SUCCESS STORY: Staying Healthy While Battling Lyme Disease with Supplements, Exercise, and MassageVanessa Farnsworth May 1, 2010
In many ways, I’m a typical Lyme disease patient. Like so many before me, it took a long time for doctors to put a name on the mysterious illness that was slowly destroying my health – and when the diagnosis finally came, it was far too late for an easy cure.
There came a point during treatment when I realized that if I was ever going to live anything approximating a “normal” life, I’d need to figure out what could be done to minimize some of the disease’s more debilitating symptoms. That meant a lot of reading and even more experimentation, but the end result is that Lyme is now more of an inconvenience than a crippling disease.
Regardless of whether you’re taking a prolonged course of antibiotics or, like me, are using classical homeopathy or another recognized form of treatment (herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or Rife treatments to name a few), the following suggestions should prove useful in relieving some of the discomfort associated with battling a chronic Lyme infection.
There are many things that distinguish Lyme from other bacteria. One of them is that most bacteria require iron to complete their life cycles. Lyme bucks this trend by requiring magnesium instead. As a result, Lyme patients often suffer from magnesium deficiency syndromes that either cause or greatly contribute to some of the disease’s more aggravating symptoms, including muscle twitches, spasms, cramps, cardiac arrhythmias, tremors, anxiety and weakness. Supplementing magnesium can eliminate or significantly improve these symptoms. I’ve been taking one 300 mg. of magnesium citrate tablet every day for about two years and it’s made a dramatic improvement in all of these symptoms.
(If you’ve experienced a slow heart rate at any point since contracting Lyme, talk to your physician before taking magnesium.)
It should be noted that somewhere along the line, someone got the idea that if magnesium plays such an integral role in the bacteria’s life cycle, the disease could be eradicated by restricting magnesium intake and essentially starving the bad guys out. Don’t do this.
Lyme has survival mechanisms that allow it to remain dormant for as long as it takes for magnesium levels to rise again. All you’ll do by cutting back on your magnesium intake is make yourself miserable.
One of the tragically under-recognized problems in Lyme is the impact the disease has on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is part of the neuroendocrine system and helps to regulate, among other things, temperature, digestion, immune function, mood, reproductive hormones and energy levels. It’s sometimes referred to as the “stress system” because it helps to stabilize our response to stress. It’s also greatly impacted by stress.
There’s no question that anyone battling chronic Lyme suffers from stress, but what’s more important is that dying Lyme bacteria release endotoxins that disrupt the HPA axis, a strategy designed to minimize immune response and allow the infection to thrive.
Maca root’s adaptogenic qualities counteract the effects of these endotoxins by working directly on HPA pathways to restore normal function. It corrects hormonal imbalance (for both sexes), strengthens the immune system, increases stamina, reduces stress, and improves sleep quality. Maca root is available from most health food stores in either capsule or powder form. For best results, buy the powder form and start by taking less than the recommended dosage, then build up until you reach the level that’s optimal for you.
If you’re taking pharmaceutical antibiotics, your doctor has likely already explained the importance of taking probiotics since these broad-spectrum medications kill the “good” bacteria along with the “bad”, throwing off the balance of your intestinal flora. Even if your primary treatment is something other than conventional antibiotics, Lyme loves to colonize the digestive tract and can spread from there to the rest of your body. This is where probiotics can really help. The more “good” bacteria you have in your system, the harder it is for the “bad” bacteria to flourish.
You can get probiotics in several different forms from the refrigerated section of your local health food store.
You can also get good bacteria from yogurt, but do yourself a favour and avoid the flavoured kinds which can be surprisingly high in carbohydrates, something that Lyme uses for fuel. It’s the traditional sour yogurt that will serve you best.
Collagen makes up between 25% and 35% of all the protein in the human body. It’s found in everything from joints, bones, and tendons to blood vessels, organs, and eyes. It literally holds us together.
Due to their unique corkscrew shape, Lyme bacteria find it much easier to twizzle through collagen than to flail around in blood. This is why Lyme bacteria are rarely found in the bloodstream just a few weeks after initial infection. Instead they’re both colonizing our collagen tissues and using them to travel to other parts of our bodies. The more quickly and efficiently our bodies can repair all that damage, the less discomfort we’ll be in. Enter vitamin C.
Much has been written about the benefits of supplementing vitamin C when battling a cold or the flu. It’s also our ally in the battle against Lyme. Vitamin C is essential to the manufacture and repair of collagen and when our bodies don’t get enough of it, the healing process slows down. Since humans need to rely on either dietary sources or supplements to replace the vitamin C that is constantly being utilized and excreted from our bodies, we often don’t get as much as we need to optimize our ability to efficiently repair damaged tissue. Regularly supplementing vitamin C ensures that we do.
Some people advocate taking as much vitamin C per day as your body will tolerate (known as bowel tolerance level) without triggering nasty side effects that can include diarrhea, gas, excess urination and/or skin rashes. The level at which these side effects kick in can vary from person to person, but I find that my body seems happiest when I take one 1,000 mg packet of Liposomal vitamin C twice per day.
We have a tendency when we get sick to crave carbohydrate-rich comfort foods even though we know they aren’t as good for us as other things we could be eating. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter how often we’re told to drink lots of water and eat lots of fresh vegetables – when there is cake to distract us from our misery.
Green food powders give our bodies what they need to function at their best when we are battling illness. These so-called superfoods are chock full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, plant fibre and trace nutrients.
They do several things that are important when battling Lyme, including boosting your immune system, improving mental function, aiding digestion, increasing energy levels, balancing pH, cleansing cells and helping you to better cope with stress. They’re available in powder form from most health food stores and, when mixed into water, tend to look an awful lot like pond scum and, I imagine, taste an awful lot like it, too. But you’ll learn to love green superfoods because, unlike the cake, the good feeling they give you lasts.
Several brands are available, including Greens+ by Genuine Health and Greens Force by Prairie Naturals. Follow package directions for best results.
Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a chronic Lyme patient quite like the prospect of exercising. After all, many of us have spent long stretches collapsed on couches, beds or floors. Moving more than the minimum required to sustain life can feel like we’re being complicit in our own torture.
Still, the fact remains that you won’t truly feel like yourself again until you start to address the impact which the loss of conditioning has had on your body. Exercise does a lot of things that are beneficial: it raises energy levels, boosts stamina, lifts mood, controls weight, improves sleep quality, increases strength and flexibility, enhances immune function and generally improves your quality of life.
This doesn’t mean that I’m advocating that you go out and run a marathon. Even if you were inclined to try it, strenuous aerobic exercise can have a deleterious effect when you’re battling a long-term infection. Instead, you need to start with simple stretching exercises that work every major muscle group. Yoga is excellent for this.
My initial attempts at yoga were limited to relaxation postures and even those were a strain. Now I can do a full ninety minutes of yoga every other day. It took me two years and a whole lot of determination to get to this point, but I’m glad that I stuck with it because there are moments every day when, in spite of whatever else might be happening healthwise, my body feels like my body and not like some broken-down heap from which I’d love to escape.
Like many people who live with chronic Lyme, my initial attempts at exercise were far from successful. Even doing something as basic as a forward bend would leave me exhausted and in pain. The combined effect of the damage that the disease had caused, and a profound lack of use, had left my body prone to injury. I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have stuck it out if it wasn’t for the assistance of a registered massage therapist.
Massage therapists use the systematic application of pressure and movement to manipulate the body’s soft tissues in an effort to improve relaxation, speed up injury recovery, soothe aching muscles, stimulate nerves and increase the flow of blood and lymph.
At my first massage therapy appointment, I listed suffocating fatigue as my number one complaint. Just two sessions in, the fatigue had started to dissipate and a few months later it was no longer a major issue. I won’t make the claim that it’s entirely gone, but it’s such a minor problem now that it doesn’t impact my life in any significant way.
At the same time, the pain which wracked my muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments whenever I exercised started to ease off. Soon I was able to work out without experiencing any negative impacts and my muscles slowly but surely regained their elasticity.
It’s only improved from there.