Approaching Lyme Disease The Paleo Way

Lyme disease is an inflammatory, tick-borne illness, and rates of it have skyrocketed around the world over the course of the past decade. Long considered an “East Coast disease,” since it was first identified in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut, it has actually been detected across the United States and on every continent except Antarctica.

Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease, is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected black-legged tick or deer tick. In its early stages, Lyme disease produces fever, chills, headache, fatigue, and a “bullseye” rash called an erythema migrans. Some of the most common symptoms experienced by people with persistent Lyme disease include chronic fatigue, joint pain, muscle aches, neurological dysfunction and cardiovascular problems.

The Paleo Diet and Lyme Disease

A growing body of research demonstrates the Paleo diet is a powerful tool for reversing chronic diseases (metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, CV disease). Along with that, many healthcare practitioners savvy with treating Lyme disease are having success with chronic Lyme patients following a Paleo diet.

There are four primary reasons why a Paleo diet may be beneficial for Lyme patients:

1. It removes inflammatory foods from the diet.

2. It provides the body with antioxidants that quench inflammation.

3. It provides vitamins and minerals that support a healthy immune response.

4. It optimizes gut health.

Borrelia burgdorferi produces symptoms by provoking immunological and inflammatory responses throughout the body. If left untreated, these adverse physiological responses can cause neurological, musculoskeletal, and cardiovascular damage. Reducing inflammation is crucial for preventing long-term damage.  Reducing inflammation is crucial for preventing long-term damage. The Paleo diet’s avoidance of pro-inflammatory foods such as grains, sugar and industrial seed oils (canola, soy, corn, peanut, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed) is highly beneficial for Lyme patients because it significantly reduces the body’s total inflammatory load. Consuming a lot of fruits, vegetables, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed meats further supports the quenching of Borrelia-induced inflammation by providing the body with antioxidants and essential fatty acids that inhibit oxidative damage in cells and tissues.

In addition to reducing inflammation, optimizing the body’s immune response is essential in the fight against Lyme disease. Vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, and selenium are just a few nutrients to optimize immune function. Fortunately, the Paleo diet is full of foods that contain these nutrients:

Vitamin D: found in eggs, beef liver, fatty/cold-water fish

Zinc: found in oysters, liver, beef, lamb, chicken, pumpkin seeds, and cashews

Selenium: found in Brazil nuts, salmon, tuna, and shrimp

Vitamin C: found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peppers, strawberries and citrus fruits

Seventy to eighty percent of your immune system resides in the gut; therefore, when the gut is healthy, the immune system can function optimally and efficiently fight pathogens such as B. burgdorgeri.

A Paleo diet is naturally low in sugar and contains plenty of fiber and fermented foods inhibits the growth of Candida, an opportunistic pathogen that frequently plagues Lyme patients who have undergone multiple rounds of antibiotics. All the fruits and veggies eaten on a Paleo-style diet also populate the gut with beneficial bacteria.

Ancestral Health Practices for Lyme Recovery

Train Your Circadian Rhythm

Circadian rhythms can influence sleep-wake cycles and follow an approximately 24-hour schedule. They also regulate hormone release, eating habits and digestion, immune function, metabolism, body temperature, and other important bodily functions.

Troublingly, disrupting the circadian rhythm promotes inflammation, making this a significant concern for people with Lyme disease. Correcting anything that may be disrupting the circadian rhythm is an essential component of recovery. Lyme patients can “reset” their circadian rhythms by avoiding blue-light exposure at night, sleeping in a completely dark room, and getting plenty of sunlight during the day. In addition to reducing inflammation, these practices may also alleviate insomnia, a common symptom of Lyme disease.

Stress Reduction

Stress may be one of the most crucial, but most difficult to manage, aspects of Lyme disease recovery. Many Lyme patients are working full-time, taking care of their families, and fielding numerous other responsibilities in addition to trying to recover their health. Unfortunately, this lifestyle can significantly hinder the healing process because chronic stress promotes inflammation and weakens the immune system.

To heal, Lyme patients need to take a cue from modern-day hunter-gatherers and set aside plenty of time for relaxation. Engaging in practices such as yoga or meditation, or taking the time to get a massage, can further reduce stress and promote healing.

Nurturing Relationships

Battling chronic Lyme disease can be a lonely and isolating process, not only because much of the medical community does not recognize its existence, but also because family and friends can often find it difficult to understand the illness.

Research indicates social relationship exert a significant influence on health outcomes, including healing from illness. Lyme patients should follow the lead of our hunger-gatherer ancestors, who had strong social support systems, and seek out nurturing relationships. These may come in the form of non-judgmental, thoughtful friends and family members, Lyme-disease support groups, and compassionate healthcare providers.

Nature Time

We spend the majority of our lives indoors. Exposure to natural environments may be especially helpful for those with Lyme disease due to its beneficial effects on inflammation and immune function.

Plants release airborne compounds called phytoncides, which have antimicrobial properties and can boost immunity. The air in mountainous and forested areas contains high levels of negative ions, which inhibit free-radical damage and inflammation.

Nature exposure increases the proliferation of natural killer cells, which defend the body against pathogenic microbes.

Many Lyme patients feels some degree of ambivalence towards nature, because they contracted their illness outdoors. But remaining diligent about avoiding tick-infested areas, using clothing and insect repellents to protect skin, and performing “tick checks” after spending time outdoors can allow Lyme patients to enjoy the beauty and health benefits of nature without unnecessary fear.

Botanical Medicine

While antibiotic therapy has been the go-to for treating Lyme disease for many years, emerging research indicates B. burgdorgeri can survive antibiotics and persist in the body. Lyme patients are also concerned about the long-term effects of taking repeated rounds of antibiotics, including the consequences for gut health. These concerns have led to a surge of interest in the use of botanicals for treating Lyme.

In scientific studies, a handful of plants have demonstrated potent anti-Borrelial properties, including stevia leaf extract, oregano essential oil, Fuller’s teasel, and cat’s claw. These botanicals contain multiple antimicrobial compounds that work synergistically to fight infection and boost immunity.

While Lyme disease can be a very challenging illness to navigate, it presents us with a unique opportunity: the chance to take ownership of our bodies and build a foundation for lifelong health. A Paleo diet and ancestral lifestyle principles are powerful tools that can facilitate recovery from Lyme disease, while also empowering us to become our healthiest, happiest selves.

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods


Article courtesy of Paleo magazine

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