The Rise in Autoimmunity and the Sneaky Role of Lyme Disease
According to the NIH (National Institute of Health), autoimmunity, which is a condition in which the body’s immune system reacts with components of its own cells, is increasing in the United States. Currently there are over 80 conditions that compromise the category of autoimmune diseases, and they are said to impact 10% of the population.
In a recent study published in Arthritis and Rheumatology, the researchers found that the prevalence of antinuclear antibodies (ANA) are significantly rising in the American population. ANA is the most common biomarker of autoimmunity, which both predicts and diagnoses these disorders.
What was most concerning is that the study found that the largest increase in autoimmune markers was in young people aged 12-19 years. Furthermore, gender and racial disparities were found among different autoimmune diseases, disproportionately afflicting women and African Americans at a higher rate. This is specifically regarding systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and scleroderma (systemic sclerosis).
The corresponding and senior author could not account for why there was such an increase in autoimmune disorders. The Institute for Functional Medicine lists genetics, infections, and changes in environmental exposures as possible contributors to the increasing number of cases.
Lyme disease, results from an active infection with any of several pathogenic members of the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex (Bbsl) species. It can lead to various symptoms due to its impact across multiple organ systems. It is reported to be the most common vector-borne illness in the United States and Europe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently estimates that approximately 476,000 people will contract Lyme disease annually. What many doctors miss is that it can be a contributing factor to autoimmunity, along with many lifestyle, bioecological, and socio-economics factors often not explored in conventional healthcare.
From Helpless to Hopeful for Patients with Autoimmunity and Lyme Disease
Research has documented that patients can present with chronic manifestations from both Lyme Disease and autoimmunity, especially from suboptimal treatment. Unfortunately, there exists a strong divide in mainstream medicine and integrative physicians regarding the treatment approaches and management of both disorders.
This may sound pretty dire, especially considering conventional treatments for these conditions are often not curative and can lead to severe symptoms.
But there is hope, and this episode of the Essential Oil Revolution shines a light on it. Dr. Patterson, a trail-blazing pioneer and passionate physician, joins us to share her expertise in these areas. It is based on her first-hand experience of being diagnosed with both autoimmunity and Lyme disease and how she successfully treated them for herself and her patients using naturopathic and functional medicine.
Her mission since has been to make this form of care accessible to everyone. You will witness her gentle, authentic, yet fierce drive and determination that she displays in her multiple roles as a doctor, business coach, and entrepreneur.
I was honored to have Dr. Patterson as our guest and I’m excited for you to get to know her, as I was fortunate enough to. We both have the same alma mater, the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine.
This show is jam-packed with a lot of information on autoimmunity and Lyme disease and how hormones affect both. We also weave in how essential oils fit into these conditions and how impactful they can be.
Below is my summary of our interview, but be sure to listen to the full episode here so you don’t miss anything.
Dr. Patterson’s Journey into Natural Healthcare
Dr. Patterson’s interest in integrative medicine was sparked by her mother’s struggle with lupus which occurred when she was 15 years old. She witnessed with frustration how her mother wasn’t looked at holistically and that there was not enough attention paid to addressing what drove the disease. Dr. Patterson then became more intrigued with natural healing and began studying plant medicine as an undergraduate. Not being sure how she could use this education clinically, she pursued her degree in economics instead.
As fate would have it, later she was introduced to naturopathic medicine. The approach and philosophy resonated with her. It was a career that was exactly what Dr. Patterson was looking for, but didn’t know existed. Being based on six tenants, including treating the whole person and addressing the underlying causes of illnesses, she knew it was a good fit. As a result, she went back to school to be a naturopathic doctor. Now she fuses her skills by teaching physicians, coaching, and seeing patients in her medical clinic.
As often happens, her specialty in medicine was based on the patients attracted to her care. She began seeing a lot of autoimmune patients in her clinical rotations. She also discovered how she herself had Lyme Disease and the co-infections of Babesia and Bartonella. Her symptoms included fatigue, drenching hot flashes, and joint pain. Dr. Patterson suffered from being misdiagnosed and was told she had an anxiety disorder. She tried various lifestyle factors and herbs but didn’t get better until the cause was correctly identified and treated. She now has a passionate drive to give her patients the care that they deserve. She is determined to make it so they don’t have to suffer like she did.
Infections and Autoimmunity
In our discussion, Dr. Patterson and I go deep into how different infections, including Lyme disease, are linked to various autoimmune diseases. (R, R, R, R) Unfortunately, this is not recognized in conventional care. Additionally, many people are not tested for the various co-infections that occur with Lyme Disease which can lead to incomplete resolution.
To further complicate matters, Lyme disease is often called the great imitator because it often presents with many different manifestations and can lead to various disorders. It is no wonder that people struggling with Lyme Disease often go to an average of five to seven doctors before being properly diagnosed.
There are several mechanisms that microorganisms can use to cause dysregulation of the immune system and lead to autoimmunity. These include:
- Molecular mimicry – when the body attacks itself because the microorganism “looks similar” (in DNA sequencing, peptide groups) to the organ that it is invading. This can also be triggered by chemical agents.
- Bystander activation- an immediate inflammation response to the critter related to the milieu or inflammatory environment of the host.
- Epitope spreading – “the development of immune responses to endogenous epitopes (part of an antigen or immune signal) secondary to the release of self-antigens during a chronic autoimmune or inflammatory response…”
To be healthy, the body needs to have a “tolerant” immune response in which inflammation, fighting infections, and responding to threats is appropriate. This means the immune cells and different “sides” of the immune system are in harmony. In autoimmunity, these mechanisms cause an immune imbalance, and it becomes “overreactive.”
Women and Lyme Disease
The fact that Lyme is so misunderstood spurred Dr. Patterson to write her book, Women and Lyme: An Integrative Guide to Better Health. In healthcare settings women are more often placated by doctors for their symptoms and tend to have a higher rate of false negatives for Lyme Disease and autoimmunity on lab testing. Dr. Patterson also connected how hormones played a major factor in immune function, inflammation, and the symptom aggravations in these illnesses in her practice.
For example, Dr. Patterson witnessed how when she had active Lyme disease, her ANA antibodies increased. Conversely, when the infection was under control, both her and her patients saw a decrease in antibodies. She also discovered how hormones drove the symptom picture. Specifically, if estrogen is higher than progesterone it can stimulate more inflammation and antibody production. Testosterone and DHEA, on the other hand, can be protective and less inflammatory.
In the article Sex Hormones Determine the Immune Response, the author further explores how various hormones impact the response to environmental triggers and microbes:
Interaction between sex hormones and environmental factors like cigarette smoke and infections lead to variable responses in both genders (5, 7, 8). There is emerging evidence that sex hormones impact microbial composition and the resulting immune response via secondary metabolites binding with receptors like estrogen receptors (ERs), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) etc. (9). These differences in immune response can lead to variability in disease phenotypes with autoimmunity occurring more often in females and cancers occurring more in males (Figure (Figure11).
Unfortunately, these links were often not recognized by mainstream physicians, or even Lyme literate doctors.
The Major Lyme Clue
Dr. Patterson and I agree that pain or symptoms that migrate to different parts of the body are pathognomonic for Lyme disease. Other common co-occurring tell-tale symptoms include fatigue and mental health issues. In her article she further discusses additional manifestations of this chronic infection such as headaches, cognitive and neurological issues, and sleep disturbances.
As a naturopathic and functional medicine doctor, Dr. Patterson seeks to address contributors to the problem by assessing for hormone imbalances, gut problems, finding the various co-infections, and evaluating stress effects.
Essential Oils for Lyme and Autoimmunity Disease
Next, our discussion leads to how essential oils can help with Lyme and autoimmunity. These plant metabolites help to balance our biochemistry, psychology, and physiology as they harmonize the immune response. This makes them helpful for autoimmunity, as portrayed in my post published in Naturalpath.
Specific oils for hormones which could help with the immunoendocrine response include clary sage and geranium for estrogen balance and lavender for lowering cortisol. Dr. Patterson shares her personal preference for the essential oils of frankincense, eucalyptus, wintergreen, and peppermint. She especially has a deep appreciation of eucalyptus oil for its analgesic, or pain-relieving properties. (You can learn more about using essential oils for pain with Dr. Z in episode 379.) Her favorites are citrus oils, both for their use as non-toxic cleaners and for diffusing to uplift the mood.
Essential oils can also be used to help with the biofilms (microbe shields) that result from Borrelia. Specific essential oils include oregano, garlic, and myrrh oils. In fact, Dr. Patterson’s article on Lyme disease highlights how oregano has been shown to dramatically reduce biofilm microcolonies and to increase good bacteria in the gut, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.
Dr. Patterson further points out how helpful essential oils can be to support her pateints’ mental health and aid with their sleep. Mental health is largely impacted by chronic diseases and lavender has been useful for helping her patients’ brains calm down and relax.
DIY Bug Repellent
Dr. Patterson gives us a great DIY to go with the theme of the show. She advises her clients to use essential oils as a bug repellent. Her blend includes thyme, oregano, lemongrass, citronella, rosemary, and clove essential oils mixed with water and witch hazel in a spray bottle. Though the studies show the oil of lemon eucalyptus as the most effective essential oil in comparison with DEET, there are studies demonstrating that others can also repel critters without the toxicity.
A word of caution: These are hot oils, so please dilute appropriately if applying directly to the skin vs. clothes. I would advise to use over clothes.
The Right Dose of Essential Oils
It’s best to get the proper dose of essential oils and not overdue them. There is a u-shape curve, meaning too little or too much can produce suboptimal effects. Furthermore, one can be sensitized to the aroma of essential oils if they are diffusing too much in a given time frame.
If you are using essential oils, please make sure you are knowledgeable and working with someone who is an expert in the appropriate dosage and/or you are an expert yourself. Furthermore, consulting with an aromatherapist or medical professional is the safest thing you can do if you are on medications. (Learn more about the internal use of essential oils in episode 378 with Jade Shutes.)
There’s so much packed into this episode and additional side topics, including the importance of advocating for yourself and your own health. You will not want to miss the full episode.
Click here to listen in on the latest episode and access the show notes.
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Links to learn more about Dr. Patterson and her offerings:
- Dr. Patterson’s Website
- Website Fairfield Family Health
- Business Resources
- Patterson, ND Instagram
Articles by Dr. Patterson
- Lyme Disease: The Great Imitator
- Three Phases for Naturally Treating Autoimmune Disease Version 1, Version 2
- A Case Study in Osteoporosis
- The Growing Incidence of Autoimmune Disease
Books by Dr. Patterson
- Long Covid & Beyond: A Natural Medicine Approach to Recovery
- Women and Lyme: An Integrative Guide to Better Health
- Naturalpreneurs: Building Your Successful and Scalable Integrative Medical Practice
Biography of Dr. Jaquel Patterson
Dr. Jaquel Patterson is a nationally recognized naturopathic physician, success coach, 3x Amazon best-selling author (Long Covid & Beyond, Women and Lyme, and Naturalpreneurs), and Forbes contributor. She has over 15 years of clinical experience with a focus on Lyme disease, autoimmune conditions, integrative psychiatry, and environmental medicine and she owns a successful multidisciplinary medical practice, Fairfield Family Health, in Connecticut.
Dr. Patterson is also a certified practitioner through the Institute Functional Medicine (IFM) and completed a fellowship in functional medicine for psychiatry and ADD/ADHD.
She served as the past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, and currently serves on the board of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. Dr. Patterson also sat on many other medical professional boards throughout her career and is a current member of various associations in her specialties like ILADS.
Dr. Patterson is a sought-after presenter and has spoken at prestigious international conferences and has frequently appeared on television, radio, and podcasts. She has been published in both popular mainstream press and in peer-reviewed publications.
Dr. Patterson further uses her gifts for coaching other integrative practitioners to build successful, and scalable integrative medical practices so they can thrive in both business and life. Her entrepreneurial and business mind, which was nurtured through her MBA in Healthcare Management from Quinnipiac University and undergraduate degree in Applied Economics and Management from Cornell, manifested in her own online supplement and health community, Naturalmins.
Her passion, compassion, and mission for empowering people is evident through how she shares her expertise in business and medicine in her practice, lectures, presentations, and when mentoring others.
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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.