It's tick and tick-disease flare season here in Virginia where Lyme is an epidemic diagnosed daily in the equine vet practice I work for. It's an unfortunate part of owning horses in Virginia. However, lyme disease and its co-infections are on the rise across the country. Even after conventional treatment, lyme and tick diseases are rarely ever "cured" as the spirochetes that cause them can remain in the body lying dormant indefinitely. Typically, we see horses have "flares" of lyme in the spring and fall, and often these horses end up on an every-six-months-cycle of antibiotics.
So how to we support these horses long term and get them off the antibiotic carousel?
By controlling inflammatory cytokines.
What are Cytokines?
Cytokines are proteins made by various types of white blood cells that turn on the immune system to attack invaders like bacteria (for example, Lyme and its co-infections), intestinal yeast, parasites, viruses, mold, environmental toxins, and heavy metals. In the right amount, they promote healing. In excess, they cause all the major Lyme disease symptoms and dysregulate the immune system. The problem, particularly in chronic Lyme and its co-infections like anaplasmosis, is that they are usually made in excess. Most Lyme and anaplasmosis symptoms, like sensitivity to touch, fever, stiffness and/or swelling of joints, and behavioral changes, are also symptoms of excess cytokine. (Often called a cytokine storm.)
Cytokines are made when immune cells are stimulated by germs, toxins, and oxidizing agents. Once the immune cells are stimulated, an intracellular messenger called NF-kB causes production of cytokines and the turning on of white blood cells. Within the white blood cells, the production of cytokines require enzymes called kinases. The body's cells also have a genetic messenger that increases cell production of antioxidants like glutathione. This messenger is called Nrf2. Antioxidants decrease oxidizing agents that trigger cytokine production, and turning on Nrf2 creates antioxidants, which decrease cytokine production. Appropriate sleep patterns also have a big impact. Lack of sleep triggers more cytokines, and high cytokines can cause anxiety, which then interferes with horses getting enough recumbent sleep.
How do we best support horses diagnosed with tick diseases?
I addition to a species appropriate, nutrient-dense, real foods diet which benefits horses in all stages of life we should also:
1| Reduce/eliminate parasites and mold toxicity 2| Increase antioxidants 3| Increase Nrf2 4| Block Kinase enzymes 5| Provide a clean, quality vitamin/mineral supplement 6| Promote environments conducive to a minimum of 30 minutes of recumbent sleep each day
All of which can be accomplished through lifestyle/management changes and targeted supplementation.
Does your horse have chronic lyme? Share their story in the comments!