It has often been said that the health of the body starts with the gut. Without a healthy gut, it’s impossible for the rest of your body to function properly, and it’s easy to overlook gut health or give it just a passing thought if you don’t have overt gastrointestinal symptoms.
Chronic fatigue, pain, headaches, poor mood, neuropathy, or other symptoms may be what’s getting your attention, and you may not associate these symptoms with your gut. However, problems in your digestive tract could be what are affecting the rest of your body and indirectly contributing to your symptom picture to a greater or lesser degree.
Breaking Down The Food You Eat
Consider this: Your body goes through an elaborate process to take the foods that you eat and convert them into energy and building blocks for your cells. To do this, your body must have sufficient hydrochloric acid, bile, and digestive enzymes to break down the fats, proteins and carbohydrates that come from your food, and healthy liver function to build new proteins from the amino acids and peptides in broken-down food. Many people with Lyme are deficient in digestive nutrients, have a leaky gut, and trouble creating energy for the body, and new proteins from amino acids and other nutrients.
The reasons for this are multiple. First, adrenal gland insufficiency is a common condition in Lyme, and causes hydrochloric acid (HCL) deficiency, as adrenal hormones play a role in HCL creation. When there isn’t enough HCL in the stomach, according to Lee Cowden, MD, in a book we authored called Foods that Fit a Unique You, the pancreas isn’t stimulated to produce sufficient digestive enzymes, which then results in undigested food particles that leak into the bloodstream, where they cause inflammation. Or, they are simply removed from the body, causing nutritional deficiencies. At the same time, HCL deficiency allows for pathogens to get into the body, since stomach acid is the body’s first line of defense against microbes that enter it through the food, air and water.
Further, most people with Lyme suffer from a leaky gut, a syndrome whereby the villi, which are small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, becomes damaged due to environmental toxins and microbes. Pesticides and herbicides, for instance, damage the villi, as do pathogenic microbes such as parasites like giardia and cryptosporidium, bacteria, yeasts and mold.
Pesticides can be particularly damaging. Lee Cowden, MD, confirms this in Foods that Fit a Unique You. He says: “Among their many detrimental effects upon the body, pesticides create microscopic perforations in the gut and cause leaky gut syndrome, a condition in which undigested whole food particles, instead of being digested by the body, pass through the intestinal lining into the bloodstream where they cause inflammation and allergic reactions.
Dr. Cowden goes on to say, “In my experience, when patients detoxify their bodies of pesticides, they heal more quickly… Pesticides cause de-regulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which then leads to insufficient blood supply to the tissues, malfunction of the hormones and neurotransmitters, poor digestion, and symptoms such as insomnia and chronic fatigue syndrome.”
It is impossible to completely avoid exposure to pesticides, microbes and other gut-damaging toxins, but a few things that you can do to limit your exposure and help your liver to process these and other environmental toxins include:
Limiting Your Exposure to Environmental Toxins
1. Consuming Only Organic Food.
All soil is contaminated with toxins such as glyphosate and pesticides, but organic food is likely to have a lower toxicity profile — up to 180 times lower! Ultimately, people who eat organic foods the majority of the time likely have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies.
2. Practicing Regular Detoxification.
Sauna and ionic footbath therapy are some powerful ways to detox and remove toxins through your skin, including pesticides and plastics, the latter of which can’t be removed from your body any other way.
3. Taking Toxin Binders.
Toxin binders such as activated charcoal, chlorella and citrus pectin will help to flush environmental toxins from the body. Take charcoal at least two hours away from supplements, as it will also bind with vitamins and mineral supplements.
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4. Purifying Your Water.
Use a carbon block or reverse osmosis filter to remove pesticides from your tap water. Make sure to use a high quality product recommended by a knowledgeable holistic healthcare practitioner, as not all filters are created equal. I use one from Multipure.com.
5. Supporting Liver Function.
Support your liver’s detoxification pathways with milk thistle and glutathione, which have a long history of evidence for their effectiveness in helping the liver to remove toxins. You may also find liver drainage detox remedies to be helpful.
6. Eating Fermented Foods.
Lastly, you may find it helpful to consume fermented foods, which contain a multitude of beneficial bacteria that help the gut to digest food, as well as remove pathogens and toxins. The lactic acid bacteria formed during the fermentation of kimchi for instance, has been shown to help the body break down pesticides.
Next, to help your stomach better digest and assimilate nutrients, consider increasing your intake of hydrochloric acid. You can do this by either taking a hydrochloric acid (HCL) supplement or a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or the juice of a fermented vegetable such as cabbage juice, before meals.
I personally prefer apple cider vinegar because I already take so many supplements as it is, and the apple cider seems to work well for me. By ensuring that you have enough HCL in your gut, your pancreas won’t have to work as hard to produce as many digestive enzymes to digest what your stomach failed to break down. Also, according to Dr. Cowden, pancreatic enzyme release is stimulated by HCL production, so when you have sufficient HCL, your pancreas will produce more enzymes.
However, you may want to take enzymes anyway if you’re battling chronic Lyme disease, especially if you know that you have a deficiency or are really sick. You can eat all the right foods and take many supplements to heal, but if your body can’t adequately break down and utilize those things, you might as well throw away all that money you spent on supplements and medicine. Personally, I believe that a good way to make sure that your gut is getting what it needs is to take an adequate supply of enzymes.
Finally, to keep your bowels moving, you may want to take a quality fiber supplement, as this will help to ensure that toxins and metabolic waste are shuttled swiftly through your colon and out of your body, rather than getting reabsorbed as can happen when waste stays too long in the colon.
If your gut is inflamed, you may also benefit from gut-soothing substances such as slippery elm, aloe vera, and marshmallow root. In addition, it goes without saying that removing pathogenic gut microbes is foundational for healing your gut. Ask your doctor to test you for microbes using muscle testing, a ZYTO scan, or some other form of bio-energetic testing, as these tests can often detect parasites, bacteria, yeast, and other microbes that labs miss. Of course, it’s important to do lab testing, too, and you may find it worthwhile to do a pathogenic microbe stool test through Genova or another reputable lab, but bear in mind that stool tests miss many bugs that hang out in the GI tract.
Some healthcare practitioners have found that parasitic infections can be a bigger cause of illness in people with Lyme than Borrelia and the most common co-infections. So it pays to find out what might be crawling around in your GI tract. All of us are infected with parasites, including such things as tapeworm and flukes, roundworms, pinworms and protozoa…to name a few. These microbes aren’t confined to third-world countries! Some of these bugs, especially parasites, can deplete your body of vital nutrients and are also hosts for smaller microbes. Parasites, for instance, have been found to harbor Borrelia and viruses.
Doctors use a wide variety of herbal remedies and pharmaceutical remedies to combat GI infections. Of late, I’ve been fascinated by the potential of essential oils to remove GI infections. Indeed, some doctors, such as Raphael d’Angelo, MD, in Colorado, who owns a parasite testing lab, have found that essential oils provide the benefit of being as strong as pharmaceutical drugs at times for parasite removal, but don’t have all of the harsh side effects of anti-parasitic drugs.
Finally, you may find it helpful to take a quality pre- and probiotic formula to re-inoculate your gut with friendly bacteria. This is especially important if you have taken antibiotics for Lyme disease. As I mentioned, these bacteria help to protect your body against pathogenic bacteria that enter your gut via the air and your food and water, and are an integral part of your immune system. Quality varies widely among probiotics; indeed, studies have shown that many of the bacteria in probiotic products are already dead by the time they get to the customer’s front door. For this reason, you’ll want to use a brand that has studies proving its effectiveness, and ideally, a good reputation among health care practitioners and patients.
As a final note, if you have digestive difficulties, blending your foods at mealtimes, cooking your vegetables, and making soups, smoothies, and stews, can be an effective way to get more nutrients through your digestive tract into your cells. One of my favorite breakfasts is a bone broth protein smoothie with coconut cream and berries!
Practicing proper food combining, such as eating animal protein only with non-starchy vegetables (rather than with grains, starches and fruit) will also ensure that your food is digested more effectively.
In summary, digestive health is crucial for recovery from Lyme disease. When your gut is healthy, the rest of your organs and systems will tend to come into alignment better, and you’ll find your path to healing and restoration to be much smoother and faster.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on July 7, 2015 and was updated on March 15, 2021.