When I first launched my blog several years ago, I was in the midst of struggling to recover from a complex chronic illness, including Lyme disease and mold illness. I frequently shared progress updates, in addition to writing more objective blog posts about nutrition and health. However, as I recovered, I began to post less frequently about my own progress; I think this was in part because I was also entering the field as a clinical nutritionist and health researcher and writer and didn’t want to jeopardize my professional demeanor. However, clients often ask me what I personally have done to improve my health so dramatically. This blog post is a summary of the interventions I’ve used over the past year and a half, during which I have experienced profound improvements in my health. I hope that the lessons I’ve learned along the way can help those of you who are dealing with complex chronic illnesses like Lyme disease or mold illness.
I previously covered the importance of nature exposure for health in my blog A Prescription for Nature: How Contact with Nature Promotes Health. Since I wrote that blog about a year and a half ago, consistent exposure to nature has only continued to improve my health. Here are a few of the more recent studies on nature exposure and health that have crossed my radar:
Bright light exposure (equivalent to the intensity of light exposure one would receive spending time outdoors in the sun) significantly reduces cortisol levels. This finding indicates that natural light exposure plays an important role in modulating the body’s stress response. (1) I personally find that the more time I spend outdoors in natural light, the better I feel.
Spending time in nature exposes the body to a wide variety of bacteria that support the immune system and reduce inflammation. Nature also exposes us to phytoncides - organic compounds with antibacterial properties that benefit our immune systems. (2)
Currently, I try to get outside every day, whether it's for a trail run or a brief walk. I'm fortunate enough to live in an area with easy access to gorgeous trails and in an apartment with lovely nature views. I have a ritual every morning of opening my windows and taking a minute or two to listen to the birds chirping outside; this never ceases to give me great joy!
I credit nature exposure with reducing my stress and chronic inflammation and giving me the motivation to keep healing. This past summer, my boyfriend and I went on an incredible backpacking trip in the Wind Rivers mountain range of Wyoming, an adventure that was a turning point in my health journey. We then went on another amazing backpacking trip to Canyonlands National Park in Utah in October of 2018. These experiences made me realize just how far I have come with my health and have inspired me to keep pushing forward in my journey!
Mold avoidance continues to be an essential part of my health protocol. The environment of Colorado – dry and sunny – makes me feel great. I rarely encounter mold out here; when I do, the exposure is brief, and I recover much faster than I would if I had encountered the mold in a more humid environment. When I am exposed to mold, I make sure to supplement with Bulletproof Activated Charcoal so that I can quickly bind up the mold spores and mycotoxins to which I’ve been exposed.
As my research, writing, and clinical nutrition consulting businesses have grown over the past year, I’ve come to realize just how crucial it is for me to incorporate frequent movement into my day. I spend a lot of time on the computer researching, writing, and meeting virtually with clients; if I don’t punctuate these periods of sitting with working at my standing desk or taking a walk outside, I tend to feel lethargic and inflamed by the end of the day. If you have a sedentary job, I recommend getting a standing desk and taking frequent “movement breaks” throughout your day.
As my inflammation has decreased and blood circulation in my neck has improved (thanks to my third cavitation surgery in February of 2018), I’ve been able to gradually increase my aerobic exercise capacity over the past year. For approximately four years in my early twenties, I was unable to perform any sort of vigorous aerobic activity. Intense aerobic activity triggered excruciating pain in the blood vessels of my neck (imagine getting a sustained charley horse in your jugular vein) when I tried to exercise due to vascular inflammation from a long-term dental infection.
However, upon undergoing my third cavitation surgery (the first two were unsuccessful) and Invisalign treatment in February 2018 to correct my bite and improve cephalic lymphatic drainage, the pain in my neck has virtually disappeared! I am now able to engage in vigorous aerobic activities, such as trail running and backcountry skiing, with no vascular pain. I mark this improvement as one of the most significant in my entire healing journey because it means I am finally able to exercise to the degree that I most enjoy, which has beneficial downstream effects on essentially every other aspect of my health!
There are several strategies I’ve taken to enhance my exercise experience and recovery. First of all, I like to use barefoot running shoes from Altra (no affiliation). They are designed to mimic the shape of the natural human foot and have prevented me from suffering any running injuries. Secondly, I always make sure to supplement with electrolytes after intense exercise and use my Rumble Roller, a foam roller on steroids!
If you have a chronic illness like Lyme and are struggling with exercise, I highly suggest getting involved in yoga. Back when I was unable to perform aerobic exercise, a consistent yoga practice saved my life. It reduced my chronic inflammation and vastly improved my mental health, which had taken quite a beating due to chronic illness.
Gut issues – IBS and SIBO, primarily – have been my longest-standing health problems. In fact, severe IBS was the reason I first began to explore the world of nutrition and integrative medicine 9 years ago. While my gut health has been steadily getting better over the past two years, it hasn’t come easily. Last August, I decided to do a deep dive into my gut microbiota using the GI MAP test, a DNA-based test that assesses gut microbiota composition. I was fascinated by the results and now use the test regularly in my clinical nutrition practice.
The GI MAP indicated that I had low levels of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, the two dominant bacterial phyla that comprise the human gut microbiota. This was likely due to numerous rounds of antibiotics for Lyme and various surgeries. Unfortunately, there is no probiotic you can take to boost Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, so it's not exactly a simple fix. However, dietary changes can help. I began to increase my intake of polyphenol-rich foods (blueberries, blackberries, olive oil, cacao, coffee) because research shows that polyphenols support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. I’ve also been taking Biocidin and Cell Core Para 1 to treat Clostridia overgrowth and parasites.
I also began to incorporate some resistant starch in the form of tigernut flour and tigernut flakes. While the resistant starch helped somewhat, I recommend introducing it very slowly (like ¼- ½ tsp per day) because it can cause severe bloating and GI distress if you add too much too quickly.
I still eat a primarily Paleo diet - organic/grass-fed meat and poultry, wild-caught fish, non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and some starchy plants such as yuca and plantains. I find that this way of eating minimizes inflammation and keeps me feeling my best.
Blood sugar control
Several years ago, I found out that I had high fasting blood sugar and elevated hemoglobin A1c, which are indicative of poor blood sugar control. This was despite the fact that I was eating a Paleo diet. I suspect that chronic inflammation from mold exposure, chronic stress, and gut dysbiosis were responsible for the blood sugar dysregulation. High blood sugar and frequent blood sugar fluctuations cause oxidative stress and, research suggests, may impair the body’s immune response against Borrelia burgdorferi. (1) With this information in hand, I decided to take some steps to improve my blood sugar control.
First, I like to monitor my fasting blood sugar 4-5 days a week using the Keto Mojo Blood Ketone and Glucose test kit. This allows me to keep a running record of my fasting blood glucose so that I can determine what inputs reduce it and what raise it. Getting a bad night’s sleep and excessive stress consistently raise my blood sugar, whereas sticking to a Paleo diet, meditating daily, exercising daily, and taking some of the supplements mentioned below lower it.
Once I realized my blood sugar control was an issue, I began supplementing with berberine. Berberine is easily one of my all-time favorite supplements. It has blood sugar-lowering effects and corrects gut dysbiosis. I then added GTF chromium at a dose of 600 mcg per day. Chromium increases insulin-dependent tyrosine kinase activity, thereby enhancing the insulin signaling cascade and cellular glucose uptake.
Secondly, I switched up my fruit intake. Instead of apples and pears, which I ate a LOT of during the year that I spent on a low-salicylate diet, I began to eat berries instead. Blueberries and blackberries have potent blood sugar-lowering effects while also benefiting brain health, another significant interest of mine. (2)
For reasons that I do not fully understand, the topic of man-made electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and their health impacts are still ignored by many health professionals despite a burgeoning body of evidence demonstrating their harmful effects on human health. I have spent hours researching EMFs and their health impacts and firmly believe that reducing my exposure to them has assisted in my recovery from Lyme disease and mold illness. Listed here are just a few of the adverse health impacts of man-made EMFs (emitted by devices such as smartphones, tablets, WiFi routers, etc.):
Radiofrequency EMF in the range emitted by devices such as smartphone and WiFi promotes antibiotic resistance in Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes, two important human pathogens. Could EMFs also make Borrelia burgdorferi more virulent? It’s certainly possible! (4)
EMF at 50 Hz frequency reactivates latent Epstein-Barr virus, the cause of infectious mononucleosis and a possible contributor to chronic fatigue syndrome. (5)
Man-made EMFs inhibit the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. (6)
To reduce my own EMF exposure, I’ve taken the following steps:
I put my cellphone into airplane mode in the car. A car is essentially a Faraday cage that traps EMF radiation because it is made out of metal. By putting my phone into airplane mode, I am preventing it from transmitting electromagnetic signals and thus reducing my exposure.
I turn off my router at night.
I use an ethernet cord instead of WiFi for my computer at home.
I use a Defender Pad underneath my laptop to absorb heat and block radiation.
I NEVER sleep with my cellphone next to my head. The few times I have, it has resulted in awful, disrupted sleep.
In August of 2018, I began taking low-dose naltrexone for my immune system at the recommendation of my Lyme doctor. I credit LDN with improving my mast cell activation disorder and reducing the numerous food, chemical, and environmental sensitivities from which I used to suffer.
I have several polymorphisms (genetic variations) in my vitamin D receptor genes that make it difficult for me to maintain a healthy serum level of vitamin D. This is problematic because vitamin D is essential for regulating blood sugar, gut health, and immune function. Vitamin D supplements have always made me feel terrible. As a result, I decided to invest in the Sperti Vitamin D lamp. This lamp has boosted my serum vitamin D level to within the normal range while also giving me a boost of energy every time I use it.
Meditation and Positive Psychology
In the past year, I’ve taken significant steps to improve my mindset and reduce chronic stress. Committing to a regular meditation practice has accelerated my healing process; the degree of relaxation and well being I feel after meditating has become addictive! I use the Waking Up app to meditate.
I’ve also read several books on positive psychology, the scientific study of “positive human functioning and flourishing.” (ref) Positive psychology diverges from traditional psychology in that it focuses on what makes life worth living, rather than all the psychological problems that we face in our society. I'll admit that years of struggling with chronic illness previously had me feeling quite cynical and bitter. However, since adopting a positive psychology mindset, I have experienced profound improvements in my health AND have achieved success academically and in my career.
If you are new to the topic of positive psychology, I recommend watching Shawn Achor’s excellent TED talk; while he speaks specifically about happiness in work, his ideas can also be applied to daily life. After you watch his talk, go and buy his book The Happiness Advantage. You will not regret it! After years of immersion in the health world, I'm convinced that mindset is the make-or-break factor that determines whether we heal or continue to be unwell.
I hope you’ve found this update helpful! I’d love to hear about the strategies that have helped you in your healing journey with Lyme, mold, or autoimmune disease. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Also, stay tuned for my upcoming book on nutrition for Lyme disease recovery, which is a distillation of many of the strategies I’ve used in my healing process. It’s due for publication in Fall of 2019, but I’ll keep you posted here on my blog as more information becomes available!
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