Welcome to week eight of my 10-week series, 10 Barriers to Recovery From Lyme Disease. Today’s topic is one of my favorites – nutrition! Of all the different aspects of Lyme disease and Lyme treatment, I believe that nutrition is the factor that patient’s have the most control over, and the one that can be among the most helpful. I have countless patients who can vouch for how much better they feel when they are eating a clean diet and avoiding inflammatory foods.
Eating a diet high in sugar, gluten and dairy, along with processed foods, can be a major hinderance to getting better. It may not seem that way, particularly if you have eaten that diet for years. You may not think they can impact your body as significantly as they can. But I have seen so much evidence to the contrary. Your nutrition is a key piece in your recovery.
There are a few key things that are the most problematic. Sugar is one of the worst foods for you. Actually, I might call it a drug more than a food. It’s addictive, and it has you believe that you need it to get through the day. Sugar is immune-suppressive – one teaspoon of sugar can suppress immune function for up to 16 hours. In an illness like Lyme where you want the best immune system possible, it does not make sense to ingest substances that reduce its activity.
Sugar also feeds yeast. When taking antibiotics, there is a risk of Candida overgrowth from the flora in the gut getting out of balance. With long-term antibiotics, this can become a rate-limiting step in treatment, sometimes requiring patients to stop antibiotic therapy until it’s brought back into balance. Given that yeast feeds on sugar, eating a high sugar diet will subsequently worsen the yeast issue. It’s a catch-22 – sugar feeds yeast so yeast gets more problematic, which then sets up more cravings for sugar, which then makes one eat more sugar, and so it goes on.
The other food that I think is a huge problem is gluten. Many people are gluten intolerant and don’t even know it. One does not always get digestive symptoms from ingesting gluten – so that’s not an adequate guide. Lyme patients are more susceptible to autoimmune process in general, as Lyme messes with the immune system so much and can make it hyper-reactive. Avoiding gluten can help to minimize the autoimmune reactions. This can also help when autoimmune thyroid issues such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are present. Other than the autoimmune process, gluten is a very inflammatory grain in general. We want to avoid anything in the body that triggers more inflammation, as inflammation leads to pain, tissue damage and a major limitation on the body’s ability to heal.
Dairy is another inflammatory food group. Food sensitivity testing can help identify dairy sensitivity, but I have seen patients improve when removing dairy from their diet, even without positive test results showing a frank intolerance. The mechanism is the same as above – inflammation leads to tissue damage, slows healing and can worsen pain.
Processed foods and fried foods are also problematic. Saturated fats are pro-inflammatory, and the toxins that come from junk foods are one more burden for an already burdened system.
The best diet for a Lyme patient, in my opinion, is sugar free, gluten free and low in dairy. It is high in anti-inflammatory fats such as flax oil and fish oil, and other healthy fats such as coconut, avocado and olive oils. It contains plenty of lean proteins that provide the building blocks of the immune system and of healthy cells.
Since diet is something that everyone has control over on a day-to-day basis, it seems logical to make health-advancing changes to boost immune function, reduce inflammation, and speed up cell healing. For more information on this topic, I highly recommend my book The Lyme Diet: Nutritional Strategies for Healing From Lyme Disease.