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Treatment for Lyme disease can be a long and complicated affair. Not many medical professionals know all that much about the long-term effects of Lyme disease, mostly because the disorder remains very much in a medical grey area. Discovered in 1975 in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, Lyme disease is a relatively new entry in the spectrum of human diseases. However, it is potentially one of the many debilitating. Despite the looming threat of widespread Lyme, which continues to grow year after year, chronic Lyme is still considered an outlier disorder by many medical professionals. This makes successful treatment particularly difficult. Many patients are hopeful about potential treatment initiatives in the near future, as Lyme cases continue to rise. One of the most promising is faecal matter transplants (also known as FMT).
Before we get into the specifics of FMT and how it might apply to Lyme, let’s take a look at why Lyme is such a tough disease to treat. In truth, it’s not! However, as with most diseases, timing is everything. Humans contract Lyme via tick bite. The infected tick transmits bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is the cause of Lyme disease in humans. The first stage of the disease is called the acute stage; symptoms present themselves a few days to a couple of weeks after the initial infection. This is the most precarious time of Lyme infection – if the tick hasn’t been noticed, the patient is likely to write off the symptoms as a bout of flu. Fever, chills, headaches and fatigue are all commonly reported symptoms, but they’re all generalised. The real telltale symptom, and the only one that can truly identify Lyme, is a bullseye rash that develops around the site of the bite in the majority of cases.
If the acute stage is allowed to play out without antibiotic interruption, the chronic stage will begin after the initial symptoms recede. Antibiotics will cure the large majority of acute Lyme cases, without any additional treatment needed. However, antibiotics are never enough to treat chronic Lyme successfully. Chronic Lyme consists of an intricate and variable compound of infection and inflammation symptoms. The infection parts are caused by the remaining Borrelia bacteria, which can still cause havoc in the body, depending on its location. The inflammation symptoms are caused by an overactive immune response, when the body overcompensates for the Borrelia infection it can’t eradicate. The resulting symptoms include muscle and joint pain, restricted movement and heavy, long-term fatigue. Treatment needs to tackle the infection and inflammation symptoms simultaneously, making it a very complicated process.
To compound things, Lyme affects each patient differently. Some people might suffer from very little infection symptoms, but be plagued by widespread inflammation. Some might even suffer from neuroborreliosis, a severe development where the Borrelia bacteria infiltrates the blood-brain barrier and causes a number of cognitive symptoms. A disease with widespread afflictions requires widespread treatments. But could faecal matter transplants for Lyme patients be part of the answer?
Let’s take a look at what FMT actually involves before we investigate how it might apply to Lyme. As the name suggests, FMT involves a doctor transferring faecal matter from a healthy donor into the gut of a patient. The faecal matter is replenished and cleaned to concentrate all live bacteria – for example, in a capsule that may be ingested similar to a probiotic. The gut is home to millions of bacteria, all of which are in delicate balance. They make sure we gain benefits from the nutrients we eat, and also have a significant role to play in our immune response and overall health. If illness or infection throws our gut balance out of whack, the results can be extremely detrimental. Faecal matter from a healthy donor can encourage helpful bacteria growth in the patient’s gut, restoring some balance and supporting the body as it fights the illness or infection. Recent research suggests that FMT may be a powerful potential therapeutic application in the future to help fight a number of chronic diseases such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, hay fever, chronic fatigue syndrome, and even mood disorders such as depression.
Faecal matter transplants are considered relatively safe, as long as the donor is well-vetted by a doctor and clear of any harmful conditions. When this treatment was first instigated over 1,700 years ago in ancient China, the procedure involved the patient imbibing a liquid suspension of the donor’s faeces; a highly risky (and rather repulsive) technique that has since been overtaken by safe, sterile and modern methods. Gut health is hugely important, as we need nutrients and minerals to keep our bodies in good shape. Without that, patients are surely fighting a losing battle against any chronic condition.
So could FMT be a potential treatment for Lyme? Currently, any evidence of it being helpful are only anecdotal, and further research is necessary to ascertain just how effective it might be. However, given that FMT helps a number of other chronic conditions, and taking into account the role the immune system plays in chronic Lyme, there is a good foundation for suspecting it might significantly help. As it stands, the treatment for chronic Lyme is two-pronged. Infection is fought via traditional antibiotics, while inflammation is tackled using supplements from outlets like Make Well, whose all-natural product range is designed to support the treatment of chronic conditions. But as to whether faecal matter transplants provide an effective new tool for doctors on the frontline of Lyme disease? Only time, and more research, will tell.