In todays day and age, there is an increasing push for awareness around mental health issues. Depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders plague millions of people, yet the signs and symptoms are often hard to detect from the outside. There is conflicting research on what is at the root of many mental illnesses. We often hear about genetics, social factors, diet, upbringing etc. These factors may very well play into an individual developing a mental illness, but what about pathogens in the blood such as bacteria and parasites? Can these affect mental health? Can Lyme Disease cause mental illness?
Inflammation in the body
Leading psychiatric studies are now showing a direct correlation between chronic inflammation in the body and mental health. This has opened up a whole new arena of treatment options besides a strictly pharmaceutical approach. We see many people choosing a gluten free or ketogenic diet in order to increase mood and memory and in order to reduce brain fog. We hear of the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids on reducing inflammation in the brain, leading to an improvement in mental health.
Essentially, inflammation is an immune system response to environmental toxins or irritants. We have all experienced, or know someone who has experienced inflammation caused by environmental irritants such as pet hair, pollen, dust, perfumes etc. The result is typically puffy, itchy eyes and a runny plugged up nose.
Inflammation is also caused by bacterial/viral infections. The first thing that comes to our mind is the common cold. We can almost feel the inflammation in our lungs as we cough persistently, and sometimes with mucous. When an open wound becomes infected, there is often redness and swelling and sometimes puss.
When the immune system is activated by one of these intruders, pro-inflammatory hormones signal the white blood cells to come in and deal with the infected or damaged tissue. Once the environmental or bacterial invaders have been put in check, anti-inflammatory agents move in to begin the healing process.
In a normal immune system, a natural balance exists between inflammation and the anti-inflammatory agents. But in some cases, the immune system gets stuck in high gear, and symptoms of inflammation do not recede. This is known as chronic inflammation.
Some individuals with major depressive disorder have increased levels of molecules called cytokines in their circulation. Cytokines can be thought of as the messenger molecules of the immune system, alerting the body to danger. In the case of an infection, this activates immune responses that eliminate the infection. However, in the case of depression, these cytokines can cause unwanted inflammation in the brain.
Brain on Fire
In the New York Times bestseller Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, author Susannah Cahalan tells her true story of going from living a normal life to ending up in a psych ward labeled with multiple mental health disorders. At her worst she was completely psychotic and almost fully comatose. We were shocked to learn that the root of her symptoms was actually sever brain inflammation.
I did not read the book, however I did watch the Netflix Documentary which chronicles this same story in “Brain on Fire.” I had many mixed emotions after watching this film as it reminded me a lot of my own battle with mental health, and the hopelessness I felt as I felt my life fade away into a deep dark hole.
My Personal Story
A detailed article of my battle with Lyme Disease and how it severely effected my mental health can be found on this link: “My Personal Journey.” In the Spring of 2013 when I first developed strange symptoms, a lot of them were psychological. This was unusual for me as my life was full of purpose and I was living a healthy, active and purposeful life.
In this article I will mainly share the psychiatric symptoms I had, as I have shared about the other neurological symptoms in other postings. When my health first started to go downhill I was about 25 years old. I remember the crippling fatigue, the unshakable anxiety that greeted me every morning, the brain fog, memory loss, insomnia and eventually a depression that was so severe that I became very suicidal and even engaged in self harm.
I was clinically diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety and Insomnia. After trying multiple different antidepressants and low dose antipsycotics, my mental state only worsened. At my lowest point, I was even hospitalized for 30 days in a psychiatric unit for being suicidal; I felt like I was going crazy. I felt like no doctor, no psychiatrist, no psychologist could help to even make a dent in what was happening inside my mind.
It wasn’t until I entertained treatment for Lyme Disease and Bartonella that my mental health improved drastically.
A few months into herbal and antibiotic treatment, my mind started to clear up; I could think normal again. My mood stabilized, my short term memory improved, and my insomnia became manageable. All of this took place while I was weaning of my psychiatric medications. So can Lyme Disease & Co-Infections be at the root of mental illness and distress? In my experience, absolutely!
“The leading cause of death in Lyme disease is suicide — the depression is that bad.”
–The Dr. E. Murakami Centre for Lyme Research, Education and Assistance
It is important to recognize the role that a bacteria named Bartonella can play in Psychiatric manifestations with Lyme Disease. Bartonella is a bacterial infection that is often found in patients who also carry the Borellia (Lyme Bacteria). Transmission for bartonella can come from a variety of means, typically any biting insect or flea, or even the scratch of a cat as it is the bacteria responsible for “Cat Scratch Fever.”
The Borellia bacteria is typically associated with fatigue, as we see some people with Lyme disease sleeping for 10-18 hrs/day and feeling just as tired as when they went to bed. However, Bartonella is typically more associated with symptoms such as agitation, insomnia, memory loss and even extreme rage.
When I first saw a Lyme Litterate Doctor and told him of my symptoms, he was almost positive I was dealing with Bartonella. I had been sleeping 1-3 hrs/night and I had severe agitation that left me pacing in circles unable to find a sense of calm. I also went through short bouts of unusual rage and of course a deep depression.
When I initially began to treat Bartonella, I started on an antibiotic called “Rifampin”. It is a bit of an obscure antibiotic but it is known to be quite potent at hitting Bartonella. Within a few days of being on the antibiotic I had to stop…
It was as if I got hit by a train. I now know that this was a herx reaction as I was killing bacteria at a faster rate than my body could eliminate the toxins, thus causing a worsening of my symptoms. It was crazy! I remember a couple days after starting Rifampin, I couldn’t sleep, I felt extremely agitated and my depression became so severe that I remember waking up one morning and within an hour I was engaging in self harm.
When I look back on that part of my journey, its almost hard to believe that a bacterial infection was causing me such psychological distress. If you have read my personal journey to recovery, then you know that this dark period is now in my past and I did it in an all natural way.
To bring this topic full circle, I feel the need to reiterate that bacterial infections such as Borellia, Bartonella and Babesia can absolutely be at the root of stubborn hard to treat psychiatric conditions. If an individual isn’t responding to pharmaceutical medication for a mental health condition, and if they have other neurological symptoms such as ringing in the ears, nerve pain/twitching, brain fog etc, then Lyme Disease and Co-Infections just might be the culprit. Had I not taken my health into my own hands and sought for real answers as to what was at the root of my mental illness, its scary to think where I would be today.
To learn more about my journey to wellness and the treatment options that I entertained as well as the methods used for testing, please visit:
Yours in good health,