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Is Lyme Disease Behind Your Gluten Issues?

by Erika Macchione on July 18, 2022
May is a busy month in the chronic illness world as it is Lyme Disease and Celiac Disease Awareness month. Though the two diseases are very different in how they can impact someones health and come to be part of your health journey, they actually have more in common than you might be familiar with. Let's dive into some of the overlap and similarities these two chronic conditions can share.
Lyme 101
Let's start with some information and background on why Lyme is so hard to diagnose and treat. Lyme Disease is a spirochete bacteria that is transmitted primarily from a tick bite, but there is evidence it can also be passed congenital from mother to fetus.
Lyme Disease is unfortunately a very misdiagnosed disease and there are multiple factors  that contribute to this. First and foremost,  testing is still extremely inaccurate. . Most primary care doctors only use the Elisa test which has been shown to miss over 50% of Lyme Disease cases. One of the main reasons it is so inaccurate is because it relies on your immune system to make antibodies and there are two issues with this: 1) It can take up to 30 days for your immune system to start making antibodies. 2) your immune system has to be healthy enough to make antibodies.Therefore, if you test too soon or your immune system is already struggling, you may not test positive when in fact you are not. Most Lyme Literate Doctors tend to use more reliable labs for diagnoses such as Igenex, Armin Labs, or DNA Connexions
Another component is that there are over 300 strains of Lyme Disease as well as 20+ co-infections you can get with a tick bite such as Bartonella, Babesia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever and so many more. The symptoms can really overlap and so while you may test negative for Lyme Disease itself, you could still be sick with potentially another stain of Lyme like Borrelia Miyamotoi or another tick-borne disease that can be hard to distinguish and not come up on standard testing, if your primary care doctor even knows to test for this. 
There are several other reasons it is so difficult to diagnose but one final note  to touch on is that the signs and symptoms can elude doctors. Fewer than 50% of people infected with Lyme Disease get a bullseye rash, so using that as a basis for diagnosis is faulty and frankly, irresponsible of medical practitioners. In addition, the early symptoms are generally flu-like and most doctors do not consider Lyme Disease when you exhibit flu-like symptoms. 
If you get a flu in the summer, be wary of what is causing it and be on the lookout for other signs that point to Lyme, especially if you do not recover within a usual course of the flu. Once Lyme becomes chronic you still deal with the testing limitations and often general lab work looks normal leaving patients with symptoms that come and go making them hard to diagnose and identify.
Last but not least, there is a misconception that Lyme is an "East Coast Disease'' and unless you are in the wilderness in the Northeast you are not at risk of getting it. However,  ticks with Lyme Disease have been found in every state and every continent except Antarctica. California is a very endemic area for Lyme as well as the MidWest and SouthEast US. You can get Lyme at the beach, on urban trails, or a city park. Ticks can be the size of a poppyseed and are often not seen.
Lyme Is Known As The Great Imitator
Lyme is known as the "Great Imitator" and is often misdiagnosed as Neurological Issues, MS, RA, Fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s, CRPS, Autism, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME), Lupus, ALS, and many more conditions. What this means is that if you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you may want to seek out proper testing and rule out Lyme Disease as your root cause. Unfortunately, Lyme is a very underfunded and understudied disease that we really need more research on its relationship to autoimmunity and better testing to rule out Lyme in patients.
Lyme Can Be A Trigger For Autoimmune Diseases
The verdict is still out on what exactly it takes to trigger on an autoimmune disease, but in general a lot of doctors believe that your personal genetics load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger. The environment can really mean a lot of things such as toxins, mold and you guessed it, even microbial infections like Lyme Disease. "Lyme Disease is a multisystemic disease that has a wide variety of manifestations [1]. It is a complex immune-mediated disease, infectious in origin and inflammatory in nature. Long-term exposure of the host’s immune system to spirochetes can cause chronic autoimmune disease. "
Lyme And Mold Can Make You Sensitive To Gluten
Dr Shoemaker has done great work surrounding a condition called CIRS which stands for Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome. This happens when a patient has been exposed to Mold and / or Lyme Disease, also known as Biotoxin Illness. When this goes untreated, it turns on chronic inflammation in the form of a cytokine storm that is hard to shut off and eventually makes your immune system overactive. One of the first things that happens in this process is patients have become sensitive to gluten and produce Antigliadin (AGA) antibodies in response to gluten. Interestingly, Antigliadin antibodies are found in over 58% of children with biotoxin-associated illness.
Going Gluten Free Can Help Alleviate Lyme Disease Symptoms
When you start treating Lyme Disease, physicians generally advise to go on an anti-inflammatory diet or what many call the "Lyme Diet" to help reduce the chronic inflammation in your body. Gluten and dairy are some of the most inflammatory proteins that can help to relieve some symptoms but some patients may have to go as far as removing grains and legumes as well.
Gluten Can Cause Neurological Issues That Mimic Lyme Disease 
When you think of a reaction to gluten, you tend to think it is a digestive disorder that can cause mostly gut issues. Did you know that many Celiacs and people suffering from gluten intolerance can actually have neurological issues? What makes this more complicated is that one of the most common symptoms in Lyme disease is also neurological symptoms making it difficult to distinguish which condition can be causing your symptoms.
What Should You Do If You Are Not Getting Better On A Gluten Free Diet
If you have been gluten free for some time but are still experiencing strange symptoms you may want to seek out a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor to do the proper Lyme Testing with Igenex Labs to rule out if you might be dealing with undiagnosed Lyme as your root cause to your health issues.
Author and Contributor: Erika Schlick, Founder of The Trail to Health 
NIMA Partners, Educational Advisor