Did you know that toxins like Lyme, Bartonella, mold and viruses can contribute to depression, anxiety, poor memory, mood swings, poor attention and other mental health issues?
Microbes and toxins can seriously affect and even damage mental health. Increasingly, research is showing that microbes such as the Borrelia bacterium that causes Lyme Disease, mold toxins or a virus like Epstein-Barr can all be major root causes of mental illness.
In this blog, we will look at how to test for the microbes that can contribute to, or even cause, mental health issues:
- You will learn why lab testing is an important step to getting a correct diagnosis
- You will learn which are the most important lab tests for the various microbes, toxins and infections that can contribute to mental health issues.
- You will know which tests to ask your doctor for, to get to the root causes of your mental health challenges.
For more background on which specific toxins and microbes can damage mental health, see our previous blog on Infections & Mental Health. In our blog on Brain Inflammation, we discuss how these microbes can ultimately lead to autoimmunity in the brain and mental illness. In a future blog, we will look at treatment strategies used in our Functional Medicine clinic that can help address these microbes and resolve mental health issues.
There are some very good laboratory tests available to identify possible root causes for mental health. Unfortunately, testing is not always perfect. But it is useful to help rule things out and form a correct diagnosis related to possible causes of mental health issues.
Test Don’t Guess
In our Functional Medicine clinic, we test rather than guess. There are multiple root causes for mental health disorders and it is important to test for the most likely causes in any given case. At the Medicine with Heart clinic, we test to drill down to the precise root cause(s). This avoids wasting time with treatments that are not relevant.
Many of the tests we use in Functional Medicine are not used in conventional medicine. They have not become a common diagnostic tool in some cases. Also, in Functional Medicine, we often look at lab ranges differently, because we are aiming for optimal health. In many cases, a person’s lab work may come back as ‘healthy’ but they still experience symptoms. This happens more in conventional medicine. In these situations, we follow the symptoms and treat the patient, not the labs.
Testing for the Microbes linked to Mental Health
There are standard tests that we can do to identify the different infections that may contribute to mental health. We can test for:
- Lyme and possible Lyme co-infections
- Inflammatory markers associated with mold toxin bioaccumulation and urinary mycotoxins
- The genetic predisposition that causes an issue with mold toxin detoxification
- Viral or strep infection antibodies
- Antibodies against brain tissue or structures
- The total toxic burden a person may have
Lyme & Co-infections Testing
The Western blot blood test is currently considered part of the gold standard testing to identify a tick-borne Lyme infection from Borrelia or other Lyme co-infections.
Most Functional Medicine and Lyme-literate doctors use the Western blot test. It is best to work with a Lyme-literate doctor, which we have in our Medicine with Heart clinic. This is because it takes skill and extensive experience to correctly interpret the Western blot test and other Lyme tests, and to properly diagnose Lyme and Lyme co-infections.
The Western blot is often the best first step in assessing for Lyme Disease. The test result is based on reading and interpreting a series of ‘bands’. Knowing which bands are relevant and reasonably specific for Lyme is key to a correct interpretation and diagnosis using the Western blot (Molloy PJ, 2001).
However, the Western blot test can only identify one species of Borrelia, called B31. There are many species of Borrelia that can cause Lyme. By only looking for one species, the Western blot test can help but is not a complete test.
Preferred functional medicine testing for Lyme and co-infections include the Tick-Borne 1.0 or 2.0 from the lab Vibrant Wellness, the 5IBL (or others) from IGeneX, or PCR urine testing through DNA Connexions.
These tests look for multiple species of Borrelia + Lyme co-infections. These tests have higher sensitivity and specificity than the two-tier testing that the CDC recommends and can better detect tick-borne diseases.
Lyme Disease is sometimes a diagnosis of exclusion where we rule out other diseases. Testing can be helpful if it is the right test and is correctly interpreted. In our clinic, we conduct a detailed analysis and ‘treat the patient, not the lab’. We will assess lab results, symptoms, and the whole picture in order to come up with a correct diagnosis.
Testing for Bartonella
Bartonella is a common Lyme co-infection. There are different types of tests available to help confirm a Bartonella diagnosis. They are:
- ImmunoBlots & Western blots
- IFA or Immunofluorescent Assay
- ELISPOT or Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSpot
- PCR or Polymerase Chain Reaction
- FISH or Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization
Diagnosing Bartonella can be tricky. Tests may be negative one time and then positive the next time (Lymedisease.org, 2022). Bartonella is one of the co-infections that the previously mentioned tests from Vibrant Wellness, IGeneX, and DNA Connexions include and test for.
The FISH and the PCR are also among the most reliable tests for Bartonella. Given the variety of testing available, it is best to work with a Lyme-literate doctor to accurately test and diagnose a Bartonella infection.
Mold Toxin Testing
There are several tests that can be done to check for mold illness:
- The VCS, or Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test, can be easily done online. You can do it on your own online to screen for mold illness. It is a useful test to check for mold illness or to check progress during mold illness treatment. It is also relevant for infections like Lyme, co-infections and COVID-19.
- There are certain blood markers that can be tested to check for mold illness. The main markers affected by mold toxin accumulation include TGF Beta-1, MMP-9, MSH, and C4a.
- We can check for the genetic susceptibility to mold illness by testing saliva. The test looks at a specific segment of the HLA gene called HLA DR1/3/4/5 DQ, Intermediate Resolution. This test can be ordered through two labs; LabCorp or Quest.
- Mycotoxins (or urinary mycotoxins) can be directly measured in the urine. This test is available through Vibrant Wellness, Great Plains and Realtime Labs.
Mold Testing Your Environment
If you are found to have mold illness, it is important to test your home for mold. You will need to know where the mold is coming from. ERMI is the gold standard test to check for mold in the home. HERTSMI-2, ERMI, endotoxins dust sample, and actinomycetes dust samples are all good options. Envirobiomics, Realtime Labs, and Mycometrics are all good companies offering these kinds of tests. Mold could also be in your office so if you spend time there, you will need to test it for mold.
If mold is found, mold remediation may be the next step. It is not always easy to remediate, or entirely remove, mold. Sometimes people have to move house. Our clinic can support you with information about home testing, how to clean your belongings of mold and mold remediation for the home.
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If you have, or have had, a virus, you will have antibodies. There are antibodies that are specific to the type of virus. Antibodies to viruses, such as Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), herpes viruses such as HSV1, HSV2, and HHV6, cytomegalovirus, Covid- 19 and others, are made by the immune system and can be seen in the blood.
Serology, or blood, tests can identify if you have antibodies in the blood that would indicate a viral infection. It is one of the methods most often used to clinically diagnose viral infections.
There is some nuance to the types of antibodies, IgG vs IgM, early antigen in the case of EBV, and other considerations beyond the scope of this blog. It is best to work with a knowledgeable Functional Medicine provider experienced in chronic viral infections. Many doctors are not informed, or convinced, that latent viral infections have a significant impact on physical and mental health.
Another interesting marker for viruses is neopterin. It is a more general marker that may be elevated by viral load. Neopterin concentrations usually relate to the extent and activity of the infection. We can monitor neopterin levels to see how treatment is going.
Neopterin can be high with the following issues:
- Viral infections, such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C, Covid-19
- Bacterial infections, such as Borrelia which causes Lyme, or an H pylori bacterial infection
- Autoimmune conditions
- Malignant tumor diseases related to various types of cancer
- Depression: Higher neopterin levels + low levels of tryptophan correlate with neuropsychiatric issues such as cognitive decline and depressive symptoms (Widner B, 2002). This is especially true in the case of chronic disease (Widner B, 2002).
- Somatization: Somatization is when we have physical symptoms which are the result of something emotional. We can physically express stress and emotions through the mind-body connection. Throwing up from anxiety, having a headache due to stress, or feeling physically weak after trauma are all examples of somatization.
Strep Infection Test
Strep is a bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus bacteria. We can test for antibodies to strep, which would indicate a current or previous strep infection. Labs like LabCorp, Quest and Bio-Reference can provide the test.
Having strep antibodies results in a positive test result. It indicates that you may have had a recent strep infection. However, in 1 in 5, or 20%, of cases, this test won’t show an increase in antibodies when you have an illness, such as rheumatic fever. You may need other tests to confirm if the strep infection is active.
Strep antibodies will be highest between 3 – 8 weeks after a strep infection. Levels can remain high for several months.
Brain Autoantibody Testing
There are tests that can identify antibodies against brain tissue. Infections or toxins may be the cause of brain antibody elevation. Checking the level of brain antibodies allows us to be sure that underlying triggers are being adequately addressed.
If neurological / brain antibodies are elevated and infections or toxins are treated, antibodies can be re-tested. This helps to assess if brain antibodies are decreasing with treatment or whether they remain elevated. This is important because other root causes, such as gut dysbiosis, missed infections or other toxins, may cause the still high levels of brain antibodies.
Labs testing brain autoantibodies include Vibrant Wellness (Neural Zoomer Plus) and Moleculera (Cunningham Panel).
Total Toxic Burden Test
It may also be useful to get a test to measure your total toxic burden. The Total Tox Burden test provided by Vibrant Wellness tests for levels of various types of environmental toxins in the urine. It measures pesticides including glyphosate, hormone disruptors like phthalates and parabens, mycotoxins from mold toxins and heavy metals exposure to metals such as cadmium, mercury, arsenic etc. All of these toxins can cause illness and potentially contribute to mental health challenges. This test is a great starting point to identify general toxin levels.
- Testing can sometimes be an art as well as a science. It is not always possible to get crystal clear results from testing. But having said that, testing is always better than guessing. It can help us to rule out irrelevant treatments and incorrect diagnoses.
- In our Functional Medicine clinic, we run tests so we can avoid guessing and have hard evidence of a root cause. We also use testing to track the progress of treatment plans.
- We can perform tests to check for Lyme Disease and Lyme co-infections, mold illness, mold in the home or office, viral or strep infections.
- We can test for brain antibodies. These would develop as a part of a possible autoimmune process that may happen as a result of toxins or infection and can cause mental health issues.
- We can test for the total level of toxins that a person may have. This test looks at environmental toxins; pesticides, endocrine or hormone disruptors, molds or heavy metals.
- We recommend learning about the available tests so that you can ask your doctor for the right tests that will get you an accurate diagnosis.
In our clinic, we are experts at identifying root causes of chronic and mental illnesses. We regularly diagnose and treat hard-to-diagnose conditions like mold illness, chronic Lyme Disease, Lyme co-infections, viruses and others. Once treated, we see vast improvements in our patients mental and overall health. In addition, we are Lyme-literate doctors. We help people to address the root causes of illness and improve their health, with both natural and pharmaceutical approaches, depending on the individual case.
** Please stay tuned for our next Blog! **
Branda JA, B. B. (2018). Advances in Serodiagnostic Testing for Lyme Disease Are at Hand. Clinical Infectious Diseases.
Lymedisease.org. (2022). Bartonella: A Lyme Disease Co-infection. Retrieved from www.lymedisease.org: https://www.lymedisease.org/lyme-basics/co-infections/bartonella/
Molloy PJ, P. D. (2001). False-positive results of PCR testing for Lyme disease. Clinical Infectious Diseases.
Widner B, L. A. (2002). Neopterin production, tryptophan degradation, and mental depression–what is the link? Brain Behav Immun.
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