February Subject: Tick-Borne Disease and Mental Health
This month, our call for questions from the Lyme disease community focused on mental health. Below, Dr. Kelley answers your top questions.
Q: My anxiety seems to skyrocket when I am on certain treatment plans - could it be the spirochetes in my brain?
- Sarah, IL
Dr. Casey Kelley: Yes, Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections can infiltrate the central nervous system leading to neurological manifestations. Many psychiatric disorders - paranoia, dementia, anxiety, depression, OCD - are all linked to Lyme disease. These are symptoms of the infection and often refractory to normal antidepressant medications. As you treat these infections, it is common to have a herxheimer reaction or die-off reaction from the treatment. This causes a cytokine storm (and therefore inflammation) which can make your symptoms worse. Herxheimer support such as glutathione, charcoal, epsom salt baths, and other anti-inflammatories like turmeric can help these flare ups. Please be mindful if anxiety or depression are some of your main symptoms - talk to your doctor and family about action plans to have in place if these symptoms get intolerable and if you start to develop suicidal ideations.
Q: Can gluten and dairy cause inflammation in my brain, the same way that it does in my body? Is there something I can do to avoid the inflammation?
Dr. C.K.: Yes! There is plenty of scientific evidence linking gluten to brain inflammation (gluten encephalopathy), meaning gluten can cause neurologic symptoms - not just GI symptoms. Headaches are common, but it’s also been linked to depression, anxiety, as well as peripheral neuropathy, and ataxia. Dairy has less direct evidence, but is very inflammatory in and of itself and most people do better when they avoid it. To avoid this inflammation, it’s pretty simple (yet can be incredibly hard) - cut gluten and dairy out of your diet. I also suggest lowering your sugar intake as well.
Q: Do you ever notice a correlation between Lyme disease and mental health? I have never had mental health problems until I became symptomatic.
- Hannah, CO
Dr. C.K.: Yes - this goes back to the first question. I will often see the only or main manifestation of tick-borne infections be psychiatric in nature such as new onset anxiety one has never experienced before, depersonalization, or OCD tendencies. But it’s also important to touch on how isolating and debilitating these misunderstood illnesses and can be. Not having support from your family and/or doctors will add to declining mental health and it’s important to seek out support and ask for help when needed. Addressing the psychological toll of these illnesses is an important part to the healing process.
As always, Dr. Kelley and Alex Moresco recommend wearing insect repellent with Picaridin 20%, the safe and effective alternative to DEET. Picaridin is safe to apply directly to skin every day for adults, children over the age of 1 and women who are pregnant. It protects against ticks and mosquitos for 12 hours, has a non-greasy feel and is non-corrosive, so it’s also safe for clothing and gear. Ranger Ready Repellents with Picaridin 20% has an even better user experience with four different scents of Picaridin insect repellent: Scent Zero, Amber, Ranger Orange, and Night Sky.