Spending time in nature is my favorite past time, whether I’m backpacking, hiking, rock climbing, skiing, or trail running. However, as someone who’s dealt with the fallout of chronic Lyme disease, the wilderness can also be an overwhelming place – the potential for tick bites is real, not to mention concerns about pathogens that can be transmitted by other biting insects, such as mosquitoes and sand flies. Despite my legitimate concerns about insect bites, my experiences in nature are something I will never sacrifice. Instead of being fearful of the wild, I’ve instead created a set of strategies for optimizing my health when I’m in nature. These strategies also help me maintain my health post-Lyme disease.
In this blog, I’ll share my strategies for staying healthy and successfully evading ticks while in nature. I hope you’ll find my ideas useful and, after reading, feel inspired to spend more time outdoors!
Healthy Backpacking and Hiking Food
When backpacking, the number one way I keep myself feeling good is by eating healthy food. Unfortunately, most commercial backpacking food (such as Backpacker’s Pantry) is far from healthy. Instead of eating freeze-dried, pre-made backpacking meals, I prefer to throw together some staples in my pack.
Homemade jerky and salmon
I’ve found that my body requires a lot of protein to feel strong and energetic. As such, homemade jerky is a staple in my backpacking meal kit. I like to make my own jerky because it is free of additives and does not cause a histamine response like many of the other jerky brands I’ve tried. You can find my recipe here.
For on-the-go protein, I also like Vital Choice’s wild seafood pouches. These pouches contain wild tuna and salmon in convenient, mess-free pouches.
I also like to dehydrate my own fruit. When organic mangoes, blueberries, and other fresh fruits go on sale at the grocery store, I snatch them up and dehydrate large batches of fruit. This strategy provides me with plenty of easily-accessible carbohydrates for fueling long backpacking treks. The dehydrator I personally use is the Gourmia Premium Countertop Food Dehydrator.
Nuts, seeds, and grain-free granola
I’ve been eating a mostly Paleo diet for 6 years and have found it immensely useful in my recovery from Lyme disease and several other health conditions, including depression and IBS. This means I don’t eat conventional oat-based granola. Instead, I’ve created my own grain-free granola recipe that incorporates prebiotic sliced tigernuts, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and raw honey or maple syrup. I also like eating the delicious soaked and dehydrated nuts sold by Wilderness Family Naturals – the soaking process they apply to their nuts and seeds reduces antinutrients such as phytates, enhancing the foods’ nutritional value.
One of the joys of backpacking is looking forward to some dark chocolate at the end of a long, arduous day! I prefer Hu Chocolate – it is organic, free of gluten, dairy, and soy, and Paleo.
When I’m backpacking, filtering water is a must – drinking water straight from a lake or stream is extremely ill-advised! However, I go one step further by storing my filtered water in a stainless-steel water bottle – I like the Hydro Flask – rather than a traditional plastic water bottle. Plastic water bottles have been found to leach multiple harmful chemicals, including:
BPA: This plasticizer disrupts hormone balance (it mimics the hormone estrogen), adversely alters the gut microbiota, and may play a role in autoimmunity, which frequently occurs among people with chronic Lyme disease. (1, 2, 3) If you’re looking to recover from Lyme disease and optimize your long-term health, BPA has no place in your body! Male backpackers out there, take this information to heart – environmental BPA exposure has been found to significantly reduce testosterone in men. (4) It looks like it’s time to switch out that plastic water bottle for a stainless-steel one!
BPS and BPF (bisphenol S and bisphenol F): These plasticizers, found in products marketed as “BPA-free” may be just as harmful as BPA, if not more. (5) BPS impairs the activity of phagocytes, cells in your immune system that gobble up pathogens while also up-regulating pro-inflammatory cytokines and reactive oxygen species (6); this spells trouble for people already battling chronic inflammation and high pathogen loads from infections such as Lyme disease. Bisphenol F disrupts neural cell differentiation and may adversely impact brain development and function. (7) This means that the “BPA-free” label found on Nalgene water bottles and other plastic water bottles isn’t a guarantee of safety. Yet another reason to stick with stainless-steel water bottles.
Microplastics: As plastic products break down over time (particularly in response to heat and UV light, which are abundant in nature!) they release tiny compounds called microplastics. Research is revealing that these microplastics have harmful effects on natural ecosystems and potentially on our own bodies. (5, 6) Plastic water bottles, polyester clothing, and other plastic products release microplastics during wash cycles (in the case of polyester clothing) and through heat and UV light exposure. Stainless-steel water bottles do not release microplastics and are, therefore, a much safer choice!
Skin Protection from Sun and Insects
For protecting my skin outdoors, I prefer Badger brand zinc oxide sunscreen. Most sunscreens are laden with chemicals that are not only harmful to coral reefs and other natural ecosystems, but also to our bodies. Badger uses zinc oxide as their main UV light-blocking ingredient, which is perfectly safe for the environment and the human body.
Did you know you can protect your skin from the sun internally as well as externally? Astaxanthin, a fat-soluble carotenoid found in wild salmon, krill, and algae is a potent antioxidant that naturally protects skin from UV damage and sunburn. Throughout the year (because I get plenty of sunshine skiing in the winter as well as hiking in the summer!) I take Cymbiotika DHA + Astaxanthin; this potent combination delivers DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid critical for brain health, along with naturally-sourced astaxanthin. When I take this at least 4 days a week, my fair skin is much more resilient to sun exposure and I burn far less frequently.
For a less expensive astaxanthin option, try Dr. Mercola’s Astaxanthin with ALA.
To protect my skin from biting insects, including dreaded ticks and mosquitoes, I use Repel Lemon Eucalyptus insect repellent. Unlike many natural bug sprays, this one contains ingredients scientifically proven to repel insects and it actually works! Lemon eucalyptus is listed by the CDC as comparable to DEET for fending off mosquitoes, without toxic side effects. I tested out Repel Lemon Eucalyptus repellent while backpacking in the Wind Rivers range of Wyoming last summer, and it helped protect me from the infamous clouds of mosquitoes that swarm there in the warmer months. I also use a bug face net in extremely buggy situations (such as the Wind Rivers) and wear long sleeves, high socks, and pants.
I always keep a pair of TickEase tweezers handy in my first aid kit, in case I do need to remove a tick from my body. These tweezers are specifically designed for removing engorged ticks, and are much safer than traditional tweezers - the last thing you want to do is have part of an engorged tick break off in your skin, a problem that can happen with traditional tweezers.
If I am bitten by a tick or a lot of mosquitoes, I begin supplementing immediately with liposomal Biocidin, a potent antimicrobial herbal combination that I’ve personally found to be excellent for nipping infections in the bud. Note: This is not to be construed as medical advice - if you are bitten by a tick, immediately consult a doctor. Save the tick and send it to Tick Encounter for pathogen testing.
I hope you’ve found these tips useful! Stay tuned, as I will continually update this page as I glean more insight from future outdoor adventures!
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