Welcome to the Life Beyond Lyme podcast! In Episode 1 of the podcast, I’m sharing about my personal health journey, including my struggles with Lyme disease and mold illness, so you can get to know me better. My hope is that this podcast will help you better understand why I’m so passionate about using nutrition and lifestyle to support Lyme disease recovery.
In this episode, I cover:
- The constellation of symptoms I experienced that ultimately led to a diagnosis of Lyme disease and mold illness (among other diagnoses), including chronic fatigue, insomnia, severe gastrointestinal issues, depression, food sensitivities, and chemical sensitivities.
- The ways in which chronic illness impacted my personal, academic, and professional life.
- How diet, lifestyle, and mindset changes helped me reduce my severe food, medication, and lifestyle sensitivities, so I could tolerate Lyme disease and mold treatment.
Connect with Me
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If you are interested in becoming a client, you can schedule your free discovery call with me to learn about how I can help!
Hi, this is Lindsay Christensen, functional nutritionist and expert on using nutrition and lifestyle to support healing from Lyme disease and complex chronic illnesses. This is the Life Beyond Lyme podcast, where I’ll help you navigate the confusing world of chronic illness recovery, so you can reclaim your health and live your life to the fullest.
Each week, I’ll dive into a new topic related to chronic illness recovery. We’ll talk about health challenges such as Lyme disease, mold illness, and mast cell activation disorder, and how nutrition and lifestyle changes can help you heal. My goal with this podcast is to provide you with evidence based and actionable information that will empower you in your healing journey. I hope you enjoy the podcast!
Hi, welcome to the very first episode of The Life Beyond Lyme podcast. My name is Lindsay Christensen, and I’m a functional nutritionist and the owner of Ascent to Health, which is my functional nutrition practice. Before diving into this very first episode, I wanted to provide a bit of background information on who I am, in case you don’t know me already.
I founded my functional nutrition practice Ascent to Health several years ago, as I was finishing my Master’s of Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. The name of my practice is really inspired by my love of nature and mountain climbing. I think climbing a mountain is a good metaphor for the journey that many of us have to take to reclaim our health if we’ve been dealing with a long-term complex illness.
As I’ll discuss in future podcast episodes, I firmly believe that having a strong “why” behind your desire to heal is crucial for promoting long term recovery from complex illnesses. By your “why” I mean the underlying reasons why you want to heal and reclaim your health. For me, my major “why” behind why I wanted to heal was so that I could get back out into nature and do the outdoor activities that I love, including skiing, backpacking, and mountaineering. And indeed, I have been able to get back into all of those things with great success over the past few years.
In my practice, I primarily work with clients who have Lyme disease, mold, illness, mast cell activation disorder, and other complex long-term illnesses. In my work with my clients dealing with these health challenges, my goal is to use sustainable nutrition and lifestyle strategies to help my clients restore their energy, their mental clarity, and their gut health, among other aspects of their health, so that they can feel their best and live full lives, even while they’re still undergoing treatment for a condition such as Lyme disease, for example.
I think my approach to helping my clients is pretty unique. Unlike other approaches to Lyme disease, or mold illness or other complex long-term illnesses, the focus mainly on antibiotics, or overly restrictive diets or complicated supplement protocols, my goal is to help my clients implement sustainable strategies through their food choices, through their lifestyle choices and as well as through supplements and protocols so that they can reclaim their health and not feel like their health has to take over their entire life.
Over the years I have worked at several different functional medicine clinics, including working with Chris Kresser, a prominent figure in the functional medicine space. At this point in my career, I have worked with hundreds of clients, many of them with Lyme disease, mold illness, sirs mast cell activation, disorder and autoimmunity. I’ve really learned so much along the way. And this accumulated knowledge and experience that I’ve gathered from working with clients is a major reason why I’ve decided to create this podcast so that I have a means of sharing all the information and experience I’ve gained over the years through an audio format that I think will be appealing to many people, alongside my blog, on which I also continue to publish posts regularly.
So, in this very first episode, and my plan is to share with you a bit more about my personal journey with chronic illness so that you can get to know me a bit better. And then in all the episodes going forward from here, I’ll be focusing more specifically on various health topics. So this first episode is not very information dense, but it’s rather intended just to provide a little bit more information about me, so you can understand where I’m coming from.
Ultimately, my goal with this podcast is to share empowering, actionable health information that you can use to facilitate your recovery from Lyme disease and other complex long term illnesses and reclaim your health. I do need to include the disclaimer that all information that I share in this podcast is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace care by your health care provider. While I am a nutritionist, I am not your nutritionist. So for any health strategies that I bring up in this podcast, I always encourage you to run them by your health care provider before implementing them.
So, my health story honestly began when I was born, possibly even before I was born. I have a twin brother and he and I were born three months premature, so very, very early. So, we had a bit of a rocky start early on in life. Now, to preface, I had an amazing childhood. I have an amazing, very loving, very supportive family. So my health issues did not stem from, you know, an emotionally turbulent childhood, but rather, were really rooted in some of the physical challenges that I dealt with early on, probably in part as a result of being a preemie, but also some other health issues that emerged as I grew older.
As a child, I had severe asthma and allergies. This was really my first introduction to the conventional medical system. I required many medications, including nebulizers inhalers, and for inhaled corticosteroids. I also received about seven years of allergy shots. I remember having to come home from school for lunch, sometimes, especially in the winter, so that my mom could give me the nebulizer treatment that I needed so I could breathe. And I remember sitting, you know, inhaling the nebulizer medication, watching cartoons at lunch, and then I would go back to school. And I also remember my routine with my mom of going in for my allergy shots on Saturday mornings, for many, many years. I just accepted that was what I needed to be, you know “healthy.” I think it did help me; those treatments helped me overcome some acute issues. But I also think they played a role potentially in some of the bigger health challenges that I experienced down the road. So asthma and allergies were a big problem for me in childhood.
And then, as I was wrapping up middle school, that’s when I first began to experience some mental health issues, particularly depression. I really had my first bout of severe depression in eighth grade. Looking back, I don’t quite know what triggered it. But that was when I began medication for depression. And then, as I entered high school, more and more health problems began to accumulate.
Unfortunately, I was bullied quite a lot as a child and an adolescent. I think my quiet pretty introverted, somewhat nerdy personality might have played a role in that it kind of marked me as an easy target for bullying. So I do believe that actually started to weaken me at a physical level and made me more susceptible to some stress-related health challenges because being bullied is stressful. So that was happening even as I was entering high school. And then I began to have some other challenges. I was running cross country in middle school and early high school. But in my sophomore year of high school, I ended up developing stress fractures in my iliac crest, that’s the upper part of your hip bone that kind of sticks out when you lay down. So, that was very painful, and it actually put me out of the game as far as cross country running went so I could no longer participate in cross country. I just I kept getting injured over and over again. And those fractures were the final straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. I couldn’t run anymore. And that triggered a new bout of depression. Depression had kind of fluctuated over the years. And it really flared up again when I could no longer do the activity that I loved. And then after that, something else happened, I ended up developing an eating disorder in my junior year of high school, anorexia nervosa. So that resulted in a lot of upheaval in my life and my health as well. That actually was when I first began to experience gastrointestinal issues. My gut for many, many years did not feel the same after that experience. I did participate in outpatient eating disorder treatment in the summer after my junior year of high school.
It was also at this time, looking back, that I think I may have developed, or contracted I should say, Lyme disease. I was very tired all the time, mentally unwell, and had some other strange symptoms but nobody put the pieces together. But looking back, it could have been Lyme disease. I grew up in the Midwest and for cross-country, I had been running around in forests and fields with shorts and short socks on and no awareness at all of ticks. So that could have occurred, then. Lyme disease wouldn’t be diagnosed until many years later. But that’s when it could have first occurred. So, needless to say, high school was not a good time for me, you know, socially, with the bullying, mentally and emotionally with the depression, injuries and eating disorder. So I think I really started to experience that build up of factors that ultimately would cause my health to crumble pretty early on in life.
Despite all of the health challenges and social challenges, I did quite well all throughout school. So, I received a scholarship to go to the University of Iowa, and that’s where I headed for my freshman year of college. I planned to study pre-med. I was already very interested in health and medicine. But my body had different plans for me. So the first semester of freshman year of college was okay, I was doing really well academically. But my health truly began to crumble in the second half of my freshman year. This was when I really began to experience all of the bizarre symptoms that would later on be diagnosed as Lyme disease, SIBO, and MCAS. But I had no idea that that’s what was happening yet. So, I’ll share a few of the symptoms I experienced, just to offer some perspective. If you’re a client, by the way, listening to this podcast, when you talk about some of the health challenges you’re facing, I am empathizing with you because I have been there myself. More often than not, when you mentioned a symptom, I’ve probably experienced it at some point in my my health journey. So I feel you and I understand where you’re coming from!
My first major symptom that really struck me in that second half of freshman year of college was severe insomnia. I was waking up at least eight times a night. And it wasn’t because other factors like noise and things were waking me up. I was actually dealing with frequent urination.
The urge to urinate was waking me up eight plus times a night and living in a dorm, that was not convenient because I was having to run out to the communal bathroom area eight times a night, so that was awful. Looking back, I think that was when I was probably first exposed to mold. The dorm I was living in was in a building built in 1910 on the University of Iowa campus. It was definitely musty, definitely old, had not been renovated at all. So I think there might have been some mold in there. And I know that frequent urination is often a symptom of mold exposure because of the impact that that exposure can have on a hormone in our bodies called antidiuretic hormone. When we have a normal level of that [antidiuretic hormone] it helps us regulate urinary flow and output and we don’t have enough of it, it becomes hard to control that urination urge. So that was my first very weird symptom. I also began to deal with really debilitating gastrointestinal issues. So I had a very significant bloating, a lot of abdominal pain and severe constipation. I wouldn’t have a bowel movement for multiple days at a time.
As a side note, I was a vegan at this time and was eating a lot of grains, a lot of gluten containing whole grains, processed vegan food, a lot of nuts and seeds. Looking back, I know that was not serving my gut health at the time. It probably wasn’t helping with many other things like my fatigue and whatnot as well. But that was co-occurring at this time. And then there were other symptoms, I’ll go through these ones a little bit faster.
Chronic fatigue really set in, as well as brain fog, hair loss, and cystic acne, which was absolutely awful and consumed me. It was just terrible. Also, I began to experience some rashes on my legs and chest, which looking back could have been like a Bartonella type of rash. I also started to deal with some tremors, and electric shock sensations, which can be related to Lyme and mold. So who knows what exactly was triggering that. Depression became much, much worse. I was dealing with headaches, swollen lymph nodes, and also lost my period. In total, I dealt with amenorrhea, which is the technical medical term for loss of the menstrual period for four years. But it began at that point in college. So needless to say, by the end of my freshman year of college, I was feeling pretty miserable. I was also working in a biomedical research lab towards the end of that year, and then into the summer after my freshman year, where I had some chemical exposures. And I had a very scary exposure, I have no idea what exactly it was, but it was a chemical powder that I was mixing to prepare for an experiment. And I was not wearing proper protective gear and actually ended up inhaling some of it. And I remember almost blacking out for a second while standing. And I think I probably had a few other exposures in there as well. So that might pose some additional stress on my system. So anyway, I was really struggling.
By the end of freshman year, I did end up going back for one week of my sophomore year of college. And my parents ended up having to come pick me up from school and bring me home, because I was so sick and depressed, borderline suicidal, that I couldn’t be left alone there. So my parents brought me back home to Illinois. So I had no idea what was going on. Health wise, I was feeling very lost and very confused. This was about 10 years ago now, just for reference. So I started off doing the rounds with some conventional health care providers back in Illinois. For example, I saw a gastroenterologist and basically he just told me to take Miralax and that was it. He didn’t have much else to offer. I also was told I had depression and needed some counseling and antidepressants. You know, looking at my list of 30 plus symptoms I did not believe, even without knowing anything about functional medicine or integrative health, I did not believe that all those symptoms were due just to depression. So that did not jive with me. I also saw psychiatrist who put me on anti-psychotic medications, if you’ve ever taken those, I’m sure they helped some people but they made me feel the worst I’d ever felt felt mentally in my life. I felt like a zombie. So I did not stay on those. And needless to say, they [the anti-psychotic medications] didn’t help with anything. So, the conventional medical world was leaving me feeling pretty disillusioned.
It took a long time and a lot of research on my part to figure out where to even begin looking for help. I spent a lot of time researching my health. It was almost like my full-time job for years. And I did not have a normal college experience or young adulthood. So due to my illness and you know, not knowing where to get help or what to do, I was living back with my parents again, unable to work, I had lost the friends I had and obviously wasn’t dating, so basically I had no social life, I think it was pretty miraculous that I made it through this time in my life. I credit my family with always standing by my side. They’ve always been there for me. And they really went through this journey with me as well. Now, my whole family is familiar with functional medicine and integrative health. But it took some work for us all to get on the same page. So that was stressful as well for a period of time. Looking back, I do believe naturally, that I’m a pretty mentally and emotionally strong person. And I do think that got me through these challenging times. I knew that this was not the life that was meant for me. This was a challenge and I was going to get my way through it. And while it was very hard, I did get through it.
So it took me, let’s see, about four to five years to finally get a diagnosis of Lyme disease, and mold illness and MCAS. During that span of time, I saw about 30 different health care providers. And I had to withdraw from college six times. Because I loved school, I would go back to school, I would feel motivated and ready to take things on. But like clockwork, by the end of each semester, I was just so fatigued and had such terrible brain fog that I could barely function by the end of each semester. So I would have to withdraw and get extensions, you know, to take my finals. I ended up going to community college for a period of time because I was living at home. So my college experience was quite the journey.
Eventually I did graduate, as co-valedictorian, actually, with my Bachelor of Science in biomedical science. It was an extraordinary journey. Finally, I was connected with a few different doctors who put together the pieces and diagnosed me with Lyme disease, mold, illness, mast cell activation disorder, and gut dysbiosis, among other things. And that was great. However, I couldn’t tolerate any of the treatments that were needed to address these these issues!
My gut was in such a state of disrepair and my food sensitivities were so awful. I was down to four foods that I could eat: chicken, zucchini, olive oil, and peeled pears. So needless to say, while it was preventing reactions, that diet was not nourishing me. I was also incredibly sensitive to medications and supplements. I couldn’t take anything without reacting. So, I realized I needed to figure out how to help my body get to the point where it would be less reactive and tolerate treatment. And here’s where my current passions began to develop.
The ways in which I helped my body ultimately be able to tolerate treatment were really by working on my diet, my lifestyle, and my gut health. I began with diet, and that’s in part why I’m so still so passionate about today and why I’m a nutritionist. I had been a vegetarian and vegan for a number of years. At that point, I was convinced that that was the way to health, even though I was absolutely miserable and incredibly sick. That’s not to say that a vegetarian and vegan diet can’t work for some people, but for me, it was worsening my symptoms and preventing me from healing. So actually, the first thing that really set me off on a trajectory towards healing was when a naturopathic doctor who I visited, advise me to begin a Paleo diet. Actually, she told me before I booked that initial consult with her that she wouldn’t work with me unless I started to eat some meat again. And at that point, I was willing to do anything. So I said, “sure.” Well, it wasn’t that easy, but I was willing to do it. And I remember when I had that first grass-fed beef burger after three years of no red meat, it was like heaven.
So anyway, as soon as I transitioned over from the vegan diet to Paleo, I immediately felt that my mental health and energy began to improve. And my cystic acne actually significantly improved as well. It cleared up over the course of a few months, as I got consistent with the Paleo diet. And the Paleo Diet also helped with the severe constipation I was experiencing. I also obviously cut out gluten on the Paleo diet. I came to learn later that I was very gluten sensitive. So that dietary shift actually was like my first stepping stone into the world of ancestral health and functional medicine.
Shortly after that, I came across Chris Kresser’s blog. And if you if you know me at all, you know I did work for him for a number of years. So actually, I was first introduced to him as I was trying to figure out my own health issues. And all of his blogs on functional medicine and gut health really helped me figure out what I could do to help my gut health, improve my diet, so that I could start creating a stronger foundation for healing. So I’ll get into a little bit more detail in a second about the other lifestyle changes and strategies that I implemented in order to improve my tolerance for treatment. But, needless to say, diet was the first step there.
Over the years after I was diagnosed with Lyme and mold illness, MCAS, and SIBO. I did a number of different treatments, and eventually was able to tolerate them. So my, my process of recovery is not due to one antibiotic or one herbal protocol or one detox protocol, but really has been the culmination of many protocols and things that I’ve been doing for many years. Just for perspective, it ultimately took me about seven years, from the time I first began to experience symptoms, to get to the point where I could work consistently [because my health had improved significantly]. I went on, after completing my undergraduate degree, to get my Masters of Science and Human Nutrition and become a CNS and LDN. So that’s what I ultimately did.
It took me about seven years of time to get to the point where I can say I honestly feel consistently energetic, sleep well, and able to do what I want in life and not have to worry about symptoms holding me back. So, just for perspective, I went from being bed bound, literally, after that sophomore year of college when I was super sick, and limited to just four foods that I could eat, to climbing mountains. I actually summited Mount Rainier this past August of 2022. I’m also able to run trail half-marathons and am training for a marathon. I got married this past August. I wrote a book and I’m running a very successful nutrition business. Most importantly, I feel happy and balanced and resilient and healthy. So healing is absolutely possible. Hopefully, it will not take you seven years to heal. I don’t think it needs to.
Fortunately, there’s a lot more awareness of Lyme disease and mold illness, and these other complex health challenges now than there was when I was first dealing with these issues. So it should not take you that long [to heal]. And my goal here, with the podcasts, my blogs, is to give you resources and tools that can accelerate your healing process. But it does take consistency of effort with your diet and lifestyle. And sometimes it requires some pretty big changes to heal. I won’t mince words there. So, in short, for me, it wasn’t some dramatic heroic one-time treatment that allowed me to recover. It was really the daily habits that I built up over time with my diet and lifestyle and different protocols I was doing to care for my health.
So, to wrap up this podcast episode, I wanted to share just at a high level a few of the things that have made the biggest difference for me in my health journey. And in future podcast episodes, I plan to dig into these various topics one by one at a deeper level.
So first and foremost, diet made an enormous difference in my recovery. And I made different dietary changes at different points in time. So the first shift that helped me was getting off of that vegan diet and off of the vegetarian diet. Actually, I came to realize I was pretty sensitive to eggs and dairy as well. So switching over to Paleo made a huge difference for me And then actually, for a couple of years I did AIP, the autoimmune protocol. If any of you are familiar with that, it’s kind of like the ultimate anti-inflammatory diet. And that made a huge difference for me with my energy and gut health. So, that was enormously helpful. And then at various points, I also, tried low-histamine diets which are useful, low-FODMAP diets were useful. At this point in time, I don’t need to worry about low-histamine or low-FODMAP eating. I’m not following AIP anymore, I do follow more of a Paleo dietary approach. But that made a huge difference in my recovery.
Something else that made a huge difference in my recovery was abandoning some unhealthy behaviors around body weight and food. So if you recall, I had that battle with an eating disorder. And for a number of years after that, even though I wouldn’t say I was dealing with an eating disorder I was struggling with, you know, weighing myself and not liking the number on the scale, worrying about how much I was eating. And then eventually, one day I realized it was not serving me, it was not helping me at all. It was probably hindering my recovery. So actually, this was a little bit dramatic, but smashed my bathroom scale and threw it away. And I went for at least three years without weighing myself at all. And guess what, the world didn’t implode, nothing happened, I didn’t gain a ton of a ton of weight. Actually, I just came to a point where I was able to eat intuitively, and feel good. So that was actually a huge factor in my recovery.
A third piece of my recovery that was critical was changing my living environment. So obviously, I had to get out of moldy environments. I’m very mold sensitive. That dorm room in college wasn’t the only place where I was exposed to mold. I had subsequent exposures in college buildings and an apartment that I lived in. So that sent me down the difficult journey of learning about mold illness and how to find a safe, healthy living environment. So getting myself out of moldy environments made a big difference. And then also, moving from Illinois to Colorado made a big difference for me as well. I’m not saying you have to do that. But for me, the benefits of that were multi-fold. I had some trauma from childhood and adolescence from being sick in Illinois. And also I had a burgeoning passion for rock climbing and the outdoors. And moving to Colorado allowed me to start a fresh. And it allowed me to pursue things that made me happy that were not at all related to my health. I credit my move to Colorado as a big part of my recovery process. So that was key.
And then a few more things, briefly, addressing my gut health was absolutely crucial. I had so many gut issues. It was preventing me from being able to detox from mold and causing chronic inflammation. So going through SIBO treatment, leaky gut treatment was so essential for addressing food sensitivities. Optimizing my sleep and exercise, both made big differences.
And then another big piece for me was optimizing my dental health. I plan to do at least one podcast episode on this. I had a lot of dental issues that I learned over the years were probably hindering my recovery. I actually had a chronic infection in my jaw for a number of years due to a botched wisdom tooth removal when I was in my late teens. So I ended up going through four cavitation surgeries. Each surgery would provide relief for a period of time and then I would be dealing with the infection again, which for me manifested as very painful nerve pain in my jaw. So I ended up having to go through some cavitation surgeries. Within the past two years, I went through a bite restoration process with a biological dentist that helped to improve my bite and jaw alignment. And that actually finally did the trick for me and allowed me to recover from that the cavitation infections. It has also helped with a number of other things too. So that was really essential.
And then finally, brain retraining and working on my mindset has been key. I’ve never been someone who believes in that “I’m a victim mentality.”, I really don’t agree with that and I don’t think that it is useful at all for healing. So my mentality has always been, “my body is challenged with these issues, I’m going to figure out why because I deserve to be healthy and live a full life.” So, I needed to do brain retraining just to get through some of that trauma from being sick for so long.
And then finally, incorporating pleasure and play into my life has been essential in my recovery, too. I talked about my move to Colorado and how spending more time outdoors just brought so much happiness into my life. Cultivating healthier relationships both a romantic relationship that was healthy and functional, and friendships that were not based on bullying, like in high school, was key. So, addressing all of these things allowed me to get my body to the point where I was no longer hyper-reactive to everything. I was finally able to take antimicrobial herbs and go through mold detoxification.
So yeah, ultimately, I’ve been able to really recover from from Lyme and mold. I won’t ever say the Lyme disease is cured. It’s something that I manage over time. Sometimes when I’m stressed out, I will feel those symptoms re-emerge. But I’m always able to get them under control now.
All right, so to wrap things up, you know, nutrition really had a powerful impact on my healing journey and that was what really led to my desire to become a nutritionist. I will talk a lot about nutrition topics here on the podcast, and I do that on my blog, as well. But I’ll also touch on lifestyle and gut health, and sleep because all of those factors are really inextricably part of the healing process. All right, well that was a lot of me talking about me. Again, my goal here is really to share my story so you can understand where I’m coming from and why I’m passionate about the work that I’m doing, and why I’m starting this podcast in the first place.
I hope sharing my story has at least been interesting and maybe even a little bit inspiring to you. And I hope you’ll stay tuned for the next episode, as there’s more great information to come. Thanks for being here and I will talk to you later.
Thank you so much for listening to the life beyond line podcast. If you’d like to stay up to date on what I’m working on, and be updated, a new podcast episodes come out, encourage you to follow me on Instagram. My Instagram handle is @ascent2health. You can also follow me on my website where I blog regularly, my website is ascent2health.com. You can also sign up for my email list there where you can be updated on new blogs that are coming out, my one-on-one client offerings, and other new and exciting things that I have coming down the pipeline.
Thanks again for listening! Talk to you later. Bye!