31. A whole body approach to Lyme, with medical detective Dr. Kenneth Bock

Sarah explores an integrative approach to medicine with Dr. Kenneth Bock from the Hudson Valley, in New York. Dr. Bock’s natural curiosity, investigative approach, along with his appreciation for complex medical cases set the foundation for his integrative practice. His first Lyme patient in 1985 initially came in with a swollen toe that didn’t seem to have a medical cause. After a thorough investigation which included researching Lyme disease, he discovered that the patient had travelled to Block Island, an area known to be endemic for Lyme. The patient was subsequently diagnosed with Lyme disease and was successfully treated. 

Dr. Bock explains that his “medical detective” approach involves breaking down problems, then putting that information back together to solve problems. He also emphasizes the importance of looking and listening, open ended questions during patient interviews, and spending plenty of time with patients.

“If you don’t look, you won’t see, and if you don’t listen, you won’t hear..part of the key about being a medical detective is just really that — looking and listening.”

Dr. Kenneth Bock

The integrative approach

Dr. Bock describes the integrative medicine approach as getting to the root cause of problems. It differs from other medical approaches in that the “toolbox” of modalities to help patients is much larger, and includes specialists, other modes of treatment or support and lifestyle changes as well. He points out that this approach is ideal for treating Lyme patients where multiple body systems are affected, and further illustrates this by describing some of those systems. 

“Integrative medicine is a practice of medicine that really emphasizes seeking underlying root causes…it’s a mindset that looks at symptoms and looks at medical problems and tries to not just put bandaids on them but actually figure out what’s really going on.”

Dr. Kenneth Bock

His multi-faceted approach to treating Lyme disease considers things like probiotics, prebiotics, nutrients and herbs, as well as antibiotics. Dr. Bock also explains some of the uses for chelation therapy, another tool in his toolkit for helping patients. Using these various tools, he practices a whole body, whole person approach. 

Brain inflammation

Many patients with Lyme disease and co-infections such as Bartonella experience the effects of inflammation in the brain and central nervous system. One of the chapters of Dr. Bock’s latest book, Brain Inflamed, is dedicated to the effect of Lyme disease and co-infections in the brain. He explains that infections, stress, toxicants and brain trauma can all cause inflammation of the brain. Some of the symptoms familiar to Lyme patients are decreased memory and word finding difficulties. 

He describes the role of the blood brain barrier in protecting the brain, and explains that infections such as Lyme can cause a disruption in the blood brain barrier leading to “leaky brain”. When microglia are activated, inflammatory mediators are released into the central nervous system causing dysfunction. Sarah points out that quite often, when patients are neuro-compromised, their friends or family are the first ones to notice these changes. 

Infection, inflammation and autoimmunity

The processes of infection and inflammation are interrelated with autoimmunity, making it difficult at times to tease apart the root cause of symptoms. Dr. Bock illustrates some of the root causes such as allergies and sensitivities, and explains various immune responses within the body. He also describes how gut health, stress, infection and inflammation are all interrelated. 

“The reality is Lyme disease can affect so many different organ systems…that’s why it really requires this whole person, whole body approach.”

Dr. Kenneth Bock

In relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not only the infection that causes a massive inflammatory response, but also the stress of the pandemic itself that adds to the inflammatory response. Along with the myriad of suggestions in his book, Dr. Bock also recommends love and laughter to help heal inflammation. 

Dr. Bock refers listeners to the Brain Inflamed book to access a tool called the Mood Dysregulation Template. These templates were created to explore contributing medical conditions related to symptoms. There are templates related to the contributing factors of brain inflammation, including Lyme disease and co-infections. Thank you Dr. Bock for sharing your insights and expertise regarding Lyme disease, brain inflammation and the importance of an integrative approach to these complex issues!

Related resources

Episode 31 cover image: an image of the Hudson River Valley and headshots of Sarah Cormode and Dr. Kenneth Bock.

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