As Lyme patients, we’re often told that if we can improve the function of our immune system, we can keep Lyme disease and the myriad of co-infections that accompany it at bay. But how do we know which products to consider without spending a fortune? With the input from members of various Lyme support groups and a dash of my own experience, I’ve gathered a lineup of five ways you can support your immune system throughout your treatment.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in the United States, and it’s common for Lyme patients to have low levels of this vitamin as well. Getting your vitamin D in a healthy range may bolster your immune system to fight off infections.
Vitamin D supports bone and heart health, cancer prevention, and immune function. In regards to the immune system, a 2011 study showed vitamin D switches on immune cells to respond to foreign invaders, and it helps modulate the immune system in response to autoimmune issues.
But there are some differing viewpoints in the Lyme community as to what’s considered a healthy range of vitamin D for Lyme patients. Therefore, it’s crucial to talk to your doctor before beginning this supplement. These days, the importance of vitamin D in overall health is gaining momentum in healthcare, so your primary doctor, in addition to your LLMD, can likely order the necessary lab test to see if you’re lacking in this essential “sunshine vitamin.”
2. Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN)
Naltrexone is a prescription medication that works by blocking the opioid receptors in your body for short periods of time. When used in low doses (like 1.5 mg to 4.5 mg), the body responds to the opioid block by boosting the production of the feel-good chemicals known as endorphins. Besides sparking feelings of greater well-being, endorphins reduce inflammation and improve immune function. When LDN is used consistently, endorphin levels remain steady in the body.
There are very few side effects listed about LDN, but patient reports suggest it may interfere with sleep within the first few weeks of starting the medication or when increasing the dose. Since LDN blocks the opioid receptors, it will work against any narcotics you’re taking for pain management. To avoid abrupt withdrawal symptoms, make sure you’ve tapered off your narcotics medications before beginning treatment with LDN. Unlike many prescription pain medications, LDN doesn’t carry a risk of dependency or a decrease in its effectiveness (known as habituation).
3. Bravo Probiotic
This probiotic product comes in a variety of delivery methods like suppositories, DIY yogurt, creams, and capsules. Factors such as an illness, diet, environmental toxins, and medications can disrupt the normal flora in your gut. A 2015 study reveals, “The human microbiome is composed of bacteria, archaea, viruses and eukaryotic microbes that reside in and on our bodies. These microbes have tremendous potential to impact our physiology, both in health and in disease. They contribute metabolic functions, protect against pathogens, educate the immune system, and, through these basic functions, affect directly or indirectly most of our physiologic functions.”
In other words, our gut health can influence our immune system, as well as contribute to most other functions in our body; a disruption in our microbiota can have an impact on our ability to fight and recover from certain diseases.
Over time, Bravo works by supporting a healthy gut microbial balance, decreasing immunosuppressive proteins/enzymes in the body (specifically nagalase), and turning on parts of the immune system that may defend against viruses, bacteria, and certain cancers. The downside of this supplement is that it’s pricey, and, like most kinds of treatments, it doesn’t work for everyone. However, some patients have seen significant improvements when using Bravo as a part of their treatment protocol.
4. Bone Broths
Bone broths are a staple in many Lyme patients’ diets. That’s because bone broths are packed with easily absorbable nutrients like arginine, glycine, and proline. Plus, the gelatin in bone broths helps heal the lining of the gut, making it more hospitable to the beneficial bacteria that support your immune system. Research indicates nearly 70% of your immune system resides in your gut, so here’s another example of the vital role gut health plays in building a robust immune response and enhancing your body’s ability to fight infections.
5. Medicinal Mushrooms
In her book, The Lyme Diet, naturopathic physician, Dr. Nicola McFadzean, says, “Medicinal mushrooms such as reishi and maitake are useful immune modulators and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries (p. 176).” Furthermore, medicinal mushrooms like reishi and maitake are adaptogenic herbs, which support the adrenal glands. Additionally, they lower inflammatory cytokines—or, molecules in the body that promote inflammation—and may help your immune system self-regulate and ramp up natural killer cells to ward off pathogens.
When choosing immune support, there are many options for you to try—this is by no means an exhaustive list. Your doctor may have his or her own recommendations for you, so be sure to consult with your healthcare provider to develop the best approach to help you heal.
What supplements, treatments, or lifestyle modifications have you found useful in boosting your immune system? I’d love to hear about it, so please consider leaving me a comment.
Aranow C. Vitamin D and the Immune System. Journal of Investigative Medicine. 2011 Aug; 59(6): 881–886. doi: 10.231/JIM.0b013e31821b8755
McFadzean N. The Lyme Diet. South Lake Tahoe, CA: BioMed Publishing Group; 2010.
Shreiner AB, Kao JY, Young VB. The gut microbiome in health and in disease. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology. 2015 Jan; 31(1): 69–75. doi: 10.1097/MOG.0000000000000139
Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara D, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical and Experimental Immunology. 2008 Sep; 153(Suppl 1): 3–6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x
Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is an Occupational Therapist and certified Pilates instructor whose life was transformed by Lyme Disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Interstitial Cystitis. She is creator of the DVD, New Dawn Pilates: pilates-inspired exercises adapted for people with pelvic pain. Jenny is a health and wellness advocate and blogger who writes about her journey on [lymeroad.com] as she continues to pursue her personal healing with the support of her husband and two senior beagles. You can find her on Instagram: [jenny_buttaccio] or Twitter: [lymeroad]