Nearly every day in my practice I have a patient seeking my treatment advice for a suspected tick-borne illness. If you are such a patient, then you know how debilitating these conditions can be to begin with. Finding a doctor who doesn't think you're crazy can be even more challenging and demoralizing. Chances are the internet has been more of a medical adviser than your physician has been. My goal with this article is to add a Lyme-literate physician voice to the discussion and hopefully help you get some relief.
I always begin by telling my patients that we are aiming for remission and not necessarily a full cure from Lyme. This may sound discouraging, but just like other diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, with the proper knowledge and lifestyle choices, Lyme does not have to be a constant drain and discouragement. In fact, you can feel great and be medicine-free in remission. We call it "remission" so that you always remain aware that if you start making poor health choices, those symptoms very well might return. You may have a vulnerability to Lyme symptoms, but if you keep your immune system strong and fighting, those symptoms can remain in the past.
Without a doubt, the foundation of treatment for Lyme is lifestyle modification. (I hear the enthusiastic, "yay!") The truth is, our bodies function best when we establish daily healthy routines that enhance our vitality and do not impede it. In the following paragraphs, I will address 4 main lifestyle categories that are critical to your long term well-being. Incidentally, these are essential for each of us - whether you are fighting Lyme or any other illness - but before I move on to additional treatments, I must lay this groundwork.
You must put good fuel into your body if you expect it to function properly. Eating a clean (preservative free, non-processed), organic, low-glycemic diet is absolutely critical. Eat foods that look like they came out of the ground or fresh lean meats. Food in boxes, cans, bags, and wrappers are usually not even worthy to be called foods. With my patients I often take this one step further and do IgG food sensitivity testing to get them the optimal meal plan for their immune system. (This is a blood test which measures your immune response to different foods.)
Drinking plenty of water is also essential. Rather than keeping a beaker or graduated cylinder attached to your hip, I just tell my patients, "if your pee is looking yellow, you're not drinking enough water. Keep it "clear and copious!"
Physical movement gets your blood circulating, your lungs expanding, and your lymph flowing. It helps circulate the fluids in your body so that toxins can be mobilized and eliminated. Start with 20 minutes of mild to moderate activity every other day. Work your way up as your toleration increases. This can be anything from walking to yoga to jumping jacks. Find something that you can do consistently that gets all of your limbs moving and your heart rate up. Again, we all know this is important, but if you have Lyme, it's doubly important!
Sleep is regenerative and restorative. It is the time where our cells recover from the trauma of the day and our brains off-load the mental stresses that have accumulated. In the case of tick-borne illness, your cells may have even more recovering to do. Practice excellent sleep hygiene and make good, consistent sleep a priority. Oftentimes, Lyme patients do not sleep well. Get rid of the caffeine, late night screen time, and create a calming, relaxing environment by dimming the lights, turning on a fan or other source of white noise, and consider doing aroma therapy with lavender or another calming essential oil. Finally, establish a consistent routine and nightly schedule that your body can begin to adapt to. If you still have a hard time sleeping, consider supplementing with melatonin, valerian root, 5-HTP, magnesium, or other sleep aid.
Many of my Lyme patients have negative thought processes that keep them in mental as well as physical bondage. Two of the most debilitating emotional habits are bitterness and complaining. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of taking this seriously and changing it. I encourage you to focus especially on forgiveness - of yourself and others. Do whatever it takes to let go of things that you are clinging to that you cannot control. Next, actively replace disappointment and discouragement with thanksgiving. Take control over where you let your mind wander and the thoughts that enter into your head. You do not need to be so optimistic that you do not acknowledge the reality of your situation, but condition your mind to focus on positives - especially forgiveness and thanksgiving.
Lifestyle modification is the starting place for the effective and sustained treatment of Lyme disease (and many of our other chronic illnesses). The human body is truly amazing and given the proper care, it is incredible how few drugs and surgeries we would actually need. By establishing good habits of diet, exercise, sleep and thought patterns, you will be well on your way to a happier and healthier future. In Part 2, however, I will begin to address pharmaceutical options for the treatment of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses.