Many of us with Lyme disease are on strong antibiotic, herbal antimicrobial, or supplement protocols. As we attack a multitude of infections, we often cycle through periods where we experience gut issues; things like bloating, pain, loss of appetite, difficulty digesting food, constipation, diarrhea, and leaky gut are common complaints.
If you’re like me, you’ve already implemented the necessary dietary recommendations for gut health. You avoid sugar, alcohol, processed foods, dairy, and gluten, and yet, your gut difficulties persist. Thankfully, there is good news! There are many things you can do to minimize gastrointestinal discomfort and keep your belly happy during treatment. Plus, a healthier gut will improve the function of your immune system and reduce inflammation–two things your body needs in spades when battling this illness and working to decrease Lyme disease symptoms.
Gut Health and Lyme Disease
Below is a list of tips I’ve learned over the years to improve gut health during Lyme treatment. While I wish I could say I do all these things daily, the truth is that sometimes I forget, and my stomach lets me know it. When tummy troubles arise, I get myself back on track by incorporating a few of these strategies into my routine as soon as possible.
1. Drink bone broths every day.
A fresh, homemade cup of slow-cooked bone broth contains an array of easily digestible, gut-friendly nutrients and is relatively inexpensive to make. The gelatin in the broth helps heal the gut lining and amino acids such as arginine, glycine, and proline reduce inflammation in your body. Some people report difficulty tolerating bone broths when they first try to drink them. If this describes you, a meat stock cooked for just a few hours will still provide ample health benefits and may be easier to tolerate. On a personal note, I prefer to drink two cups of meat stock per day.
2. Increase your intake of fermented foods.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, and kefir are some of the best foods for maintaining gut health. They provide the body with useful probiotics and a bounty of enzymes and vitamins that protect you from a variety of pathogens. Furthermore, fermented foods can reduce Candida overgrowth–which is an ongoing problem for some of us. Although many people prefer to make fermented foods themselves, I choose to buy mine from a delicious neighborhood deli for convenience.
3. Give juicing a shot.
Did you know that juicing vegetables and fruits helps to rebuild your gut and purge your body of toxins? That’s right! Like some of the other foods I already mentioned, juices are full of minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants. Additionally, since juicing requires little to no digestion, the vital nutrients found in juice are quickly absorbed and ready to nourish your healing body.
When making your juice, it’s best to use low-sugar fruits like apple and kiwi to help sweeten your drink. A favorite combination of mine is to blend apple, celery, romaine lettuce, and lemon into a tasty and refreshing beverage. To maximize nutrient absorption, drink your juice within 15 minutes of juicing it.
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4. Try a comprehensive digestive enzyme before meals.
Many factors inhibit the body’s natural production of digestive enzymes. Supplementing with these enzymes assists your body with the breakdown of food, so you can utilize the food you consume for fuel. When choosing a digestive supplement, you should look for one that contains hydrochloric acid (HCL) to aid protein digestion, amylase to aid carbohydrate digestion, and lipase to aid fat digestion.
A word of caution about digestive enzymes: If you have a history of stomach ulcers, please consult your doctor before taking a supplement that contains HCL. Should you need a digestive enzyme, there are plenty of products on the market that don’t contain HCL.
5. Take probiotics.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that replenish the healthy gut flora often destroyed by our medications. Long-term use of antibiotics and antimicrobials can leave the gut imbalanced. Therefore, probiotics are a must-have for anyone undergoing these types of treatments. In addition, these valuable bacteria aid in our digestion, allowing our bodies to take advantage of the vitamins and minerals we take in.
If you are new to adding probiotics into your protocol, it’s best to ask your physician for advice. They may have a preferred brand that they want you to take.
6. Use castor oil packs.
With its potent healing properties, the topical use of castor oil dates back to ancient times. As a child, I remember using it as a hot pack on my swollen glands when I had a sore throat. Years later, I am once again enjoying the restorative properties of castor oil for gut health. When a castor oil pack is applied to the abdomen, it encourages the flow of lymphatic fluid, lessens inflammation, and diminishes pain.
Here’s how to make a quick and easy castor oil pack:
- First, you’ll need a wool flannel cloth and a bottle of pure, cold-pressed castor oil, both of which you can purchase online or at most health food stores
- Saturate the flannel with the oil and place it over your abdomen or areas of tenderness.
- Next, cover the flannel with plastic to protect fabric, clothes, and linens from the oil. I typically use kitchen plastic wrap.
- Finally, apply heat using a heating pad to facilitate absorption.
- You can leave the pack in place for up to an hour.
- When you’re finished, make a paste of baking soda and water to remove the excess oil from your skin. Rub the paste over your abdomen and rinse it off.
- You can store the flannel in a sealed bag in the refrigerator for 25-30 uses.
Gut health and Lyme disease can be tricky business, and this list just scratches the surface of the variety of options that are out there for protecting your digestive tract throughout the course of your treatment. With some trial and error, nearly everyone can find ways to optimize their digestive health during the road to recovery. Please remember, it’s always best to consult with your healthcare provider for more individualized recommendations.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on July 20, 2016 and was updated on May 12, 2019.
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 The Lyme Road as she continues to pursue her personal healing with the support of her husband and two rescue pups. You can find her on Instagram: @jenny_buttaccio or Twitter: @lymeroad