adequately to burn it off. Thus the ability of infrared saunas to stimulate metabolism and foster weight loss is
- 3. Far infrared waves heat the body mostly deeply and directly, resulting in a rise in core body temperature. It is these waves that provide the deepest detoxification at the cellular level, where most toxins reside. They also promote weight loss (with the potential to burn up to 600 calories in one 40-minute session), blood pressure reduction, and overall relaxation and pain relief.
How Does the Himalayan Salt Wall Benefit Lyme patients?
Himalayan salt, in conjunction with infrared sauna, can enhance and potentiate its benefits. Himalayan salts are natural minerals that are known to generate negative ions and assist in the purification of the air.
We live in a world where we are in constant electrical flow between positive and negative charges. What many do not know is the fact that positive and negative ions have the potential to drastically affect our health. It may be counterintuitive to say that positive ions are the ones that promote a more acidic environment in the body, leaving one more susceptible to disease, whereas negative ions are what are needed to carry out a positive healthy current in our bodies. However, this is indeed how it works.
Negative ions are most prevalent in nature. They are generated through the biophysical processes in the air, water, sunlight, and the earth’s electrical/conduction systems. Thunderstorms are one of the greatest sources of negative ions as the ions bounce around water after a storm settles. Some people feel physically different when they can taste the salty air at the beach or get a certain feeling near a waterfall. These are positive after-effects of your body being saturated by negative ions.
In this day and age, wireless data and electromagnetic fields are constantly streaming and polluting our environment, leaving us with a deficit of negative ions. If we could bridge the gap between nature and our electromagnetic environment, both in the home and workplace, we could have the potential to emit a healthier charge in our own bodies. This is where Himalayan sea salt and sea salt walls come into play, as the negative ions emitted from the salt help to counterbalance the harmful electromagnetic waves emitted from computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.
So how does this impact Lyme patients?
As previously mentioned, Lyme patients tend to be more sensitive to EMFs and generate more positive ions. Lyme patients also undergo a heavy load of oxidative stress, drawing the cells towards the positive ionic spectrum rather than the negative.
Being outside and interacting with nature, as well as being exposed to negative ions through modalities such as the Himalayan salt wall, is even more crucial for a Lyme patient. Unfortunately, when people are feeling ill, they tend to draw into their home environments, under the covers, using heating pads and heaters to soothe the pain and discomfort. Add watching television to distract themselves, and spending hours on the computer researching various treatments, and they continue to be surrounded by a positive ionic environment.
As scientific research continues to prove a multitude of health benefits regarding negative ion therapy. These include:
-> Increasing one’s sense of well-being and mental clarity, acting as a natural antidepressant.
-> Boosting air quality to promote clearance of dust, pollen, pet dander, and mold spores. As many Lyme patients develop multiple chemical and mold sensitivity, air quality control is mandatory.
-> Promoting a relaxing effect on the nervous system, a more normalized breathing, and respiratory rate, and decreasing blood pressure.
-> Improving energy levels and focus – a study by the University of California found serotonin levels to be normalized as negative ions were introduced to the subjects’ brain.
-> A French study found the production of negative ions to aid in sleep promotion as serotonin production in the brain increased.
-> The Norwich Union conducted a study in which negative ions were emitted in a work environment heavy with EMFs, the instance of headaches and sickness was reduced by 78%.
-> Pierce J. Howard, PhD at the Center for Applied Cognitive Sciences found subjects exposed to high levels of negative ions performed better in mental tasks. In working alongside The Center for Applied Cognitive Sciences, researchers there have found negative ions to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain; resulting in higher alertness, decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy.
Himalayan salt walls are a highly valuable addition to infrared sauna use in treating Lyme disease.
Important Considerations For Lyme Patients Using Infrared Sauna
Given the hypersensitivity of Lyme patients, and their significant toxic burden, it is important that Lyme patients start “low and slow” in their use of infrared sauna, no as not to trigger a severe and unpleasant detoxification response. As their body toxic burden reduces, they can work up in time, temperature and frequency.
Those with the multiple factors of Lyme disease, mycotoxin illness, and heavy metal toxicity, compounded by genetic defects such as MTHFR, are encouraged to go the most gently.
My recommendation is starting around 90 degrees for 5-10 minutes, working their way up to 140 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Implementing proper hydration both prior and post infrared session will help optimize overall detox. Supplementing with electrolytes and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, and potassium can also be beneficial. Coconut water is a refreshing source of electrolytes and hydration. Dry skin brushing prior to the sauna can promote lymphatic drainage to further enhance the detoxification effect. Some people may find that rotating binders after saunas is helpful – bentonite clay, zeolite, and activated charcoal are examples to assist mopping up any mobilized toxins.
Given that Lyme patients are sensitive to toxins and EMFs, and given that the heat of the sauna can potentiate these toxic exposures, it is imperative that any infrared sauna they enter be made of hypoallergenic wood, and not contain any toxic glues or resins. Saunas must have low electromagnetic frequency (EMF) output, as Lyme patients are often more EMF-sensitive.
The infrared sauna can be one of the most beneficial therapies to assist Lyme patients in their recovery. Enhancing detoxification plays a central role in their benefit; however, infrared saunas also boost metabolic function, reduce oxidative stress, reduce inflammation, and enhance blood circulation. They can also help reduce microbial load through the heating of core body temperature, and the susceptibility of pathogens to heat.
A combination of near, mid and far infrared waves is optimal for the different benefits they provide. Himalayan salt walls will enhance the detoxification effect, as well as producing negative ions to further enhance wellbeing. Lyme patients are encouraged to start slow and work up in time, temperature and frequency of infrared saunas.
Infrared sauna boosts the functioning of the body while at the same time assisting to ease the many and varied symptoms of Lyme disease. It is a modality that can be done easily at home, shared with the whole family, and works in support and healing of the body.
Resources and References:
Metabolic energy: The Cell: A Molecular Approach. 2nd edition.
Negative Ions and Positive Vibes: Technology Review, Jan 1983 v86 p74(1).
Negative Ions for the Brain: The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, Everyday Applications from Mind-Brain Research
Kosenko EA, Kaminsky YuG, Stavrovskaya IG, Sirota TV, Kondrashova MN. The stimulatory effect of negative air ions and hydrogen peroxide on the activity of superoxide dismutase. FEBS Lett 1997 Jun 30;410(2-3):309-12.
Livanova LM, Levshina IP, Nozdracheva LV, Elbakidze MG, Airapetiants MG. The protective action of negative air ions in acute stress in rats with different typological behavioral characteristics. Zh Vyssh Nerv Deiat Im I P Pavlova 1998 May-Jun;48(3):554-7.
Dr. Nicola Ducharme is a Naturopathic Doctor, founder and medical director of RestorMedicine in San Diego, California. She has specialized in Lyme disease for the past 14 years, working with patients around the world. www.restormedicine.com.
Dr. Nicola has written four books on the subject of Lyme disease – The Lyme Diet, The Beginners Guide to Lyme Disease, Lyme Disease in Australia, and Lyme Brain. She has also been a chapter contributor to two of Connie Strasheim’s books – Insights Into Lyme Disease Treatment: 13 Lyme-Literate Health Care Practitioners Share Their Healing Strategies, and New Paradigms in Lyme Disease Treatment: 10 Top Doctors Reveal Healing Strategies That Work. www.Lymebook.com.
She is the creator of Lyme-Ed, an online program educating both patients and practitioners on integrative approaches to Lyme disease. www.Lyme-Ed.com.