When you battle chronic Lyme disease, the adrenal glands can really take a beating. These two little triangular-shaped glands that sit atop the kidneys are responsible for a multitude of functions, including helping to manage the body’s immune function, blood pressure, blood sugar, mineral balance, and more. They secrete hormones such as cortisol that support the immune system, but under conditions of extreme stress, such as illness, the adrenals may under-function and not produce the proper amount of hormones required for recovery.
Chronic Lyme Disease and Adrenal Gland Support
Fortunately, you can give your immune system a boost by supporting your adrenals with nutrients such as ashwaghanda, licorice, Siberian ginseng, Vitamin C and pantethine, as well as adrenal glandular formulas and even bioidentical hormones. All of these can be incredibly beneficial in the recovery process. I discuss some of these nutrients in my 2012 book, Beyond Lyme Disease. I also recommend Dr. Lam’s book, Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome – Reclaim Your Energy and Vitality with Clinically Proven Natural Programs and his website for more information on adrenal-strengthening supplements.
Equally important for supporting the adrenals is a healthy diet. In general, my research and personal experience indicate that a high-fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate diet tend to be best for most with exhausted adrenal glands. This is because healthy fats support the production of hormones, provide healthy nutrients to the body, and balance the blood sugar, as does protein. Carbohydrates, especially higher-glycemic fruits, grains and simple sugars, when consumed in excess, tend to spike the blood sugar and stress the adrenal glands over the long run.
One particularly nourishing adrenal food that I have personally found to be very beneficial in my recovery process is fresh bone broth. Bones contain lots of adrenal-building nutrients, and when broth is freshly prepared (not store bought in a box or can), nutrients that help to rebuild the adrenals and connective tissue get extracted out of the bone marrow into the broth. One hallmark of adrenal fatigue is connective tissue breakdown, and the gelatinous substance that comes from cartilage and tendons and which is found in fresh broth helps to rebuild that tissue.
Preparing fresh bone broth is easy. Simply take some bones (those form beef and/or chicken work best) and place them in a large pot of boiling water for five minutes. Then, turn the heat down, add some carrots, onion, celery, salt and/or other seasoning, and simmer for anywhere from 4-12 hours. The longer you simmer the bones, the more nutrients that will be extracted from them. Add a bit of vinegar to enhance this effect.
In addition, soups and stews tend to be hearty adrenal-building foods. When prepared in a Crock Pot or other slow cooker using a variety of fresh vegetables and meats, they can provide some similar benefits to bone broth in that they extract some nutrients from the bones (if bone-in meat is used) and are a rich source of minerals.
While some people may be able to tolerate potatoes in their stews and soups, I don’t recommend using potatoes if you have adrenal fatigue, because potatoes can spike the blood sugar, and many people are allergic to them because most are genetically modified (at least in the United States).
Instead, include some celery, onions, parsley, sweet potato (which is higher in fiber and nutrients than white potatoes, and has a less dramatic effect on blood sugar), and carrots in your soups and stews. Carrots are higher on the glycemic index but are rich in nutrients and when consumed with animal protein, have less of a detrimental effect upon the blood sugar.
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Personally, I find bone broths, soups and stews to be more satisfying, energizing and strengthening to my body and adrenals than when I simply consume some animal protein and a salad or a vegetable. Perhaps this is due to their rich mineral content, and the fact that more nutrients get extracted from meat that is slow cooked.
Debate exists within the Lyme disease medical community about whether healthy grains and legumes (rice, millet, beans, etc.) are healthy for the body. While I believe that some of us need some “heavier” carbohydrates in the form of grains and legumes from time to time, the healing of the gut can be compromised by eating too many grains and legumes. High carb foods are also thought to feed pathogenic organisms and cancer cells. What’s more, many people with Lyme suffer from Leaky Gut Syndrome, a condition whereby small particles of food pass through damaged junctions in the small intestines into the bloodstream, and cause inflammation, instead of being fully processed by the digestive system. Consuming too many grains can inhibit the healing of the gut (even if they are non-gluten), while also stressing the adrenal glands, as they cause more of a blood sugar spike than vegetables.
Other foods that people with Lyme disease are commonly allergic to, such as dairy products, soy, nuts, sugar, nightshade vegetables and of course, processed and artificial foods—also stress the adrenals. This is because allergenic foods cause inflammation, and the adrenals release a hormone called cortisol in response to that inflammation, which puts a drain on the endocrine system. Inflammation causes a host of other problems in the body that can further tax the adrenals. So simply avoiding allergenic foods can go a long way toward strengthening these glands.
Finally, it goes without saying that stimulants such as coffee and sugar heavily tax the adrenals, by causing the adrenals to release fight-or-flight hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Therefore, many medical experts believe that the best diet for people with adrenal fatigue includes ample amounts of healthy fats from foods such as avocado, coconut, and olive oil; moderate amounts of healthy protein from sources such as organic, free-range beef, chicken, bison, turkey, low-mercury fish (such as salmon and tilapia); and generous amounts of low-glycemic fruits and vegetables. In general, I have found that apples, pears, berries, lemons and limes are okay for most people with Lyme, although those who are diabetic or have highly unstable blood sugar may prefer to stay away from fruit entirely.
I believe that it’s also essential to eat clean food that doesn’t contain pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics or growth hormones. All of these things damage the body and cause inflammation which again, can stress the adrenal glands. I don’t believe that eating organic should be optional for those who are battling a major health issue. The body was not designed to ingest chemicals and artificial hormones and antibiotics on a regular basis. Doing so causes a chronic inflammatory response that can impede healing.
It can difficult and expensive to maintain a diet that includes only animal protein, healthy fats, low glycemic fruits and veggies, but even if you are only able to do this some of the time, you are likely to reap great rewards in your healing journey and help to restore your adrenal function, which in turn will help you to overcome Lyme.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on December 17, 2016 and was updated on September 30, 2020.
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.