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The Wicked Problem of Lyme and Chronic Infections

Part 1 of a series on chronic infections and their treatment. 

In systems thinking we have this thing called a wicked problem. It’s a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing parameters that are often difficult to recognize. It’s characterized by complex interdependencies, and is not easily subjected to assortment into neat categories with tidy and quick solutions. Wicked problems change when you apply a solution to them. As a culture we tend to hate wicked problems because they defy mechanistic thinking and solutions.

Wicked problems can show up in our bodies, ecosystems, and societies. There are problems that involve all of these levels. Chronic infections like Lyme disease are an example. I am wholly fascinated by Lyme disease and related infections for several reasons:

  • ecosystem disruption is a driver of zoonotic infectious disease epidemics
  • they are challenging our current immunotherapies and are redefining medical practice
  • I have skin in the game: I have contracted and overcome these illnesses, albeit with great effort and considerable expense
  • microbes are cool

Herbalists have the potential to contribute to this area of great need. While this potential has yet to be actualized, we possess tools to sculpt a damaged immune system back into harmony and function by managing inflammatory reactions, increasing innate defenses, restoring GI tissue integrity, and the thoughtful use of complex antimicrobials. In this sense we’ve done some great work so far. We’re also at a fork in the road where we can decide if we want to continue with the “infection as invader” narrative, or broaden our understanding of chronic infection etiology and clarify our therapeutics.  Read more

On Ghost pipe and respect

Ghost pipe (Monotropa uniflora) has received a lot of attention on the blogosphere in recent years. As a mycoheterotroph (takes nutrients from both trees and fungi) it does not photosynthesize, giving it a ghostly, ethereal white appearance. It’s simply breathtaking.

It’s lovely to photograph and share on social media. Yes, the tincture is a breathtakingly beautiful violet color. Yes, it is effective as an analgesic and anxiolytic herb. But it’s become too popular, and stands are disappearing. It’s being misused. Read more

All of the things that livers do

Herbalists love livers. Liver lovers, you might call us. And there’s a good reason for this: The liver regulates many of the body’s chemical and nutrient levels. It’s a metabolic powerhouse of detoxification, chemical organization, and regeneration. So herbalists, who like to support the body systemically, find a wonderful leverage point in this one single but not simple organ. Read more

The Thinking Patient’s Guide to Cannabis and Cancer

Like no other substance in history, cannabis sits at the eye of a storm that is currently upsetting the status quo across the spectrum of political, economic, legal, cultural, scientific and healthcare worlds. Read more

The allure of the cure

Today, while scrolling through Facebook and sipping coffee, I saw a post titled “100 times more effective then chemotherapy: A herb that kills cancer in 48 hours“. This was in reference to the Dandelion Root Project at the University of Windsor in Canada. The hyperbole is obvious- this group started biomedical research on dandelion extract for cancer therapy. It is far from 100 times more effective than chemotherapy. We’ve all seen these posts. Chances are, if you’re a reader of this blog, you are a critical thinker and this kind of thing bugs you. I get bugged too. But I’m beginning to notice that we bring our hope for cures and love of miracles along with us when we interpret science. And instead of seeing this as a problem, I think it’s OK. These can coexist, but I want to emphasize an awareness of how they can affect us. Read more

Nature and the cultivation of shame resilience

Shame has been a difficult topic of discussion. But over the last couple of years, a few people have managed to bring the subject to the forefront of public discourse. One of these people is Brene Brown, a sociologist and researcher who’s extensive work on the subject is presented in her book Daring Greatly and her celebrated TED talk. She exposes the mechanisms of shame, and its psychological and cultural consequences.

Shame is a fundamental belief that I am bad, and has many expressions: I am not strong enough, not good enough, etc. This is categorically different from guilt, which says I did something bad. Shame is a pathology of identity. The treatment for shame, she argues, is the development of shame resilience. This involves:

  1. Recognizing Shame and Its Triggers: we tend to first feel shame physically before our minds realize what it is.
  2. Practicing Critical Awareness: reflect on the implications of cultural and community expectations, and how they affect your identity and self-image.

Illness and shame feed off each other

Illness is a source of deep shame for many, as illness commonly experienced as a failure of the body or some part of its processes. It seems to surface most when illness interferes with socially defined goals of health and ability. People struggling with mobility impairments, fertility, and sexuality might experience shame and vulnerabilities around certain physical (and social) expectations.

Ironically, shame around illness can worsen illness. This is a vicious cycle, a positive feedback loop. Lissa Rankin illustrates the consequences of mindset on health in her brilliant book Mind Over Medicine. Our mental state impacts our physical processes through a number of mechanisms, but most notably through adrenal hormones (i.e. cortisol). Neurotransmitter responses impact hormones, which can affect immunity, blood pressure, and myriad physiological processes. Rankin’s book is complete with evidence from the literature, and cases that illustrate the impact of the mind on the body (including spontaneous remission and nocebo). Feelings of shame, despair, and negative self-worth can place an additional load on the body. Read more

Braiding Sweetgrass: Stories rooted in science, framed in an indigenous worldview

Elizabeth Gilbert describes Braiding Sweetgrass as a “hymn of love to the world.” Jane Goodall writes that Robin Wall Kimmerer “shows how the factual, objective approach to science can be enriched by the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people.” For myself, Kimmerer demonstrates the unification of modern scientific and indigenous ways of knowing. What’s especially important to me is that she erases the dichotomy between scientific inquiry and heart-centered connection to the earth. Kimmerer is a role model. Read more

Nootropics: The new adaptogens

“Technologies are morally neutral until we apply them.” – William Gibson

A significant portion of my 2014 was spent developing a nootropic product. As a mushroom supplement company, we were looking to break out of the immune section, as medicinal mushrooms can do so much more than support immunity. Cognition-enhancing mushrooms and botanicals had long fascinated me, so this project was a dream come true. The concept was solid: combine Lion’s Mane and Reishi with organic herbs to support brain health and cognition. We used Ginkgo, Gotu kola, and Bacopa–all have great-quality research support. After months of formulating, more months of sourcing organic botanical extracts, and even more months of marketing preparing the launch, the product was alive. And that’s how we perforated the nootropic sector. Read more