My family loves to exercise and spend time out in nature! The sun, the plants, the water, the fresh air – it’s all wonderful and necessary for our health and wellbeing. But it’s also super important to take some precautions to avoid tick borne diseases like Lyme disease.

I recently had a scare with my little dog Lola. I found a huge tick on the back of her neck (eek!!!) and after I carefully removed it, I sent it to https://www.tickreport.com/ to identify the type of tick and have it tested for pathogens that might make Lola sick, like the ones that causes Lyme disease.

Thankfully the report came back all clear (whew!), but I recommend using this service if you find a tick attached to you or any of your loved ones, whether they’re of the human or furry variety. It’ll also help your doctor quickly adjust towards the best course of treatment protocol to get you well.

Lyme Disease 101

Lyme disease is caused by an infection from a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi and it’s usually transmitted from deer ticks, which are teeny tiny – the nymphs (babies) are about the size of a poppy seed and the adults are about the size of a sesame seed. They’re commonly found in wooded and grassy areas, on leaves and brush and on logs. Keep in mind that studies show Borrelia can also be transmitted by other biting insects such as mosquitoes, spiders and fleas.

Lyme disease was first diagnosed as its own condition in 1975 in a town named Old Lyme, Connecticut (hence the name!) and the bacterium that causes it (Borrelia burgdorferi) was discovered in 1981 by Dr. Willy Burgdorfer (hence the name again). Many people think it’s only prevalent in the Northeast, but it can be found all over the US and in many other countries as well. I treat a lot of cases here in California and globally.

These days, approximately 300,000 people in the US are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year and experts believe that many more are affected but haven’t been diagnosed. To put that number in perspective, that’s more than the number of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer (the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in women) in the US each year, yet we don’t hear anywhere near as much about Lyme disease.

Usually an infected tick must be attached to you for 36 to 48 hours before the bacteria can spread, so if you find a tick on you within a day or two and remove it right away, you may be ok even if the tick was infected.

The longer a tick stays attached, the more likely it is to transmit any pathogens that it may be carrying.

Signs & Symptoms

Lyme disease has been called ‘The Great Imitator’ because its symptoms mimic many other diseases. It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart.

You’re most likely to be bitten by an infected tick in the spring and summer, and symptoms may appear within a few days to a few weeks, although you may not even know you’ve been bitten, as the tick falls off eventually, and you may be asymptomatic for a period of time or even indefinitely.

The most common sign of infection is an expanding area of redness similar to a bull’s eye. It’s often called a bull’s eye rash, but it’s usually not itchy or painful. It may take anywhere between 3 and 30 days from being bitten before the rash appears and 25%-50% of infected people never develop the rash, but they may experience flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, joint pain, low energy) and think that they’ve just come down with a nasty cold or flu.

Because it’s symptoms are so common, many people with Lyme disease are misdiagnosed with similar diseases like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis.

There are currently two main tests used to diagnose Lyme disease beyond looking at a person’s symptoms. If the doctor is knowledgeable about it (many are not), they may order the ELISA test, which looks for antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi, though it may produce a false positive result and so it shouldn’t be used alone in diagnosis. Often if the ELISA test is positive for Lyme disease, then something called the Western blot test is done to look for several proteins which are produced by the bacterium.

In my practice, I order the Immunoserology of Lyme Panel B test from Immunosciences Lab which includes both Elisa and Western blot tests and looks for antibodies and proteins from Borrelia burgdorferi and other co-infections that may complicate the patient’s condition, as ticks often carry other infectious organisms (studies have shown that over 50% of those diagnosed with Lyme disease also have co-infections), such as Babesia, Bartonella and Ehrlichia.

Conventional medical treatment usually consists of antibiotics, but some choose to go a more natural route and treat it with various herbal and lifestyle therapies.

Most people fully recover from Lyme disease if it’s caught early, but the CDC estimates that 10%-20% of those who are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi and treated with antibiotics will have lingering symptoms, which may last for months or years. Many people are infected with the bacterium in childhood and don’t go on to develop major symptoms until they’re middle aged. In those cases it’s often triggered by some sort of trauma, such as an accident, viral infection, or extreme prolonged stress.

This is known as Chronic Lyme disease, but there’s a lot of controversy about its condition and how to treat it, which can make it difficult for sufferers to find proper treatment from a doctor who understands the disease.

An Ounce of Prevention…

You may have heard the old saying ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’, which means that it’s much better to stop something bad from happening in the first place than to try to repair the damage after it happens. This definitely rings true when it comes to Lyme disease, especially given its tendency to go undiagnosed and to become chronic and debilitating for some people.

Here are your best bets for avoiding Lyme disease. I recommend using as many of these methods as you can for the best insurance. Better safe than sorry.

  • Stick to paved or cleared paths and trails and avoid brushy areas and areas with high grass, as well as sitting on or leaning against on trees.
  • Wear light colored clothing to make it easier to spot and remove ticks.
  • Wear a long sleeved shirt, pants, and a hat (and gloves if it’s cold outside) to minimize exposed skin. Wear white socks over your pants to spot ticks more easily before they get too far.
  • Use a DEET-free insect repellent, because DEET is a chemical with health risks of its own. I use and recommend a product called Cedarcide and it works great for my family. It’s an organic insect repellent made with cedar oil, which is safe for wildlife but kills the nasties (ticks, fleas, etc.)! It can also be used on your house, lawn, and pets (with caution, as some pets may be sensitive to cedar).
  • When you get home, check yourself thoroughly for any spots or small bumps that may be a tick. A good scrub in the shower right away can help to wash off any unattached ticks.

We can help to prevent the spread of this disease by becoming better educated about it and sharing that knowledge with others. Please feel free to share this information with those you know who are often active outdoors.

Ok guys, that wraps it up for today. If you know of any other helpful Lyme disease prevention tips, please do tell! 

 

To your most vibrant life ever,

Dr. Susanne

 

Airplane radiation

Did you know that every time you fly on an airplane, you’re being exposed to potentially harmful electromagnetic radiation from airport security scanners as well as from cosmic ionizing radiation (aka cosmic rays or cosmic radiation) while you’re on your way to your destination?

This is a major risk for the flight crew due to their high exposure rate (the CDC now classifies flight crew members as radiation workers!), but it’s important for anyone who flies even occasionally to be aware of the risks from being on an airplane and to understand what they can do to mitigate the risks.

But what is radiation anyway?

Radiation is the transmission of energy in the form of waves or particles through space or a material object. Imagine waves of invisible energy radiating out from a source…hence the name radiation. There are many different types of radiation, such as electromagnetic radiation (which includes radio waves, x-rays, microwaves and gamma radiation) and acoustic radiation (think ultrasound and seismic waves), among other types. Even the visible light that we see is a form of radiation.

Each type of radiation is also classified as either ionizing, such as x-rays, cosmic rays and gamma rays, or non-ionizing, such as microwaves and radio waves (used in cell phones and airport scanners, among other things), but without getting too technical about the difference between the two, just keep in mind that ionizing forms of radiation have been found to increase the risk of cancer and reproductive problems in living organisms.

The effects of non-ionizing radiation are still being studied and debated, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that there’s risk from being exposed to non-ionizing forms of radiation, depending on each person’s unique physiology and their exposure rate.

I’ve personally found that I’m noticeably sensitive to electromagnetic radiation, such as that from cell phones and laptops, but also from radiation from flying across the country.

airport security checkpoint

Exposure while at the airport

If you’ve flown on an airplane in the last 10 years or so, you’ve most likely gone through a security scanner while at the airport security checkpoint. Security scanners are used at airports in many countries to help identify any potentially dangerous items (such as explosives) that passengers may be attempting to carry onto the airplane. Unfortunately, the scanners also expose passengers to unnecessary radiation in the process.

There are a few different types of security scanners currently in use, with some emitting ionizing radiation in the form of x-rays and some emitting non-ionizing radiation in the form of radio waves. The most common type used in the US now is the millimeter wave scanner, which emits a low level of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation in the form of radio waves, similar to what cell phones emit.

Avoiding airport security scanners

At airports in the US and some other countries (just ask if you’re not sure), you can request to opt out of going through the security scanner, though there’s a slight chance that you’ll have been flagged ahead of time for what’s called “enhanced screening” (for reasons unknown to the public) and will still have to go through the scanner, though this hasn’t happened to me yet and I fly at least a dozen times per year. I always opt out of going through the scanner when I fly and so far I haven’t had any issues doing so (knock on wood!).

As you’re sending your carry on items through the security checkpoint, just let one of the security agents know that you’d like to opt out of going through the security scanner and they’ll have you wait for one of their team members to do a manual pat down instead.

Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it might sound! I’ve always found them to be very understanding and professional during the process, which shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. They’ll simply have you step around the scanner instead of going through it and then they’ll do a quick pat down, explaining the process ahead of time. Then you’ll be free to gather your belongings just as you’d do if you’d gone through the security scanner.

The whole process may take a few minutes longer than going through the security scanner, but I believe it’s well worth the extra bit of time and effort in order to keep your radiation exposure to a minimum, especially if you fly often.

Exposure while on the airplane

The radiation that we’re exposed to while flying doesn’t come from the airplane itself, but rather from cosmic ionizing radiation (aka cosmic rays) from outer space. Only a tiny amount of cosmic rays reach the earth’s surface due to earth’s protective atmosphere, but the atmosphere is much thinner at the altitudes at which airplanes fly, and so we’re exposed to higher levels of cosmic rays while flying.

Also, space weather events like solar flares occur occasionally and when they do, there’s a much higher amount of cosmic ionizing radiation present when flying through affected areas. Air traffic control attempts to reroute planes to avoid these areas if possible, but solar flares usually occur suddenly and can’t be planned for.

Reducing and mitigating damage to your body from radiation

While there’s not much you can do to avoid being exposed to cosmic and solar rays while you’re on an airplane, you can reduce your overall exposure by flying less often and by choosing shorter flights in order to minimize the amount of time you spend on airplanes, and you can try to avoid flights which go over the north or south pole, as those areas receive higher amounts of cosmic radiation than the rest of the globe.

Eating a diet rich in whole plant foods will also help to ensure that you’re getting an abundance of antioxidants, which help to protect the body from free radicals caused by radiation exposure. Free radicals are often implicated in cancer risk, so the more antioxidants you can get into your diet each day, the better!

Here are 10 of the best foods for helping to fight free radicals and to naturally detox from radiation:

  • Leafy greens rich in chlorophyll like spinach, collard greens and arugula
  • Fermented veggies like kimchi and sauerkraut
  • Siberian Spirulina
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Broccoli
  • Apples
  • Chokeberries

I plan to cover other common radiation sources like cell phones and laptops in a future blog post, so stay tuned for my tips on how to reduce your exposure to radiation from these gadgets which have become a necessity for most of us in our everyday lives, but don’t have to be a major health concern if the proper precautions are taken.

To your most vibrant life ever,

Dr. Susanne