People with chronic Lyme disease typically have multiple nutritional deficiencies. Replenishing the body’s stores of nutrients is essential for supporting the body during recovery, as the body relies upon these nutrients for proper functioning and to support the immune system as it is fighting Lyme. In my 2012 book, Beyond Lyme Disease: Discovering the Underlying Causes of Chronic Illness in People with Borreliosis and Co-Infections, I describe some of the most common nutritional deficiencies in people with Lyme and how to remedy those. While every person is unique and the nutrients that each person requires will vary from person to person, there are certain nutrients that doctors recommend almost universally for everyone. Following are five of the most important of these. (For more information on additional nutrients, I recommend reading Beyond Lyme Disease).
Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Lyme Disease
1. Magnesium. Magnesium plays a role in over 300 enzymatic processes in the body. It is involved in energy production and transport, muscle contraction and relaxation, protein production, hormone regulation, and nerve conduction. It also plays an essential role in the maintenance and repair of all body cells.
It is readily depleted when the body is under stress and in chronic illness. Some researchers believe that Borrelia organisms and other microbes feed on and deplete magnesium. Many doctors believe that magnesium supplementation is therefore crucial during Lyme disease treatment for supporting the recovery process.
Magnesium is most effective when it’s taken via injection or intravenously; however, it is impractical for many people to do this, in which case transdermal magnesium crèmes and oils, or oral magnesium supplements, can be helpful for replenishing the body’s stores of this critical nutrient. It’s important to choose a bioavailable form of magnesium that the body can readily use, such as magnesium citrate, malate or glycinate. Other forms have been shown to be less effective for people with Lyme. Ginger Savely, DNP, who has treated thousands of chronically ill Lyme patients, in Insights into Lyme Disease Treatment, recommends Peter Gilham’s Natural Calm products. Dosages may range from 350-1,000 mg daily, or more.
2. Vitamin D-3. Most people in the United States are deficient in Vitamin D, and those with chronic Lyme disease perhaps even more so. Vitamin D comes from the sun but most of us don’t get enough sun nowadays and some people with Lyme have a genetic defect that prevents them from effectively synthesizing Vitamin D.
Yet Vitamin D plays a vital role in many processes. It acts more like a hormone in the body rather than a vitamin, and plays a powerful role in immune system regulation and endocrine system health, including thyroid hormone utilization. Low levels of vitamin D-3 have been associated with high levels of inflammation in the body. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to cancers of all kinds and given that some doctors believe that people with Lyme are more susceptible to cancer than the general population, Vitamin D-3 supplementation may be a good idea.
Most doctors recommend supplementation with anywhere from 5,000-20,000 IU daily, depending on their patients’ lab test results. Vitamin K is essential for proper utilization of Vitamin D in the body so choose a Vitamin D-3 product that also includes Vitamin K.
3. Zinc. Lyme disease commonly causes zinc deficiencies. What’s more, many people with Lyme are deficient in zinc due to pyroluria, a condition in which the body fails to properly synthesize heme (a component of hemoglobin) and instead produces a heme byproduct, which binds with vitamins and minerals such as zinc and B-6 and excretes them from the body.
Zinc plays a vital role in immune function; white blood cells can’t function without it, so having a body depleted in zinc is like having white blood cells that have no ammunition to fight Lyme. Zinc also helps to prevent and combat heavy metal toxicity because it displaces metals in the body so that they can’t “lock on” to receptor sites on cells. Furthermore, zinc plays a role in neurotransmitter synthesis, particularly serotonin and GABA, as well as in the synthesis of the hormone melatonin. For this reason, zinc deficiency has been linked to depression and mental disorders of all kinds.
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Zinc should be taken with food, as some people experience digestive upset when they take it on an empty stomach. Effective doses depend upon many factors, so always consult with your physician before taking zinc, especially since too high dosages can displace heavy metals in the body and cause symptoms of heavy metal toxicity.
4. Vitamin C. As with the other nutrients described so far, people with Lyme disease tend to be universally deficient in Vitamin C. Some people with Lyme are so depleted in this vital nutrient that they may require dosages as high as 50-100 grams daily (note, this is grams, not milligrams).
The adrenal glands and brain utilize most of the body’s Vitamin C, and it may be the most important and abundant vitamin in the body for supporting immune function. In addition, the body uses it to make collagen and balance the pH; for detoxifying and repairing the body, supporting healthy gut bacteria production, destroying harmful bacteria and viruses, removing heavy metals and other environmental contaminants, and, as an antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals that result from inflammation.
Linus Pauling, a two-time Nobel Prize laureate, believed that everyone should take 10–20 grams (or 10,000–20,000 mg) of Vitamin C daily just to maintain health. And it is not uncommon for people with Lyme to need at least 10-20 grams daily.
High-dose oral powdered formulas or liposomal products are an ideal way to get enough Vitamin C; the former because you can get concentrated doses of 4,000 mg (or 4 grams) per teaspoon; the latter because liposomal forms of Vitamin C are more readily absorbed by the body and so greater effects can be achieved with lower dosages. When choosing a Vitamin C product, it’s best to avoid GMO corn-derived Vitamin C (which is the most common type of Vitamin C in the United States) and to assess the bioavailability of different forms of vitamin C. For instance, ascorbyl palmitate is thought by some sources to be more effective in the body than ascorbic acid.
5. Probiotics. The gut contains many hundreds of beneficial bacteria, many of which comprise an integral part of the immune system. They defend the body against pathogens, which enter the body through air, food and water. Among the most distressing Lyme disease symptoms is a problematic gut. The gut is commonly damaged and, the beneficial bacteria become depleted from Lyme infections, environmental pollutants and antibiotics.
Replenishing the bacteria is essential for helping to defend the body against infection; for food assimilation, and optimal gastrointestinal and brain health. However, not all probiotic products are created equal, so it’s essential to choose one that has a track record of success and which contains as many strains of beneficial bacteria as possible, especially L. acidophilus and bifidobacteria. L. acidophilus produces many compounds that inhibit the growth of nearly two dozen disease-causing pathogenic organisms. Bifidobacteria produces B-vitamins and eliminates many cancer-causing elements from the body.
Other strains of bacteria may also improve immune function, but L. acidophilus and bifidobacteria have been among the most widely studied for gut health. Many probiotic products contain strains of bacteria that have been destroyed by heat, so look for products that require refrigeration.
This list of nutrients is by no means exhaustive; it is not uncommon for people with Lyme to require other vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids and other nutrients to optimize nutrition intake, but these are among the most important and widely prescribed by doctors for their patients with Lyme disease. To determine what your body specifically needs, it’s best to work with your local doctor and do nutrient testing through a reputable lab like Spectra-Cell. Supporting your body’s nutrition is an important component to recovery from Lyme disease.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on April 19, 2016 and was updated on August 24, 2019.
Connie Strasheim is the author of multiple wellness books, including three on Lyme disease. She is also a medical copywriter, editor and healing prayer minister. Her passion is to help people with complex chronic illnesses find freedom from disease and soul-spirit sickness using whole body medicine and prayer, and she collaborates with some of the world’s best integrative doctors to do this. In addition to Lyme disease, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. You can learn more about her work at: ConnieStrasheim.