Navigating the most appropriate diet for a Lyme disease patient can be difficult, but good nutrition is such a crucial part of any treatment regimen that it is well worth addressing. Lyme disease is an illness caused by bacteria that is typically transmitted via ticks, but may also be spread via lice, fleas, mosquitos and other insects.
I believe that maintaining optimal nutrition is crucial for Lyme disease sufferers, but there is limited information on what people should eat, and how diet impacts the disease process in Lyme.
The Lyme Diet: Nutritional Strategies for Healing from Lyme Disease, was born out of this desire to assist people in their nutritional choices.
There are several major tenets of The Lyme Diet™ – the major benefits of eating this way are –
- Reducing inflammation in the body
- Supporting the immune system
- Preventing Candida and supporting healthy digestive function
- Supporting hormone systems
- Supporting detoxification
The book outlines many different food choices and how they contribute to these goals. Two of the major and more obvious categories of foods to be avoided are gluten and sugar, and these will be discussed here. But there are also many other factors that are discussed, such as eating for glycemic control, the benefits of an alkaline diet, and how a high oxalate diet can impact pain and fatigue.
There are many different reasons to avoid eating gluten. Many Americans are gluten intolerant, and do not even realize it. The most severe form of gluten intolerance – celiac disease – may present with severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, skin conditions, and weight loss; however there are many more covert signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance that may not be so obvious, such as low grade digestive issues, gas, bloating and heartburn, decreased energy, joint and muscle pain, headaches and skin rashes. Many of these symptoms overlap with Lyme symptoms, and are indicative of inflammation in the body.
Gluten is pro-inflammatory. Gluten molecules can actually trigger an immune response, partially as they are not well broken down by deficient enzyme systems, and largely because many people have an autoimmune response to it. What that means is the gluten molecule triggers the immune system to start attacking the body’s own tissues. Any immune response leads to chemical mediators being released that cause inflammation and lead to symptoms such as pain, edema and headaches.
Being that Lyme disease creates such a high level of inflammation in the body, removing any additional sources of inflammation is important, and this is largely why a gluten-free diet is so critical. It also removes a source of immune activation, given that the immune system is already so taxed dealing with the infections themselves.
Low sugar/ carbohydrate diet
One of the first things I do with my Lyme patients is some kind of anti-fungal treatment, and I commonly find that people get some rapid improvement after doing this, particularly in cognitive symptoms such as memory and concentration. This positive response leads me to believe that yeast overgrowth, particularly candidiasis, is a contributing factor in many Lyme patients symptomatology. Add to that the impact of long term antibiotics on the intestinal flora, and there is a major argument to keeping a keen eye on preventing yeast.
Adequate probiotics (up to 200 billion organisms per day), and natural anti-fungals such as pau d’arco, garlic, oregano and caprylic acid, are great adjuncts. However, a key factor is keeping the sugar and carbohydrate intake of the diet low.
Sugar feeds yeast. It is as simple as that. If we are trying to deprive yeast of its food source, we need to keep the sugars and carbohydrates away from it. Feeding the yeast with sugars allows it to be happy and flourishing.
Which carbohydrates are good and which are not so good? While all carbohydrates ultimately break down to simple sugars, there are good choices you can make. Simple sugars, like refined white sugar in cakes and cookies, are about the worst. Those types of foods have very little nutritional content and are a source of refined sugars, saturated fats and gluten. More complex carbohydrates such as cereals and flours still have the potential to feed yeast, as the body breaks them down to simple sugars. Fruits, while considered healthy by virtue of their vitamin and mineral content, still have the potential to feed yeast, and should be restricted in Lyme patients, especially those with known yeast overgrowth, and those on antibiotics.
The carbohydrates I suggest people eat come from vegetables such as broccoli, green leafy veggies, and salads. These foods are health-giving, come directly from nature, and are full of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. They also are high in fiber, which slows their transit through the intestines and provides roughage to ensure healthy bowel movements.
Another thing many people do not realize is the impact eating sugar has on the immune system. One teaspoon of sugar has been found to suppress immunity for up to 16 hours. So if a person eats a high sugar diet, their immune system is never working at full steam. The bacterial infection of Lyme disease is already known for putting a clamp down on the immune system, so it is important that we do not make food choices to further that detrimental effect.
These are just two examples of how food can directly impact symptomatology for a Lyme disease sufferer, and how food can be used to aid the recovery process from Lyme. The Lyme Diet™ goes into extensive detail about how to eat to balance hormones, recover the adrenals, minimize inflammation and keep the digestive system happy in the face of extensive antibiotic regimens.
Food is medicine. It sustains us, nourishes us, and can heal us. It should be one of the most important factors in the treatment program of someone with Lyme disease. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, many people just do not know what the optimal diet is for them. With Lyme-brain, it is almost impossible to wade through the plethora of available diets and information without becoming overwhelmed. The Lyme Diet™ aims to make such information more accessible and easy to understand.
I believe that the body has an incredible power of self-healing. It knows what it needs to heal – sometimes we just need to get out of the way and remove the obstacles to healing. In a nutritional sense, that means taking away the foods that bring the body down and supplying it with healthy vibrant raw materials that it can use to produce strong immune cells, healthy neurons and strong muscle fibers.