One of the most important and overlooked methods of prevention, treatment, and control of inflammation in the body is improving diet and nutrition. As someone who’s been diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, I am painstakingly aware of the pain and body aches caused by inflammation (headaches, muscle aches, and brain fog, etc.). Lyme disease is actually an inflammatory disease triggered by an activation of the immune response in reaction to the Lyme bacteria known as borrelia burgdorferi.
While diet is a very personal decision, and what’s best for me may not necessarily be best for you, most Lyme patients are told to reduce foods that trigger inflammation. Raised a vegetarian, I’ve always viewed food as a component of wellness, but since my chronic Lyme diagnosis in February 2018, it’s become an even more important way to heal and nourish my body.
ACUTE VS. CHRONIC.
Acute inflammation is the early and sometimes immediate response by the human body to potentially harmful bacteria or an injury to bodily tissues. In acute inflammation, damaged cells, foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses, irritants and pathogens, bombard the body and activate blood vessels, immune cells, and molecular modulators to respond and repair.
In general, the onset of acute inflammation may last just a few days – think a painful cut that reddens, or scratched eye that itches and tears. These conditions represent the body’s response to what it perceives as a potentially harmful injury or stimuli, and generally improves on their own. However, if acute inflammation lasts longer, this likely represents a more serious infection or chronic condition.
Chronic inflammation is typically longer in duration than acute inflammation and due to more “use and abuse” than acute injuries. This prolonged type of inflammation typically occurs when the body has a difficult time destroying an invasive pathogen. The onset may be slow and subtle, lasting for months to years. Symptoms of chronic inflammation may include chest, joint, and muscle pain, fatigue, fevers, or rashes.
Factors that contribute to excessive inflammation can be alcohol and drug use, diet, stress, weight, genes, inactivity, and autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are illnesses that occur when body tissues are attacked by the immune system. Conditions and disease that may be caused by chronic inflammation may include arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s disease, and fibromyalgia, among others. Chronic inflammation can be more difficult to identify and treat, often requiring a combination of treatment approaches. While many drugs may help decrease joint pain, inflammation, overall discomfort and swelling, diet and nutrition are a better means to work with the body instead of treating symptoms.
Immune health affects our gut health, and the wrong foods and diet can quickly disrupt your digestive system, so for the past eight months, I’ve been following an anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting diet. The inspiration for my diet is outlined Dr. Darin Engles, ND Faaem in his book called The Lyme Solution: A 5 Part Plan to Fight the Inflammatory Autoimmune Response and Beat Lyme Disease.
Dr. Engles contracted Lyme disease shortly before opening his own medical practice. Experiencing every typical symptom from a headache, joint pain, numbness and tingling in his hands, severe pain, persistent fatigue and even the classic bull’s eye rash on the back of his leg. Yet, after nine months of antibiotics, homeopathic remedies and lifestyle changes, he had yet to see any sustainable improvements.
It wasn’t until he started focusing on natural ways to modulate his immune system and reduce stress, did he see improvements. Dr. Engles follows a protocol that nourishes the body, reduces inflammation, treats the Lyme infection(s) naturally, and identifies and removes toxins that affected the immune system. By fixing his digestion and healing gut health, Dr. Engles was able to slowly heal himself and his patients with Lyme disease.
The building blocks of a nutritious diet that are found in a variety of lean proteins, lower-fat dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, nuts and seeds and whole grains provide the foundation of anti-inflammatory eating. While there’s an abundance of diet options, the benefits are ten-fold when you can tap into a sense of “intuitive eating” to listen to what your body needs.
For me, intuitive eating consists of the anti-inflammatory diet. While it’s similar to the Mediterranean and Paleo diet, it relies more heavily on healthy fats and therapeutic foods that optimize the body’s alkalinity. When a diet increases bodily alkalinity and decreases acidity, the immune system can focus less on digestive issues, and more on building anti-bodies to kill pathogens, like Lyme spirochetes.
I admit, when I realized I was about to cut out gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, caffeine, and alcohol, I was a bit overwhelmed. Eliminating alcohol and caffeine (really, just coffee) would be easy, but dairy and gluten were a challenge.
But soon I realized that this protocol is not about restriction, it’s about doing the work (hard work at times) to nourish my body.
Foods to eat:
An anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes the following foods with fiber-rich carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, and disease fighting vitamins and minerals. The following (organic) foods are a staple of an anti-inflammatory diet:
Cold-water fish (salmon, salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and anchovies).
Fresh fruits and vegetables: (berries, pineapple, watermelon, oranges, avocados, dark leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower) with plant-based phytonutrients (antioxidants, flavonoids and plant sterols).
Nuts and seeds and their oils (almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts) with healthy, monosaturated fatty acids and vitamin E.
Whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, steel-cut oats) with hearty fibers for cardiovascular and digestive health.
There's also some evidence that certain culinary herbs and spices, such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and garlic can help alleviate inflammation.
Foods to limit include:
Natural sugars, such as agave, honey, and maple syrup with some trace micronutrients.
Corn, coconut, safflower, sesame soy and sunflower butter and oils.
Foods to avoid include:
Gluten – Even for non-celiacs, gluten is a primary culprit of inflammation.
Dairy – including butter (although I refuse to give up butter on my popcorn), lard, and margarine. Diary products are highly inflammatory because most people lose the ability to digest lactose, a sugar primarily found in milk, after infancy. Ghee is a great substitute for butter, and Daiya cheeses are a decent alternative for the real thing.
Anything with added sugars (since they tend to spike blood sugar levels), including non-caloric sweeteners. Sugar is reported to feed bacteria like candida, Lyme, and possibly cancer cells; therefore, without excess sugar and toxic chemicals, the spirochetes didn’t have fuel and died off more easily. (However, if I do eat something sugary, I make sure there’s less than 14g of sugar per serving).
Soy - an inflammatory food and also highly genetically modified.
Non-organic meat and red meat - I’m a pescatarian, so this isn’t an issue for me!
Alcohol and caffeine – while not necessarily foods, these are both major stimulants, which translate into inflammatory-causing agents. While it was difficult to give-up coffee, matcha has become my favorite morning beverage, but I also drink non-caffeinated herbal teas.
I’ll admit, at first, this diet seemed a bit overwhelming, but I started slowly by cutting out gluten, then caffeine, then soy, and finally dairy and sugar, and honestly, I feel so much better. Once in a while, I’ll treat myself to a gluten-free dessert, but I almost always regret my decision to indulge...
Overall, the anti-inflammation "lyme diet" is beneficial for anyone who wants to detox, reduce inflammation and boost his or her immune system.
While my Lyme battle continues, my goal is to stay positive and focused on healing my body through these whole foods and natural remedies. Recovering from chronic Lyme disease takes time and energy, but by following this diet, I’m one step closer to healing my body.*
Stay tuned for a blog post about what I actually eat in a day!
*Please note that the above diet is what’s worked best my Lyme treatment and based on my own personal experiences and opinions.