Interview: Dr. Amy Derksen, ND, Holistic Approaches To Lyme Offer Hope
February 1, 2007 in Interviews by Scott Forsgren, with Dr. Amy Derksen, ND
Throughout the past year, I have investigated many different options for improving my health after having been diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. One of the more exciting developments has been the incorporation of a number of natural and integrative therapies. My journey to continue putting together the pieces of what often seems like a complex puzzle has brought me to the realization that Lyme disease is more than just an infection with Borrelia burgdorferi. It is a complex, multi-faceted illness that often requires one to address many different problems in order to attain wellness. A holistic evaluation is often a key to marked progress.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Amy Derksen, ND and ask her a number of questions about how she approaches Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment as part of her holistic practice in Bellevue, Washington. I hope you enjoy our discussion as much as I did!
Scott: Tell us a little bit about your background? Dr. Derksen: I have a BS in Biochemistry from Western Washington University. I did research on myoglobins in an effort to find alternative ways to carry more oxygen to the body and doing so in a safer way than having a blood transfusion.
I then worked at a conventional medical clinic for a year doing work with blood and urine cultures. I graduated with my ND from Bastyr University in 2003. I was then fortunate to have had the opportunity to pursue a residency with Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt, a well-known and highly respected expert and teacher in the field of Lyme disease.
Scott: What led you to alternative medicine? Dr. Derksen: I was “Athlete of the Year” at my university and won the national championship in hurdles. As a result of repeated injuries and limited relief from conventional pain management options, I turned to alternative medicine. I quickly discovered how something as simple as correcting a mineral deficiency can impact healing.
Scott: What is ART? Dr. Derksen: ART is Autonomic Response Testing. It was developed by Dietrich Klinghardt, M.D., Ph.D. and Louisa Williams, M.S., D.C., N.D. It is essentially an advanced form of kinesiology that utilizes the autonomic nervous system as an indicator of stress on the body. It screens everything against a weak arm and this is where the majority of the infections typically appear. I find in my experience that testing with traditional kinesiology, important information is often missed. This is because the body is so stressed by Lyme and other microbes that the autonomic nervous system is not responding and will not allow the strong arm to go weak. This is what we call “blocked regulation”.
ART can be a useful indicator of toxins within the body, nutritional deficiencies, structural problems, energetic disturbances such as scars, food intolerances, geopathic stress, unresolved psycho-emotional issues and more.
Scott: How is ART used to help guide patient diagnosis and treatment? Dr. Derksen: ART helps to reveal organ stress often before physical damage has occurred. You can determine whether or not that stress is related to microbes, metals, or is simply an indication of a need for more supportive therapies. ART can help to highlight where to start treatment and whether or not the primary issue is related to Lyme, parasites, viruses, bacteria, or fungal/mold issues.
As an example, ART might reveal that one’s liver stress is caused by a fungal issue. It can reveal parasites much more effectively than traditional labs which often miss them entirely. It can show a hierarchy of what is undermining one’s health. It can answer questions such as whether or not the health challenge is entirely caused by Lyme disease or if there are other factors involved such as those of bacterial, parasitic, viral, or fungal origin. It is an excellent tool for determining whether or not heavy metals are playing a role in suppressing optimal health. It can be used to help determine whether or not a worsening of symptoms is due to a negative drug reaction or allergy as opposed to a die-off effect (Herxheimer reaction).
Scott: What co-infections are most commonly found in people with Lyme disease? Dr. Dersken: We often find parasites, fungi and mold, viruses such as Epstein-Barr and CMV, and bacterial infections. In terms of the more common Lyme-related infections, we see Babesia, Bartonella, Ehrlichia, Rickettsia (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) and others. We also commonly see Chlamydia and Mycoplasma infections.
Scott: How prevalent are parasites in your experience? Dr. Derksen: Parasites are very common, especially if there has been any foreign travel. I would estimate that 50% of those with chronic Lyme disease also have some parasitic infections that need to be addressed. This is often the first thing that needs to be addressed before moving on to other issues. Treatment does not always require prescription medications to resolve and in many cases, an appropriate herbal protocol can be quite helpful.
Scott: What are the more common parasites that you observe? Dr. Derksen: We see Ascaris (roundworm), Blastocystis, tapeworms, Giardia, and liver flukes most commonly. There are a large number of other parasitic organisms that often are part of the picture as well.
Scott: Do you see heavy metals as a complicating factor? Which metals appear most frequently? Dr. Derksen: Oh definitely. Metals are a significant issue for many people. Mercury, lead, and aluminum are the most common. People that react to metals often react to several different metals at a time. It is important to look at mineral deficiencies and even absorption of minerals when investigating metal issues. A provoked urine test can be very useful in diagnosing heavy metal toxicity. When interpreting the results, it is important to look both at the toxic metals as well as the balance of essential minerals in making a diagnosis.
Scott: Are mold and fungal issues common? Dr. Derksen: Yes, very much so. They are especially an issue along the West Coast including California. Mold and fungal issues are more prevalent when there is chronic sinusitis, especially if Babesia is present.
Scott: What are some of the more useful treatment options? Dr. Derksen: For Borrelia itself, Samento and Noni can both be very helpful. We are also becoming more aware of the promise held by the rizols which are ozonated oils that may have antimicrobial effects. Samento can be useful for Ehrlichia and Bartonella. For Fibromylagia or joint pain, Samento can be very helpful. I prefer Samento tinctures over capsules in general. I have seen dramatic differences with Samento.
Japanese Knotweed can be quite helpful for those with Lyme and is also very useful when there are viruses or viral tendencies, including Shingles. Smilax can be useful as an option for supporting the liver. If burning pain exists or there are jaw and neck issues, Noni can be very helpful as these may be related to Babesia.
Andrographis can be important if Borrelia is present and is helpful for Ehrlichia and Bartonella. For Babesia, Artemisinin is often effective. I prefer the pulsed dose approach more than a daily dosing. Noni is one of the few options that has been highly beneficial for Babesia. Salt/C can also sometimes help. Colloidal silver may be beneficial for those with Babesia and fungal issues. For sinus problems, it can be sprayed into the nose or gargled with. Gargling with colloidal silver may also help the tonsils and lymph system.
Scott: What are the more common parasitic treatment options? Dr. Derksen: Freeze-dried garlic is a fabulous option. Artemisinin can be beneficial. Salt/C is another useful option for some people. Homeopathic remedies can be very useful. I find that this is an essential piece. Generally, I would do either an herb or a prescription treatment and follow that with homeopathy. In children, homeopathy may be enough by itself. You generally won’t get rid of the energies of the parasites unless you do some homeopathy. The ozonated oils are often good choices. Prescription alternatives such as Mebendazole or Biltricide can be helpful as well.
Scott: What options are useful for dealing with metals? Dr. Derksen: Chlorella, of course. Cilantro can be helpful. Liquid minerals are often useful. CGF (chlorella growth factor) liquid can be a good mobilizer and can help with metals in the brain. NDF can be a nice option. There is a product called Metal Free that has been helpful. It may also be necessary to consider conventional chelators such as DMPS, EDTA, or DMSA as part of a metal elimination program.
The KMT (Klinghardt Matrix Therapy) microcurrent device such as the KMT-24 can be helpful here as each of the programs has built-in metal detox frequencies. It can be very useful for patients in dealing with Lyme disease and related infections. It is especially nice if you do the TMJ release and lymph drainage sequences. The most beneficial programs to use can be determined with ART for each individual patient. Metal detox can be a complex area and should always be done under the supervision of a medical professional.
Scott: How do you address fungal/mold issues? Dr. Derksen: For mold issues, I generally like the prescription options. Amphotericin B orally or Diflucan are useful here. I like Florastor or Saccharomyces bouldardii. There is an excellent probiotic from BioImmersion called Beta Glucan Symbiotic Formula. Addressing the fungal issues can often help with liver stress.
Scott: Is there value in the Salt/C protocol and if so, what is the likely mechanism of action? Dr. Derksen: Yes, Salt/C can be valuable for some people. It creates an osmotic gradient that draws water out of the organism and essentially dehydrates it. It can help with chronic constipation by moving things out. It may be helpful for addressing parasites in some cases. It can be difficult to get patients to comply with the treatment. Stomach burning can be a problem with some types of Vitamin C that are used. I don’t like to use a powder for all doses and generally suggest taking a buffered capsule for half of the doses. Pharmax has a nice product called Vital Mixed Ascorbates. I’ve seen skin clear up. Patients have seen things coming out of the skin and breakouts may appear. Brain fog often lifts. Stools move. One should watch for edema in the legs as an indication that the dose is potentially too high.
Scott: What about concerns over high blood pressure while on Salt/C? Dr. Derksen: I just haven’t seen this as a common issue. It should be monitored closely to be safe. However, many Lyme patients have chronic low blood pressure.
Scott: Is the sequencing of treatment important? Dr. Derksen: Yes, it is very important. If someone is depleted, we have to start with support. Diet, minerals, good bacteria. You have to start with the basics. Each person is different in terms of their readiness or tolerance for addressing the infections. You cannot target just Lyme or just metals. We have to realize that things must be addressed and monitored more holistically. Several things must often be addressed at once. Parasites are often the first things that we have to start with. Fungus should be kept in mind during the entire treatment as it is quite opportunistic. In general, treatment needs to be broad.
Scott: What place do antibiotics have in the treatment of Lyme disease? Dr. Derksen: They have a definite place. My concern is that they are very targeted and coinfections will sometimes not be managed well if someone is only doing antibiotics. They can pull someone out of a severe crisis. Generally, I prefer to use herbs first and then use antibiotics, if required, later. There are people though that have carditis or phlebitis or other symptoms which may absolutely require antibiotics. In many cases, the decision to use antibiotics is dependent on the level of symptoms that the patient experiences.
Scott: How does Lyme disease impact the thyroid? Dr. Dersken: Lyme may attach to receptors on the thyroid gland and interferes with thyroid production. We often see high TSH levels which may respond well to T3 supplementation. Thyroid supplementation may be needed during Lyme treatment. Often with treatment, thyroid function will normalize and the need for supplementation may be reduced or eliminated.
Scott: What are the more common organs that you find are stressed when doing ART? Dr. Derksen: The liver and tonsils are probably the two most common. Liver stress may be due to fungus, metals, or the need for digestive support. Chronic liver stress is often related to a fungal issue. Stress in the tonsils may be related to streptococcal infections or presence of Epstein-Barr or CMV viruses. Issues with tonsils can be very responsive to Pleo remedies. These support the immune system and get the lymphatics moving.
The kidneys may appear stressed and may be helped with products like Renelix or Solidago. Kidney issues may be related to metals or can be as simple as dehydration and the need for electrolytes. Minerals are also important here. Frontal brain stress with ART may be an indication of metals, viruses, Lyme, or Babesia. Sinus stress may be an indication of mold, Lyme, or Babesia.
Scott: What are the more useful diagnostic tests that you employ? Dr. Derksen: I like IGeneX panels. The Babesia FISH test is nice. I use the Western Blot from IGeneX. Immunosciences also has some very nice panels. I really like their mold panels. Aside from those, kits are available that contain petri dishes that can be used to test for mold. These can be very helpful in identifying molds in the environment. Often, the results can be correlated back to elevated mold antibodies in other testing that was performed.
For heavy metals, a provoked urine test for toxic metals and essential minerals is important. If a patient is not ready for a provocation test, hair analysis can be of value. The CD57 can provide useful insights into the severity of a patients Lyme infection or provide indicators as to the progress being made with the various treatment protocols.
I recommend a thyroid panel and basic chemistry and CBC. If white blood cells (WBC) are less than 5.5, this is another indicator that Lyme may be an issue. A Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis (CDSA) can provide useful information about parasites, fat absorption, gut immunity, and depending on which lab is used, even provide insight into food allergies to soy, gluten, eggs, and cow’s milk.
Scott: What dietary considerations are key for someone with Lyme disease? Dr. Derksen: You must get adequate protein. You must limit sugar. You must rule out food allergies. Allergies to milk, gluten, and corn are common. Electrodermal testing can provide much insight into the food allergies. Blood testing may provide valuable information as well.
Scott: How important is exercise in recovering from chronic Lyme disease? Dr. Derksen: It is extremely important. With chronic infections, the blood tends to be thick. Exercise can be very good to improve circulation and lymph drainage. People often feel better with exercise but it is important not to overdo it. You can set yourself up for a setback if you overdo it. Know your limits.
Scott: What are some of the commonly overlooked factors in treatment? Dr. Derksen: Stress, living in a moldy home, poor diet, and sleep. It is important to remember the basics.
Scott: What significance do neurotoxins have relevant to the infections themselves in terms of one’s overall symptom picture? Dr. Derksen: Neurotoxins are often the limiting factor in treatment. They can make you feel lousy even when you are on the right track. A binder is critical for both metals and neurotoxins. If you have burning pains or neuropathies, neurotoxins may be directly related to these symptoms. Chlorella, Cholestyramine, chitosan, betasitosterol, charcoal, and numerous other binders can be helpful. It is important to have a good binder in your plan at all times.
Scott: What role does hypercoagulation play in Lyme disease? Dr. Derksen: Hypercoagulation plays a huge role. The key is to look at the color of the blood. It should be red, not dark or thick and black. Look at your blood the next time that you have it drawn. If it is thick, you are not getting important nutrients to the cells or clearing away debris. Helpful tests include fibrinogen levels or the Hemex panels. Some treatment options include Rechts-Regulat (a German enzyme drink), Wobenzym, and Intenzyme Forte. Heparin may be a valuable option.
Scott: What are some of the more critical supplements that someone with Lyme disease should consider? Dr. Derksen: Toxin binders, minerals, essential fatty acids, enzymes, and greens. The greens can be helpful with moving metals and are a great source of minerals.
Scott: Do patients get well? Dr. Derksen: Patients definitely start to feel better. Symptoms can dramatically improve with treatment. You can become asymptomatic and live a normal, productive, healthful, and happy life.
Scott: What does “cure” mean in your mind when it comes to Lyme disease? Can one forget about this disease after they are “well”? Dr. Derksen: “Cure” means that a patient becomes asymptomatic and the immune system is strong enough to keep things under control. You have to continue to make smart choices. You cannot forget that you had Lyme disease. Remember what worked and continue to consider pulsing of the herbal treatments especially under times of emotional or physical stress.
I want to extend my personal thanks to Dr. Derksen for her time and for the compassion she shares with her patients as she helps to guide each of them to wellness.
Disclaimer Though the source of this interview is a medical professional, nothing in this article should be taken as medical advice. Each person is unique and should be evaluated by a knowledgeable medical practitioner. The information contained herein is not intended to serve as medical guidance and is for informational purposes only.
Resources Amy Derksen, ND can be reached at Holistic Healing Arts in Bellevue, Washington at 425-709-ARTS.
Scott Forsgren (Author) is a health writer, advocate, and coach. He is the editor and founder of BetterHealthGuy.com where he shares his now 17 year journey through the world of Lyme disease and the myriad of factors that it often entails. He has been fortunate to have written for publications such as the Public Health Alert, Explore!, Bolen Report, and Townsend Letter. More information on his work is available at http://www.BetterHealthGuy.com.