A Naturopathic Approach to Treating Lyme Disease

Interview with Naturopathic Physician Alexis Chesney MS, ND, LAc

Alexis Chesney MS, ND, LAc is a naturopathic physician, acupuncturist, author and educator. She has dedicated her practice to working with patients who have complex chronic illness, and who often have diagnoses such as Lyme and vector-borne diseases, mold toxicity, mast cell activation syndrome, among other conditions.

Dr. Chesney explains the similarities and differences between a naturopathic and allopathic approach to care and why a more holistic approach can be so advantageous to sufferers of long term Lyme disease. She also tells us what inspired her to write a book focusing on tick bite prevention and why she sees prevention as one of most critical, yet often overlooked, components of tick borne disease education.

Additional Information

  • Alexis Chesney MS, ND, LAc Website
  • Her Book - Preventing Lyme & Other Tick-Borne Diseases

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Transcript of the Interview

Mary: Hi, this is Mary with Insect Shield and I am thrilled to be here today with Dr. Alexis Chesney. She's a naturopathic physician, acupuncturist, author, and educator. She's written a book preventing Lyme and other tick-borne disease. Welcome Dr. Chesney.

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Thank you, Mary. Thank you for having me. Great to be here.

Mary: First I'd like to start, if you could just give us some, your background and bio and how you got to be where you are today.

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Sure. Yeah, I was always interested in going into medicine and then I found out about naturopathic medical school as I was going through the MCAT and all of that testing, and I was really enlightened to find out that curriculum. So I went to the University of Bridgeport and finished my medical degree there and then I moved up to Vermont for residency.

I had no idea that I was really on the front lines of Lyme disease. And I actually trained with Dr. Richard Horowitz, medical doctor in New York, who is incredible. He's a powerful leader in this field of lyme and tick-borne disease, and it was just so great to spend time with him and learn from him.

So I really learned a lot about pharmaceutical and antibiotics in the way of treating Lyme and tick-borne disease, but he also has a holistic approach and he is very down to earth and funny and wonderful. So we could connect on some of that. And so it was really great to have that combination, that background in naturopathic medicine and then really get the download on.

How to treat Lyme and tick-borne disease from that pharmaceutical, more allopathic perspective and take that into the rest of my time. Seeing just, how affected Vermont and New Hampshire, that whole area in New England is affected by Lyme and tick-borne Disease. So that was about 13 or so years ago that I moved up to that area.

And since then, yes I've been working, full-time. With patients with those conditions, and certainly other conditions too.

Mary: Yeah, so just question, so when you, had you been interested in like kind of the insect, like Lyme disease, another insect-borne disease, or was it because working with this doctor that kind of. And you saw these patients that were struggling because it seemed, I just, a lot of people like that end up, they're like really into ticks or really into like insects.

But then you're coming from the medical side. Was that, did it just happen to all come together and connect that had you focus on the on insect-borne dis or

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Yeah, 

Mary: disease?

Dr. Alexis Chesney: in in school I actually had a really good friend that ha, What we realized was Lyme disease and over, I dunno, months time, she just developed all these odd symptoms, we're all studying together and it's a intensive time to, to be together and study and just watch this otherwise healthy young person deteriorate.

And I actually brought her to the The doctor, one of the, I think it was the the appointment that she was diagnosed and it was just very eye-opening and then to see her get better. And so I just got really interested also medically then in Lyme disease at that point. Yeah. And I had no idea, the intricacies.

Of the research and science behind it, but also how people can get misdiagnosed and there's underdiagnosis and that whole piece that I had no idea about. But I was really glad to learn and be able to become a resource for people who were really suffering and we could actually identify what was going on and still do and see people get better.

Mary: Yeah. And I would think, and one thing too, maybe you could just, naturopathic medicine verse allopathic is what you call just for like more western medicine.

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Yeah, conventional

Mary: Conventional medicine. So what would you, just to describe to folks like what is the big difference of between the two and what kind of also overlaps?

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Sure. Yeah, the first two years of naturopathic medical school is really the same. It's the basic sciences, and then it's the next two years where we're learning pharmaceutical, pharmacology, but we're also learning about nutrition and herbal medicine. We take counseling classes.

Part of being a naturopath I think is that we really. Create more time with the patient. We don't have 10 minute visits, 20 minute visits, we have longer visits so we can really try and dig into what's going on with people and get to the root cause. So the curriculum, is very much the same in the beginning and then we branch out into all these other ways that we have tools and the philosophy of care that we do.

And then after that there's residency and yeah, boards licensure. Yeah. Yeah.

Mary: one. I would think too with Lyme disease, which can, the people that have long-term Lyme especially that seem to have like it is. Like a more holistic, a really a big overview approach is that much more important. Because often there's a lot of mental health struggles too, because going through being undiagnosed and not just coming into a doctor and saying, here's some, antibiotics and, see yet there's probably many advantages to a bigger.

Assortment of remedies that can really say, okay, because there's many, seems like with a lot of the Lyme patients, there's a lot of things going wrong. It's not just boom, you do this and everything's fixed. It can, it's really long-term and continual care required.

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Yes, sometimes it is. And so sometimes we need to do a lot of medical detective work. And I love that. I like being able to take the time with my patient to get a really thorough medical history and think about, what might be missed and how else can I support them? Maybe some medical diagnoses that have been missed, but also, how can we support their immune system and there are adrenals and their mental health and how is diet and exercise lifestyle?

Really looking at the whole picture, the whole person.

Mary: Yeah, and it seems, and even with, I was actually, besides, Lyme, but then just the tick-borne disease, like Alpha Gal for example. That really is. Nutrition becomes almost, the most critical and really focusing. I was working with some other, these the two alpha gals, they do a podcast and they're out educating folks and just what they've learned through it.

It just, it's so much bigger than just going to the doctor and saying here's some medicine. It's a continual and lifelong journey and constantly adjusting things that they have to to battle. To

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Yeah. Yeah. So Alpha Gal will cause that allergy to certain mammalian meats. And really there's no medication that will treat that. So it's really about finding out how sensitive you are and how many foods you need to avoid and, it can affect even medications, supplements body products.

Just thinking through all of that. It can be a challenging disease to deal with.

Mary: Yeah. And then, so just, I know it's not like kinda apples to apples, but when someone, someone comes into you with You're suspecting Lyme disease and may, you know what are you doing differently than if someone just went to an alo doctor? What would be some, like an example of someone coming in, here's what's happening.

Maybe they don't, they didn't have the rash, but. With your experience in living where you have in Vermont or other places thinking, okay, maybe this is a tick-borne disease, what do you do? Is there, do you follow the same test like the Western block? And I'm not a big expert on the test, but I know there's a lot of controversy.

The tests don't always work. How do you handle that situation?

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Yeah so I would take a, yeah, similar approach regarding thinking through like a, pretty Regular medical approach and thinking through differential diagnoses and taking a good history and that sort of thing. And then thinking about do we need to test how long has it been since a tick bite?

Are we in an acute stage or is this more that somebody has had these symptoms for a long time and we're in more of a chronic phase? But yes, there is that divide regarding testing and diagnosis just in the medical community regarding what is used for Lyme and other tick-borne disease.

I do use IGeneX a very specific specialty lab that does excellent. Testing the high accuracy. So they have an immuno blot now. They also have culture enhanced pcr. So a culture test, which is amazing. So we can actually find out if somebody has current active Lyme, for those who have had it for a long time.

And we think maybe, Hey, are we finished? You're doing can we actually find that out? We use that test. But you can do a Western blot at a regular lab and that's gonna be better than an Eliza. Cuz you know, certainly finances can play a role a lot of times. These specialty labs are out of pocket.

So I like to, have that conversation with my patient and prioritize what we need to do. But yeah, the accuracy is so much better. Of course, knowing that, and usually if a patient comes to me from, their primary care to somebody who hasn't had extra training in Lyme or tick-borne disease, then usually it's the Eliza and that test is less than 50% accurate.

So if it's negative, that perspective from that medical provider might be that we don't have Lyme but I'm gonna think more through it with my patient and maybe do more testing, even a trial of treatment, something like that. So testing is one way that It's more so I think the way I've been trained with other MDs as well as naturopaths and nurse practitioners who choose to, get this extra training through an organization like ILADS Internationally and Associated Diseases Society.

So then that's one way that's different. But then as a naturopathic doctor, of course I have that perspective and that probably comes in more, through. Just the way I might, think through the visit with the patient and hold space and also, in treatments. And then how we check in and really looking at things more holistically.

Sometimes I. Something isn't Lyme, right? And so I help them through that. Or there might be Lyme disease, but we might also have other things going on and they might do well with something like physical therapy. So I also look at that team approach and thinking of, who else do we need on their team to help them?

Through this healing journey. I think that's really important too. And so then when we get into treatment, if we just, stick to something simple like Lyme disease, I might in the beginning, if they've never been treated before, especially it's, if it's an acute Lyme case, then I do use pharmaceutical antibiotics. But I'm al also always thinking about the different ways that Lyme exists and hide so I'm always going to add something in addition to thinking about the spirochete bacteria that Lyme is, we're going to need to add something for that round form. And there's research like over, the last 10 plus years now, showing that this is one of the ways that Lyme changes and that's why it makes it so hard to treat Lyme because it can change.

It's really sneaky, it's a survivor. And so we wanna add something, often a natural. Therapy like herbs, like you Knownot weed or Katz Claw, Andrew Graphis. And now we're getting, more and more research on these herbs from institutions like Johns Hopkins, which is excellent. So in the last five years, that's something that's really blossomed.

We're seeing more funding from the nih, different institutions really. Studying these things validating, the work I've been doing saying yes, actually it does work, it does actually kill Lyme and sometimes better than other antibiotics that are commonly used. So that's how it might be different.

I might. Be adding some other therapies in the beginning. And then usually I transition at some point to natural therapies. And there's so many that we have. Another thing we need to think about is biofilm. So that's another way that Lyme hides in the system. And that's also some, not so recent anymore, but more recent, in the last 10 years

Mary: is that bio? What bio?

Dr. Alexis Chesney: biofilm. Yeah.

Mary: I'm not familiar with that. Yeah.

Dr. Alexis Chesney: this is a fibrin layer. that the bacteria. Basically they come together and create a community. So you've got a bunch of spirochete bacteria together and they wall themselves off, create this little fibrin layer of this little shell. And then they, it's really fascinating.

They have they have communication going on in there. They have whole waste removal system, and then they can, Put out different little other biofilms and it's just the way that they survive. So antibiotics won't get through those biofilms but some herbs do and things like serrapeptase, like an enzyme will digest through it.

Some essential oils now we're seeing can break through that. Stevia is one thing that was researched that can break through that. So yeah, so it's really important to address all these ways that Lyme exists. And hide which has made it so difficult to just use conventional medical training to, to really treat and eradicate, and maybe some people do fine with that, right?

just take doxycycline. I'm not saying that everybody will not successfully do well through that treatment, but of course, the people I see probably are that 10 to 20% that have been shown to continue to have symptoms. Research shows that they continue to have symptoms after regular treatment has been provided for Lyme disease.

So it's really, and when you think of how many cases, we're having. At least 350,000 new cases of Lyme every year. And some research says it was like 476,000, something like that. 10 to 20% of that every year. That's a lot of people. So yeah, really trying to be comprehensive in the treatment and treating long enough is really important.

And then, so later on, of course I'm using a lot of natural therapies. And a lot of MDs I work with do too, because, at ILADS it's really wonderful. It's a place where researchers and clinicians come together to learn from each other and share ideas. I might learn a little bit more about pharmaceuticals from my mentor, but I also teach and, learn from others also about natural therapies.

So it's great. We just wanna help patients get better and it's what works? 

Mary: so is is it like 10 to 20% that see, if the number, obviously the number, no one knows the numbers because there's always, there's been a lot of people that don't even believe, that Lyme is a thing. But I think that's changing, but is in your, what you'll all research, is it like 10 to 20% of people that get Lyme, end up with like kind of a long term Lyme?

Is that. 

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Oh, and this is agreed upon by everybody. This is, cdc, if you go to the CDC website, they will say that it's, The the persistent symptoms is what's agreed upon the cause of it, sometimes might, our perspective is it might be a persistent infection but that part is not agreed upon.

Is it, an immune effect, like an autoimmune process that's going on. Sure. Maybe also I, it could be I think that happens. Is it a persistent infection? Is it, what else could be going on? Is it damage that's happened? That's the big question of why are these folks sick?


Mary: I think, yeah, and then. In the, so 13 years ago, I think the conversations were different about just, in about tick-borne disease, also about, where it is, yeah, you were in the hotspot in, new England, but that it is a, the, all of the United States, the continental these, or, and Alaska probably are affected by tick-borne disease.

And one thing I found interesting, This I don't know if it's something's happening. Granted, I am talking to a lot of people about tick-borne disease and I lived a little bit in this world, more so now, but I feel like this spring, I don't know, with the CDC came out with a report more about Babesiosis numbers were increased and I get my little Google alerts for, just what's happening.

I feel like there is possibly a sea change in people really talk, like getting in the news, talking about it. Just in all communities saying, Hey, ticks they're more and more, this was a very mild winter throughout the, a lot of the us not everywhere, but I feel like there is like a conversation's happening.

And I was talking with, we work with Dr. Thomas Mather, university of Rhode Island. He runs a tick encounter resource center.

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Yeah,

Mary: But we were, yeah, he's fantastic and he does a lot of work with, for us in helping just get the word out in education and prevention. But, we were saying how, sunscreen, 20 years ago or when I, 40, for 35 years ago when we would just like, how burnt can we get?

And that has changed now. And it's gosh, you can't even go outside without your sunscreen. And I'm just, do you feel any change happening? Like maybe we're at a point where Really people, the seriousness of tick-borne disease and so many different diseases, and it's not just Lyme and it's not just in Connecticut and Vermont and Massachusetts.

Do you feel a change? I don't. I feel like I'm seeing something.

Dr. Alexis Chesney: I think so. Yeah, I'm hopeful. Absolutely. I think it takes steps. Slow steps to make that change. But, there, there is more funding for research. I think that makes a big effect. There's a lot more education to the public going on. There are a lot of wonderful advocacy groups that have popped up just in the last, five, 10 years.

All of these efforts on all these different ways, is gonna impact the public and more research to come as well. Yeah.

Mary: Yeah, I hope it is. And one thing too that I'd love to, that how we connected is that your book preventing Lyme, and other tick-borne Disease. That part of the conversation though, has not been, How do we prevent people getting tick bites in the first place? It's been so much like how do we heal people that have tick bites?

And you're like, and I think, and it's, so what inspired you to say, okay, wait a second. Like we gotta go back to the beginning. Cuz if people didn't get tick bites, then we wouldn't be running into this. And I think the resources have gone so much to let's. Prevent or let's, how do we like, heal people that are sick as a and as opposed to let's have people not get sick.

And that's so what, how, what inspired you to like, okay, I'm actually gonna write a book and get this published. And seeing that need, cuz there really isn't that much in the news of preventing, it's more like just, oh, make sure you're, you take, there's just, there's not, there's some.

Small tips, but it's more about if you, when you find a tick on you, here's what you need to do. Or if you find not, like how do you not get a tick on you in the first place? 

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Yeah. Yeah, I just, I value education. That's a big piece of, my relationship with my patients and and prevention is one of the principles of naturopathic medicine. After a while, as I'm seeing people come back, I. They May 1st come to me with Lyme disease and I might diagnose them, or they may have been diagnosed before.

Anyway, we go through the process of healing. They're doing better. I'm so excited. They're happy. They're getting back to their lives, they're going outdoors in the beautiful New England landscape and then I see them come back in a year with a new tick bite. And or maybe a new bullseye rash that happens sometimes.

Not always, but, and then just having that happen over and over. I started creating this handout that would just talk about tips, tick checks and permethrin treatment of clothing and different things and. I'm like, please, you have to, and then I'd just be, more and more passionate about giving that to people.

And somebody said it, I think once you should just write a book about this, cuz the handout kept getting longer. As I learned more, I'm like, wait, we need to get some better, tick checks like I. What did we do before that? Repellants, a lot of my folks and myself, are interested in natural repellants, or anyway, Tick Tubes all these different things that I learned about myself to then share with my patients.

And what I did was I did a little ebook myself and and then I got a phone call from Story Publishing saying we would love to do. A book, we want you to submit a manuscript and work with one of our editors and illustrators. And I was thrilled, so that was an amazing process working with them. And then to get it out and hard copy the people. Poor illustrator had to draw so many ticks. It was quite a process. But, part of what I'm passionate about is, doing tick identification and knowing, is this a tick that can carry pathogens? so, which ones, you can test the tick.

Just bringing people. From prevention and let's not get Lyme in the first place through every step of the way. Because actually there are many steps of the way, right? And an asymptomatic tick bite versus a symptomatic tick bite. So the book just brings people through all that and hopefully, In a helpful way that can equip them with, picking at least one thing.

I love to talk to patients year to year, and it'll be like, one year oh, you know what we're doing the permethrin we're doing our shoes. All right, great. We've got it on the calendar. I'm like, put it on the calendar. do it every six weeks. Put it on, remind me, get 'em all out, spray 'em down.

And then the next year they say, oh, okay. I'm like what about some, what about tick tubes? You have this yard and you're talking about the dog going out and bringing in ticks. I'm like, all right, I'm gonna do that this year. So it's great. Just little by little, planting a seed that maybe just take on one other preventative method and it really makes a difference.

And I hear about how, people are getting less tick bites, maybe no tick bites. So it makes a huge difference. And if we could end, at this point really we can end Lyme and tick-borne disease through prevention. That's my ultimate passion. Absolutely.

Mary: Yeah. No, that's, no, that, that's a, it's a worthy cause, and I believe, and that's, and we agree. It's interesting. Yeah. Cuz we're, insect shield and we have a product that can, permethrin works against ticks and that's well known. And there's just some easy things, spraying your shoes, wearing some socks, just some really basics and on, and just people, if you know how ticks work.

And that's why, we're Dr. Mather, we've done some work just okay. They're on the ground, they're crawling up, they're, where they're hanging out. And we just did a video with him, just the myths of, tick ticks. Like they don't fall from trees. And he'd agree. He's He was busy.

He said, I think it was such a good point, the amount of energy it would take a tick to climb up a tree and then try to drop on you. Like thi, just having people really think okay, how does, how's a tick hanging out? Where is it gonna be? And how then it could get onto you. And then that's, again, education and learning about easy ways to help protect yourself.

But then I get, and then if you are bitten the, Because at least even taking a picture of the tick, like they, so you can identify the tick knowing, I don't think a lot of people don't even know they can save the tick or they should save the tick. And little things like that, that can make a huge difference.

Books like yours and getting the word out, it's just help Yeah. To end the scourge of the, the tick bite and still being able to enjoy nature. I think that's at the end, that's what everyone wants. You still wanna go outside and be able to enjoy

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Exactly. Yes. Yes. Cause then people can get really scared after been through or know someone who's gone through Lyme so I, yeah, I love being outdoors and it's so gorgeous in the area where I worked and. Yeah, we wanna get out there and enjoy.

Mary: yeah. No, and it, but then, and it's even too, just reminding folks, I think, feel is important. I'm living, in just a suburb of a, a. Semi large city. Just last week we, or it was two days ago cuz the, I was taking the dog out. Even in my little neighborhood, there's deer. All of a sudden there's a family of five deer running in the backyards.

There's a creek right behind. So I'm sure there's the mice and just so many people also have to remember it's the every day, like you said, it's the backyard. And reminding too, it's not just when you're going out on some big adventure into the woods to make sure, just like you said, it's like sunscreen.

You just, you should have it, kinda all the time. Make, all your shoes you're wearing out to just to, walk the dog and just, go out in the yard making sure you're protected. So I'm sure yeah. Things

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Yeah. It's part of the every day.

Mary: Yeah. Thank you so much. I think, and we will definitely put a link below to your book.

I believe you can buy it on your website. And is it on other,

Dr. Alexis Chesney: It's anywhere you buy books you can get it on Amazon. You can ask your local independent bookstore to carry it if they don't already. You can get a signed copy if you go through my website if you're interested in such a thing. Yeah.

Mary: When I also saw two on your website, you have a really great presentation that kind of really talks about all the different types of ticks and things, so I highly recommend folks check that out if they really wanna get into the nuts and bolts of. Ticks and what they're doing and all the different types and the different diseases.

Because that's the other thing I think too, remembering it's not just Lyme, cuz Lyme gets gets the talk and it's many different

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Yes. Yes. Really

Mary: depending where you are. Yeah.

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Lyme, Babesia as you said. Absolutely. Yeah. It depends on the geographic location, which ticks are in those areas. And then each tick has a different pathogen profile. So yeah, I talk all about that. I also have tick bite clinics. Several years ago, I decided, because I was working with so many chronically ill folks that would be ongoing for a while, but I thought we need to, intervene right in the beginning and people need this education.

So I do have appointments that become available for people that have just had a tick bite and whether they're symptomatic or not, we can talk about what to do. I have a whole prophylaxis regimen that I recommend to people if they'd like. And then also if they are symptomatic, then, we're into a whole different phase of probably dealing with the disease and then, going from there too.

Mary: Excellent. That's great. We will put, we'll put links to all that on the bottom of the page. Thank you so much for sharing all of your information and what you do. And hopefully we will work with you to get rid of the tick-borne disease.

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Yes. You're so important in that fight. Absolutely. I respect and appreciate Insect Shield so much because you've made a huge difference in the lives of my patients and myself.

Mary: That's great. Yeah, no, and that's what, we have a commercial product, but it also can really do a lot of good for a lot of people. So really, and we're trying to support as much we can, getting the word out and saying how easy it is to protect yourself and to be a, still be able to enjoy outside.

Dr. Alexis Chesney: Thank you, Mary.

Mary: Thank you so much.