To Your Health

I plan to visit the Northeast this summer and I worry about Lyme disease. How can I avoid getting bitten by ticks, and are there nutrients that would help if I do get Lyme disease?

Q. I plan to visit the Northeast this summer and I worry about Lyme disease. How can I avoid getting bitten by ticks, and are there nutrients that would help if I do get Lyme disease?

A. Lyme disease is a very serious disease transmitted by tick bite. The number of reported cases is up 70% in the past 10 years and is probably still underreported. Untreated infection is associated with inordinate fatigue at best and arthritic symptoms at worst. It is most prevalent in the Northeast and upper Midwest, and was named for the Connecticut town where the first case in America was found, although it occurs worldwide. The usual insect repellents, which often contain a worrisome compound called DEET, can be somewhat effective, but you may find the odor repugnant. There is also serious concern about the long-term consequences of using DEET, which has been associated with Gulf War Syndrome.

It certainly helps to wear long pants for a walk in the woods or a park and carefully inspect your entire body afterward. Some of the ticks that carry the disease are extremely small, pinhead sized, and easy to miss, plus the bite may be painless. A rash that looks like a "bull's-eye" appearing a few days after the bite may be your first indication that you were bitten. Have your physician order a test if there is any doubt about infection.

Studies reported in the medical journal Lancet suggest that the tendency for insects to bite may be linked to body odors. Milk has long been suspected to attract ticks so avoidance of milk and milk products may reduce the number of bites.

Researchers from Sweden tried garlic as a deterrent to ticks and found reason for hope. For eight weeks, 100 Swedish Marines took either 1,200 milligrams of garlic per day in capsule form or a fake pill, then they switched over and for 10 weeks each group took the other pill. They all ate the same diet and wore the same clothes as they participated in similar activities in places where ticks are found. The garlic capsules reduced the number of tick bites by 21%. If you personally like the taste and smell of garlic, the only side effect is the offensive odor it may impart to your body.

If you suspect you have a tick bite, your first response should be to see your physician for a test. If your physician does find an infection, in addition to the antibiotics he will likely prescribe, concentrate on supplementing with anti-inflammatory nutrients such as omega-3 essential fatty acid, found in fish oil, and the anti-oxidant nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium. Vitamin A-deficient mice were found to be more susceptible to arthritis following infection by the spirochete that produces Lyme disease in humans, so you should emphasize the food sources of this vitamin.

Since you will be taking antibiotics that will kill both good and bad micro-organisms, replace the friendly intestinal organisms by eating real yogurt or taking acidophilus capsules regularly for at least six months after you stop antibiotics. In addition to replenishing beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, these "good guys in the gut" will help your immune system to defeat the infection.

Grapefruit seed extract has also been used as an anti-microbial treatment for Lyme disease. It appears that grapefruit seed extract can disorganize the organism's cell wall and allow leakage of cellular contents, ultimately resulting in the death of the cell. We humans have no cell wall and thus our cells are not affected.

To date fewer than 200,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported, so the chances of infection are small, but some simple precautions will go a long way to ensure that you will not add to that number.

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