Lyme disease is a serious infectious illness caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a genus of bacteria transmitted through the bite of a black-legged tick. Although there is currently no cure for chronic Lyme disease, there are several steps that people with Lyme can take to help manage their symptoms.
One of the most effective steps is to avoid inflammatory foods known to aggravate the condition. Read on to learn about which foods can cause inflammation, and which foods can help decrease the severity of Lyme symptoms.
Acute vs. Chronic Lyme Disease
Before we get into specifics about which foods to avoid if you have Lyme disease, it’s important to make a distinction between the two different forms of Lyme: acute and chronic.
Acute Lyme disease is diagnosed when a patient receives treatment within two months of their initial exposure to the bacteria. Some common symptoms of acute Lyme disease include:
- rash, sometimes shaped like a bullseye
- achy muscles and joints
- swollen lymph nodes
Acute Lyme disease is treatable with a simple course of oral antibiotics, usually administered over a 10- or 14-day period.
Chronic Lyme disease, on the other hand, is often the result of a patient not receiving treatment for exposure to Borrelia bacteria within the first two months. Symptoms of chronic Lyme can include:
- rash, sometimes on parts of the body other than the site of the original bite
- pain and swelling in the joints
- neurological problems such as numbness of the limbs, impaired muscle function, and a temporary paralysis of one side of the face (Bell’s palsy)
Chronic Lyme disease usually requires more aggressive antibiotic treatment, typically in the form of intravenous or intramuscular injections. Long-term antibiotic use is notorious for disrupting the gut’s micro-organisms and having a negative impact on the microbiome, so it’s especially important that people with chronic Lyme disease refine their diet to accommodate the extra strain caused by their treatment.
What Foods Should You Avoid if You Have Lyme Disease?
Since Borrelia bacteria causes severe inflammation in its host, the first step to creating a Lyme-friendly diet is to cut out inflammatory foods. Inflammation is a natural response by the body to protect against infection, but too much inflammation can lead to significant health risks, including tissue damage, high blood pressure and increased risk of cancer.
So, what are some inflammatory foods to avoid?
Foods containing added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, like candy and sugary sodas, can often cause a spike in inflammation levels and increase inflammatory markers. Even though it’s delicious, try to limit your intake of sugar as much as possible.
Processed meats like bacon, sausage, cold cuts and jerky contain more advanced glycation end products (AGEs) than other non-processed meats, and AGEs are a known cause of inflammation.
Seed and vegetable oils
Certain seed and vegetable oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can cause the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals when consumed in excess. The main offenders for inflammation are corn oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil and vegetable oil.
Although not all carbohydrates are bad, refined carbs are those that have had the majority of their fibre removed and often promote inflammation. Unfortunately, the list of foods containing refined carbs is quite a long one: bread, pasta, sugary cereals, cookies… Even though they may be hard to give up, the benefits will be worth it.
Gluten and dairy
Gluten and dairy can sometimes heighten the symptoms of Lyme disease because they increase intestinal permeability, which may cause an inflammatory response. Not everyone with Lyme disease is affected by gluten and dairy, but it’s worth cutting back on them to see if it makes a difference.
What Foods Can You Eat if You Have Lyme Disease?
Now that we’ve explored some inflammatory foods that should be avoided, let’s go over a few foods that are beneficial for people with Lyme disease. The key to building a Lyme-friendly diet is to focus on foods that are nutrient-dense and anti-inflammatory. Here are some healthy options:
Non-starchy vegetables are high in vitamins, dietary fibre and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, so you should aim to eat at least three or four servings a day. Some non-starchy vegetables include asparagus, broccoli, carrots, eggplant, mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes.
Animal proteins provide necessary amino acids and vitamins, and organic, grass-fed meats are less likely to cause inflammation than the processed alternatives mentioned above. Most grocery stores and butcher shops carry grass-fed products, so be sure to inspect the label next time you’re out shopping.
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna are a rich source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and also contain helpful antioxidants. Wild-caught fatty fish is the healthiest as it contains lower amounts of mercury, which can sometimes be found in farm-raised fish.
Raw nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are rich in vitamins and minerals and are part of a healthy diet. Make sure that they are raw or lightly roasted though, because, as mentioned above, industrial seed oils are a prime culprit for Lyme-related inflammation.
Keep in mind that this list is just a starting point. If you’re living with chronic Lyme disease, it’s important that you sit down with your doctor or a licensed dietician and discuss what your ideal diet should look like. Although there may not be a cure for chronic Lyme disease yet, by eating right you have the power to make your symptoms more manageable.