In the conventional medical community, the role of the gut microbiome in the development and progression of Lyme disease and co-infections is rarely discussed. However, in my personal journey health journey and my clinical nutrition experience at Ascent to Health, I’ve realized that the gut microbiome plays a pivotal role in the severity of the disease and in the recovery process. Read on to learn why caring for your gut microbiome should be an essential component of your overall Lyme treatment protocol.
The Link Between Gut Microbes, the Immune System, and Lyme Disease
Your gut microbiome is composed of the trillions of microorganisms that reside in your small and large intestine. Collectively, these microbes contribute an astounding 9 million genes to your body, offering a gene set 150 times greater than our own! (1) Mounting evidence indicates that the composition of the gut microbiome significantly impacts our health, influencing our risks of chronic conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer. One of the most essential functions of the gut microbiota involves its regulatory effects on the immune system. In fact, nearly 70 percent of the human immune system resides in the gut and is influenced by the activities of gut microbes.(2,3) When the gut microbiome is disrupted by factors such as antibiotic use and an unhealthy diet, immunity suffers.
The link between the gut microbiome and immunity is fascinating, but how does it relate to Lyme disease? Research indicates that Borrelia burgdorferi, the primary causative agent of Lyme disease, compromises immune function to establish persistent infection in its host's body.(4) A compromised gut microbiome may exacerbate this immune dysfunction, accelerating the course of Lyme disease and worsening symptoms. Conversely, supporting gut health boosts immune function, reduces inflammation, and facilitates detoxification of bacterial toxins, thus supporting Lyme recovery. This is why I make the gut microbiome a key focus of my work with my Lyme clients.
Lyme-Related Gut Issues
A compromised gut microbiome may increase the severity of Lyme disease by increasing inflammation and reducing immunity, but Lyme disease also directly impairs gut health by exposing the body to many pathogenic microorganisms. This is why a comprehensive gut-healing program should be initiated in conjunction with Lyme treatment - the two treatments work synergistically to restore health.
What are some of the gut problems that people with Lyme disease run into? These are just a few of the observations I've made in my clinical experience:
Bacterial overgrowth, particularly small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a common problem I see in my clinical nutrition clients. I believe this is due, at least in part, to the nerve-damaging effects B. burgdorferi can have on enteric nerves that regulate gut motility. Chronic Lyme has been found to cause gastroparesis (dysmotility of the stomach), so I wouldn't be surprised if it can also lead to dysmotility of the small intestine and bacterial overgrowth.(5)
Heavy Antibiotic Use for Lyme
It is not uncommon for chronic Lyme disease patients to undergo many rounds of antibiotics, oral or intravenous, at the discretion of their Lyme-literate MD. Unfortunately, antibiotics are not without repercussions; a single course of antibiotics can cause rapid and long-lasting changes in the gut microbiome and induction of the persistent form of Borrelia.(6,7) Antibiotics also decimate beneficial gut bacteria while creating space for opportunistic pathogens to proliferate. If you have been on multiple rounds of antibiotics for Lyme disease and haven't focused on restoring your gut health, you may be setting yourself up for chronic immune dysfunction and many downstream health problems.
Opportunistic Gut Infections
By suppressing normal immune system activity, B. burgdorferi opens the body up to infection by opportunistic organisms, including Candida albicans and dysbiotic bacteria.(8) Addressing opportunistic gut infections is crucial for re-establishing a healthy gut microbiome and strengthening the immune system, making the body more resilient against Lyme disease.
Many of my nutrition clients at Ascent to Health have severe food sensitivities that began around the time they contracted Lyme disease. The immune system dysfunction precipitated by Lyme disease, along with elevated gut histamine levels, gut inflammation, and bacterial imbalances, are likely to blame for the onset of food sensitivities.
I recommend working with a practitioner to address food sensitivities, rather than trying to navigate them on your own. I often see clients with food sensitivities on self-implemented, extremely restrictive diets; such diets cause nutrient deficiencies, setting the body up for further gut microbiome and immune dysfunction. A practitioner can help you navigate food sensitivities sensibly and heal the underlying causes of the sensitivities, making long-term restrictive diets unnecessary.
Two common food sensitivities that may need to be avoided long-term are gluten and dairy. I recommend that my Lyme clients stay away from gluten and dairy as much as possible (ideally, 100% of the time) because these foods compound the inflammatory load precipitated by B. burgdorferi.
Healing the Gut for Lyme Recovery
Creating a healthy gut environment is essential for boosting immunity and reducing inflammation so that your body can prioritize the elimination of Borrelia. Rather than trying to navigate the world of gut health by yourself, I highly recommend working with a qualified practitioner familiar with Lyme disease and gut health. These are both areas of focus in my clinical nutrition practice, Ascent to Health. For more information on my clinical nutrition services, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the inquiry form on the homepage of my website.
That being said, there are some basic things I think every person with Lyme disease can do to support their gut health alongside customized treatment provided by a professional:
Eat anti-Lyme foods that also promote gut health.
The oils of cinnamon bark have been found to inhibits the growth of B. burgdorferi, while also exerting antimicrobial effects against other dysbiotic gut microorganisms.(9) I recommend sprinkling Ceylon cinnamon liberally on your food – it tastes great mixed with mashed pumpkin or sweet potato – or adding it to smoothies. Unrefined coconut oil is another must-have due to its rich content of monolaurin, a fatty acid with anti-Borrelia, anti-Candida, and biofilm-disrupting properties.(10) Add garlic, thyme, and bay leaf to recipes for additional anti-Borrelia and gut microbiome support.(11)
Supplement with collagen powder.
Collagen powder contains a unique spectrum of amino acids that support the integrity of the gut lining and connective tissue. Connective tissue is frequently compromised in Lyme disease due to Borrelia’s damaging effects on collagen and elastin fibrils.(12) Orally administered collagen peptides have been found to support joint health in preclinical research.(13) I recommend Vital Proteins collagen peptides powder because it comes from grass-fed cattle and is easily digested.
Eat bitter foods.
The consumption of bitter foods promotes the flow of bile, a digestive juice that emulsifies dietary fats, facilitates hepatic detoxification, and shapes the gut microbiome.(14) Raw or lightly-cooked broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli sprouts, radishes, bok choy, kale, dandelion root, and coffee are just a few examples of bitter foods that promote healthy bile flow.
Interested in learning more about how to use diet and lifestyle strategies to accelerate your recovery from Lyme disease? Check out my new book, The Lyme Disease 30-Day Meal Plan, which offers nutrition guidance, healthy recipes, and lifestyle tips for easing Lyme disease symptoms and enhancing recovery.
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