The Lyme Diet, Part 1
“So, I’ve just received a devastating medical diagnosis and I can’t go home and drown my sorrows in red wine, sourdough bread, and Cambazola cheese, followed by a double cappuccino, a pint of Häagen Dazs Dulce de Leche ice cream, and a can of Pepperidge Farms Pirouette cookies? Ever again?”
“You can do whatever you want. But if you want to feel like caca while delaying your recovery, go right ahead.”
No Sugar, No Gluten, No Dairy, No Booze. Those eight words sum up the Lyme Diet. As hard as the diet is to wrap your head around, it is probably the easiest ingredient of treating Lyme disease. In this post I’m going to talk about what you should not be eating, and why. In my next post I will share information about what you can eat and their benefits. In the future, I will be sharing simple recipes and menu ideas, good healthy food that even a Lyme-addled brain can prepare. When I was sick I would often not eat because I had neither appetite nor desire to cook. As you can imagine, this would leave me feeling even worse, more lethargic, and much more cranky.
The Lyme Diet won’t cure Lyme disease. What it will do is strengthen your immune system so your body is better able to fight the disease. More than 70% of the immune system resides in the gut, so diet is a critical component of healing. In essence line, you want to decrease inflammatory foods, increase anti-oxidant and anti-microbial foods, and open the detoxification pathways (I will be addressing this in more detail in another post). Additionally, there is a very good chance that you will be taking mega-doses of antibiotics, which indiscriminately kill both the bad and good bacteria in your gut. Without the addition of probiotic foods and supplements, this could lead to the dreaded yeast infections and diarrhea. I will admit, it isn’t always easy to deny yourself the double-scoop hot fudge sundae topped with sugar cone crumble, but your body will be much happier.
It is estimated that as many as 50% of Lyme disease cases are not properly treated and become chronic. In the chronic phase, Lyme disease joins the ranks of other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, irritable bowel syndrome (ulcerative colitis & Crohn’s disease), Type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, thyroid disease, and Celiac disease to name a few. In very simple terms, in an autoimmune disease your immune system goes into overdrive and attacks your own, healthy cells. Common symptoms include fatigue, achy muscles, swelling and redness, low-grade fever, trouble concentrating, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, hair loss, and skin rashes. In some cases, the symptoms are persistent. In other cases the occasional flare-up is more common. Either way, diet is critical for keeping an autoimmune disease under control. The Lyme diet I’m sharing here is essentially an autoimmune diet.
Whenever possible, eat organic foods. The pesticides and inorganic fertilizers used in large-scale farming are high in heavy metals. Heavy metals are known to feed inflammation and hinder the body’s detoxification systems. While I am blessed with the time, space, and weather to grow my own organic produce, I did have chelation therapy to rid my body of heavy metals while in treatment. In addition to living near large fields inundated with non-organic fertilizers and pesticides, toxic pesticides were used on my property shortly after I arrived. I am also in the process of having all my silver mercury amalgam fillings replaced in an attempt to rid my body of as many heavy metals as possible. We are swimming in a world of heavy metals. The general population will probably not notice the effects of heavy metal toxicity (symptoms include headache, weakness, tiredness, achy joints and muscles, and constipation), but a body fighting Lyme disease can be devastated.
Like the symptoms, the specifics of the Lyme diet will vary from person to person. Some people cannot tolerate grains, corn, or legumes. Some people have difficulties with the nightshade vegetables, tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, eggplant, white potatoes, and goji berries. Many studies suggest that soy products should be avoided. My Lyme doctor advised against eating meat. Interestingly, there is one particular tick, the Lone Star tick, which is thought to produce an allergy to meat in its victims. Every person must find their own perfect diet, but sugar, gluten, dairy, and alcohol are the top four Do Not Eat – Everitems of every Lyme diet.
Sugar – Lyme Enemy #1
Sugar really is the root of all evil. For Lymies, not only does it feed the Lyme bacteria, it also suppresses the immune system, inhibiting its ability to fight the disease. More and more research is proving the deleterious effects of refined sugar. Sugar is not just empty calories that give you cavities, it is a leading contributor to obesity, type II diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, and liver disease.
Sadly, fruit = fructose = sugar = no good. On the Lyme diet, fruit should be limited, but not all fruit is created equal. In some fruits, the anti-oxidant benefits outweigh the bad. Tomatoes, avocados, citrus, coconut, berries, and mango (gracias adios) are all on the “OK to Eat” list, in moderation. Citrus, in fact, is highly recommended for daily consumption and to help alleviate the symptoms of a Jarisch-Herxheimer (Herx) reaction. I like to start my day with a glass of water, a squeeze of lime, and a shot of Stevia.
One savior for our sweet teeth is Stevia. Not only is it a great sweetener, it has been shown to have Lyme fighting properties. But that is another story for another day.
Click here if you need a little John Oliver, sugar-related giggle right about now.
Click here for an in-depth analysis of the deleterious effects of sugar.
Gluten, the protein in wheat, directly causes inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or foreign invaders. In the short run (acute/good), inflammation can help fight injury and disease. In the long run (chronic/bad), inflammation causes joint pain, brain fog, muscle pain, headaches, and a myriad of other symptoms. There are some who say that all grains should be avoided, but gluten is the worst of the worst.
Many years ago, before the gluten-free craze really hit, my mom discovered she was gluten intolerant. I would often roll my eyes, just a little bit, but not for the gluten intolerance but for her never-ending search to find alternatives to her normal foods – bread, pasta, pie crust, cake… It seemed to me that it would make more sense to change your by eliminating gluten and focusing on the other whole foods that you can eat. I also believed that part of the problem with gluten-foods was that they were all highly processed. When my Lyme-brain fog lifted enough that I understood the Lyme Diet, I had my chance to walk the gluten-free walk that I had been spouting. I was happy to discover that I was right, it is quite simple to eliminate gluten from your diet. It helps that I live in Podunk Mexico, where the diet is basically gluten-free (except for the inedible Mexican pastries), and we don’t have supermarkets with entire aisles of over-priced, specialty, gluten-free products.
Dairy combines the worst properties of sugar and gluten. It is both an inflammatory food and contains lactose. Lactose is the sugar found in dairy products. It is believed that 65% of the adult population is lactose intolerant.
Yogurt: One exception to the dairy rule is yogurt. Yogurt can be an amazing source of probiotics, but you need to find natural, sugar-free yogurt with live cultures. When I lived in Oregon I lived on Nancy’s Yogurt. As I mentioned earlier, mega-doses of antibiotics are brutal on your gut biome, killing both good and bad bacteria indiscriminately. The most painful consequence of this is the dreaded yeast infection. Happily, yogurt is loaded with probiotics, which help boost your gut biome and decrease the risk of yeast infections. It is also recommended that while on antibiotics you supplement with a good oral probiotic.
Alcohol is sugar, pure and simple. If you love beer, it is sugar and gluten, pure and simple. As with lactose, everything about alcohol is wrong. There is also the possibility of adverse reactions to antibiotics and other medications. It can lead to a Herx (more about this later, but trust me, I would rather die than experience another “herx”). Alcohol is really hard on an already overworked liver. Finally, even a small amount of alcohol can make you very drunk and give you a raging hangover. The science is a bit complicated but the reaction is very real. Even now, while I am recovering nicely, I limit my alcohol to maybe one drink per week. Sometimes I regret even that.
Click here for a little more info on the horrors of booze.
Coffee is one of those things that can be classified as good and bad. On the good side, it has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities, and it is good for the liver. One common and accepted Lyme protocol is the coffee enema. I know, but I have friends who swear by it. On the bad side, the caffeine of coffee stresses the adrenal glands, glands that are already hard hit by Lyme disease.
I tried to curb my coffee addiction, but I never could. I felt it was the lesser of many evils. I have heard experts say, if the stress of quitting is greater than the benefits, just have that morning cuppa joe. During my intense, month long treatment, I felt like my only joy in life was my morning cup of coffee, it enabled me to endure the day and I went to sleep each night with sweet dreams of my morning fix.
I realize I only discuss coffee here. I’m speaking from personal experience and coffee is my only caffeine fix. Caffeinated soda is absolutely off the list because it is basically sugar, water, and caffeine. Sugar-free soda is as bad, if not worse, than regular soda. Green tea is a good option, it has less caffeine than both black tea and coffee and it has the added benefit of natural anti-oxidants. Cocoa, like green tea, contains much less caffeine than coffee and also has anti-oxidant qualities. When I need a little something sweet in the afternoon, I will treat myself to this delicious, Lyme-friendly, hot cocoa.
In a Nutshell:
All this might sound just too difficult. I was surprised at how quickly and easily I was able to eliminate most of these things from my diet. Once you feel the effects of clean eating, it is easy to continue with the plan. While I don’t believe I am cured of my Lyme disease, I would say that I am back to about 75% normal. I am once again able to run, ride my bike, garden, stand up from a squat without getting a low blood pressure head-rush, and most days napping is a choice not a necessity. I have stayed on the Lyme diet and I am positive that even in good health it has many positive impacts. One of which has been a nearly 40 pound fat loss. I feel really good about my body, and climbing hills hasn’t been this easy in years!
Next up – What in the World Can I Eat?