Nearly everyone nowadays, including those with chronic Lyme disease, have a damaged gut and "leaky gut syndrome," due to factors such as microbial infections, environmental toxins, and stress. Leaky gut syndrome is a condition in which undigested food particles pass through the damaged wall of the small intestine into the bloodstream, where they cause systemic inflammation and symptoms. A damaged gut also leads to nutritional deficiencies, as the body fails to properly process and assimilate nutrients from food. Further, a damaged gut usually involves decreased immunity against microbes that enter the body through the food, air and water. Therefore, restoring gut health is paramount for healing.
Healing a damaged gut can be tricky, involving multiple steps such as:
1) Removing pathogenic microbes, such as fungi, bacteria and parasites, that destroy the gut
2) Taking hydrochloric acid (which is deficient in many with Lyme) and digestive enzymes at mealtimes
3) Repopulating the gut with beneficial bacteria
4) Healing the gut lining with products such as Restore, glutamine, slippery elm, aloe and marshmallow root
This is just an overview. To learn more about healing your GI tract, see my article, Healing the Gut: A Crucial Component of Recovery from Lyme Disease, from earlier this month. As well, Lee Cowden, MD and I discuss tools for healing the gut in our 2014 book, Foods that Fit a Unique You.
The right diet can help to heal your gut, in addition to all of the above-mentioned suggestions. For instance, did you know that animal bones contain collagen and other nutrients to heal and seal the lining of the stomach and small intestine? These include: amino acids, gelatin, glucosamines, fats, vitamins and minerals. By making a broth using animal bones, and consuming that, along with the cartilage, marrow and other tissue in and around the bones, you can help to heal your gut.
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Some people with Lyme have histamine issues, and bone broth can contain high levels of histamine, but I’ve found that not everyone with a histamine problem has to avoid high histamine foods. The best way to find out what your body needs is to simply experiment, but I think bone broth is worth trying out because of the abundance of nutrients that it contains and the amazing benefits that it confers to the gut.
Natasha Campbell-McBride MD has written an excellent book called Gut and Psychology Syndrome in which she advocates consuming fresh meat or fish stock as a first step to healing the gut. This stock should be the only food that is consumed in the person’s initial phase of healing, which may last anywhere from a week to perhaps several months, depending on the person and degree of damage to the gut.
Dr. Campbell-McBride contends that it’s essential to use animal bones and joints for the stock, and to eat the soft tissues on the bones as part of the meal, as well as any bone marrow from larger bones. She says, “…the gelatinous soft tissues around the bones and the marrow provide some of the best remedies for the gut and immune system.” She also advocates adding fresh, homemade probiotic food into the stock, such as sauerkraut or kefir. These foods help to replenish missing beneficial bacteria in the gut. You can also add a wide variety of vegetables to the stock, as long as they aren’t fibrous, but any veggies should be well-cooked so that they are easy to digest.
If consuming bone stock seems difficult, try at least making stews or casseroles with meat and veggies. Throw an organic chicken or some beef stew meat into the crockpot, add some veggies like carrots, celery, turnips or beets, or perhaps some sweet potato, and have that instead. It may not be as effective for healing your gut, but when you have digestive difficulties, it’s at least easier for your digestive system to process soft, slow-cooked foods, like those prepared in soups and stews, than food that is boiled, fried, steamed, baked or prepared any other way. Have you ever noticed how easy soup and stew seem to go down, and how good they feel to the tummy?
Your body uses about one-third of its energy to digest food, so when you are really sick or low on energy, it's worthwhile to make the digestive process as easy as possible, so that your body has ample leftover energy to fight the disease.
Another way to get lots of nutrition into your body without your digestive system having to work hard is to throw your foods in a blender. That could even mean your meat, fish or chicken, or other protein. Whenever my energy would get really depleted from Lyme disease, I would be too tired to even eat at times, so I’d often put my food in a blender, and then heat it on the stove, so it would be like consuming fresh soup. Most of my meals were actually quite delicious that way! Blending your protein and veggies also ensures that your body will uptake all of the nutrition from the food, rather than disposing of it or having it leak from your gut into yout bloodstream.
A few years ago, I contracted a salmonella infection while traveling in Costa Rica and Panama, and after that, I couldn’t eat without experiencing excruciating pain. So for two weeks, I took a blender with me wherever I went in Central America and put all of my meals into it! It was a great strategy for alleviating the gut pain and enabled me to continue eating until I could get home and see a doctor for the infection. Had I not put my food into a blender, I would not have been able to complete my mission overseas and would have had to return home early. So if you battle chronic gut pain from microbial infections, putting your food in a blender can sometimes be a helpful strategy for relieving that pain.
Smoothies are another great means of getting nutrition and are generally easy on the gut. I like to make bone broth smoothies with coconut milk and berries, which provide a rich source of protein, anti-oxidants, healthy fat and gut-healing substances to the body.
When you’re sick, eating can feel like a chore, so do what you can to be healthy while also eating in such a way that feels good to your body. Don’t try to stuff down a salad if you don’t have the hydrochloric acid for it. Similarly, don’t go for a steak if just the idea of getting it through your system feels like a chore. Some of us need the iron and B-12 found in red meat, but try some liverwurst or an organ roll instead, which are soft, tasty and easy on the gut. I like to get fresh, organic organ meat from US Wellness Meats.
Finally, if you haven’t found a diet that works well for you, and you are battling major GI issues and know that you can handle bone broth, I highly recommend Dr. Campbell-McBride’s book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Indeed, her diet may be one of the most powerful out there for restoring the health of the gut and in turn, the entire body.
Connie Strasheim is the author or co-author of 11 wellness books, including the recently released New Paradigms in Lyme Disease Treatment: 10 Top Doctors Real Healing Strategies that Work. (October, 2016) and Beyond a Glass of Milk and a Hot Bath: Advanced Sleep Solutions for People with Chronic Insomnia. (March, 2017). She is also a medical copywriter and an editor at ProHealth.com, as well as Editor of the Alternative Cancer Research Institute (ACRI). Her passion is to help people with complex chronic illnesses find freedom from disease and soul-spirit sickness using whole body medicine, and she collaborates with some of the world's best integrative doctors to do this. In addition to Lyme disease and insomnia, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. To learn more about her work, see: www.ConnieStrasheim.org.