Lyme Literate Nurse Practitioner, Ruth Kriz, Talks About Diagnosing Lyme Disease, Testing, and Communication Strategies for Patients and Clinicians

Please note: This article first appeared on April 25th 2017 on prohealth.com.

Recently, I had the honor to interview Ruth Kriz, a Lyme literate, 30-year nurse practitioner in Washington, D.C. and a fellow Lyme disease survivor, to discuss the diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne infections, testing, biofilms, and more. In part one of this two-part series, Ruth reveals how she began treating Lyme, the limitations of testing, and communication strategies between patients and clinicians.

Ruth has an education background and has taught nursing to LPNs through graduate-level nurse practitioners. In her years as an educator, she’s observed the medical community is often undereducated in their knowledge regarding Lyme disease and tick-borne infections; many healthcare providers believe Lyme disease is an acute infection and are misinformed regarding the chronic, persistent nature of this illness. Ruth has chosen to speak publicly about her expertise with Lyme disease and tick-borne diseases in the hopes of helping patients receive a proper diagnosis, along with widening the medical community’s understanding of these illnesses.

Below is my interview with Ruth Kriz:

Jenny Buttaccio (JB): How did you get started treating Lyme patients?

Ruth Kriz (RK): I guess you could say it was through the back door. I had interstitial cystitis for 11 years, and I started doing more precise diagnostics with broth cultures because the traditional cultures were coming up negative. One of my patients told me that she had been diagnosed with Lyme disease. When she treated Lyme, her interstitial cystitis went away. So, that started me looking into the connection between tick-borne infections and its connection with interstitial cystitis. Since then, I’ve treated over 2,500 patients. In 98 percent of them, I’ve been able to document tick-borne infections.

JB: In your view, why are so many patients having a hard time getting diagnosed with Lyme disease?

RK: According to CDC, the way you diagnose Lyme is through an antibody test. An antibody test is not testing for Lyme itself; it’s testing for the body’s immune system response to Lyme. When you first get infected, your IGM (immunoglobulin M) is the early responder. It goes up in four to six weeks. Therefore, doing a test for Lyme when you first see a bull’s-eye rash, find a tick, or think you’ve been infected is really inaccurate because it’s going to take several weeks for those antibodies to go up. The IGM stays up for four to six months. As it’s coming down, the IGG goes up. The IGG can stay up for a year, sometime two years. Then, it starts to go down as well. Using a test that only looks at immunoglobulin IGG and IGM is going to miss a lot of people who were either tested too early or too late. So, the race has been on to try to find a better way–better markers–of diagnosing the Lyme.

Currently, there’s a test that looks at inflammatory cytokines, called ISpot Lyme. When Lyme is active, cytokines are high, and therefore, reactive. The technology has actually been out there for decades, and using it to check for Lyme is simply a new application. That’s the one I traditionally use. Also, there are tests that to do DNA testing on urine, blood, or cerebrospinal fluid. In regards to cerebrospinal fluid testing, the literature from 15 years ago says less than 3 percent of people with neurological Lyme test positive with a spinal tap, so that’s not helpful. There are some better antibody tests like IGeneX as well, where you’re more likely to get a positive western blot. But, to answer your question, there are really no good diagnostic tests for Lyme if you’re not in that window to get a good antibody response. The best we can do right now is to look at other markers that respond in the body when Lyme is active.

JB: I’ve heard other doctors suggest that Lyme disease is a diagnosis based on clinical presentation and supporting tests can be useful to help confirm the disease. Do you also hold this belief? As a follow-up question, why are so few clinicians willing to treat Lyme?

RK: That’s what we’re left with if we don’t have a reliable test. Because of the political climate surrounding Lyme, some clinicians feel if they don’t have any documentation in a patient’s chart to prove they have Lyme, they’re going to come under fire from their state medical boards. So, yes. It does need to be a clinical diagnosis. But sometimes practitioners are put in a corner. And to step out on that limb, they might risk their license.

Regarding the second part of the question, the medical education system is geared toward acute infections. Overcoming the infections that were public health threats (like smallpox, anthrax, diphtheria, and polio) and had high morbidity and mortality rates, naturally became the focus of research. Even though 70 percent of the patient population a family practice physician sees deals with chronic illness, the medical community insists on acute care. So the mindset of the doctor is you come up with an ICD-10 code. You have your particular protocol. This is the medicine you give. Then, the patient leaves the office. There’s a whole different understanding as to how you treat acute infections, and how you treat chronic infections.

JB: Are there ways Lyme patients could better communicate their needs to clinicians?

RK: Often, doctors feel like their job is first to rule out the big, nasty stuff going on. After that, they’re not willing or able to tackle the intensive, patient-care demands of a chronically, sick Lyme patient. From my perspective, I think Lyme patients could interface more effectively with the medical community if they could write down the points they want to talk about during their appointment. Also, they can be sensitive to the fact that the practitioner has a schedule and 10 or 20 people after them on that schedule. It’s hard for practitioners to deal with a large Lyme population because their needs are extensive. Not every practitioner is emotionally or knowledge-base equipped to handle the complexity of patients with Lyme. I love what I do. I’ve had Lyme myself. But I also see things from the other side. There’s a lot of skill involved in managing complex patients, and not everybody feels competent enough, or is interested enough, or can financially even afford to provide that level of care.

A Lyme patient must become informed, be educated and be their own advocate. They need to find a practitioner they feel is hearing them.

To find a Lyme literal medical professional in your area, fill out the Doctor Searchpage on the ILADS website, visit the state support group page on LymeDisease.org, or check Facebook for online forums in your area. Many support group moderators and facilitators will be able to provide you with a list of doctors in your region. 

Three Women Share What It’s Really Like to Live with Lyme Disease on Reader’s Digest

Yesterday, Reader’s Digest published an article I wrote on three, incredible women battling Lyme disease. I am so proud to call these women my friends. To view the piece on the Reader’s Digest website, please click here. Feel free to leave a comment about your own struggles with Lyme disease.

Six Ways to Combat Candida during Lyme Treatment

Please note: This article originally appeared on ProHealth on December 21, 2016

Photo credit to William Ismael

Photo credit to William Ismael

Yeast overgrowth is a common concern for Lyme patients who undergo long-term antibiotic therapy and certain herbal antimicrobial treatments. While numerous antimicrobials can affect the delicate balance of the gut flora, broad spectrum medications like amoxicillin, minocycline, doxycycline, and clarithromycin (just to name a few) pose the greatest risk of destroying healthy intestinal microbiota allowing yeast to flourish. One such yeast you’ve probably heard about is Candida.

Certain levels of Candida are a natural and ordinary part of the flora in the intestinal tract. When Candida levels are healthy, they aid in the absorption of nutrients, guard the intestinal tract against other pathogens, and support the immune system. However, when Candida levels become imbalanced and overwhelm the body–a condition known as dysbiosis–you may experience a whole host of symptoms in addition to those associated with Lyme disease.

Although it can be a challenge to distinguish the symptoms of Candida overgrowth from the complex expression of Lyme disease, some signs that your body is battling an upsurge of yeast include: digestive disturbances, bloating, fatigue, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, mood swings, brain fog, vaginal yeast infections and itchy skin. In fact, yeast overgrowth can lead to a spike in inflammatory cytokines–potent inflammatory chemicals in the body–leading to a worsening of many of your Lyme symptoms. Food allergies and sensitivities may also develop as a result of this imbalance in your body.

The majority of Lyme patients are likely to encounter Candida overgrowth at some point during their treatment. Using a combination of prescription medications (when necessary), anti-fungal herbs, and dietary changes, you can bring balance back into your intestinal tract. As naturopathic doctor and Lyme expert Dr. Nicola McFadzean says, “Since the gut has its own immune and neurological systems, keeping the natural ecology in balance is key.” Below are six ways to help keep Candida in check throughout your Lyme treatment.

1. Limit your intake of sugar.
Sugar and substances that break down into sugar in the body are foods that fuel yeast overgrowth. To control yeast, you’ll want to eliminate your intake of sugar as much as possible–including both simple and complex carbohydrates, alcohol, and fruit. If you’re waging an ongoing war with Candida, you might need to remove these items completely from your diet. While this step is not always an easy one to take, it’s one of the best ways to strengthen your immune system.

2. Add fermented foods to your diet.
In a previous article called, Six Things You Can Do To Improve Your Gut Health When You Have Lyme Disease [http://www.prohealth.com/library/showarticle.cfm?libid=29182], I discuss the benefits of increasing your intake of fermented foods. Foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, and kefir are gut-friendly nourishment that support intestinal health. Fermented fare provides your body with essential probiotics, enzymes, and vitamins that can help shield you from a whole host of pathogens.

3. Take a quality probiotic.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that restore and replace the healthy gut flora that been destroyed by long-term treatment. The dose of probiotics and the brand you’ll want to take will differ depending on your doctor and your protocol. However, they are a must-have supplement for anyone going through Lyme treatment. Additionally, they aid in digestion and help your body assimilate the nutrients that you take in.

To find the probiotic that’s right for you, it’s best to ask your physician for advice. They may have a preferred brand they want you to take.

4. Don’t forget about Saccharomyces boulardii.
Sacc what? Don’t worry. It’s known as Sacc B. for short. Sacc B is a beneficial yeast that functions as a probiotic in the body (surprisingly, not all yeasts are bad). Like the helpful bacteria mentioned above, this organism also contributes to defending the gut against disease-causing bacteria and yeast. Studies suggest that Sacc B might be useful for managing Clostridium difficile (C-diff)–a dangerous gastrointestinal infection that can be brought on by the overuse of antibiotics. One such study, entitled “Influence of Saccharomyces boulardii CNCM I-745 on the gut-associated immune system” was published in Clinical Experimental Gastroenterology in September, 2016. Many other similar studies show that Sacc B may support GI health in those with irritable bowel syndrome, as well as in those with urinary tract conditions–among other conditions that are relevant to Lyme patients.

5. Try herbal remedies.
In addition to dietary changes and probiotics, your doctor might decide to place you on a combination of natural anti-fungal treatments to correct yeast overgrowth. Herbs like garlic, olive leaf extract, pau d’arco, caprylic acid, oregano oil, and grapefruit seed extract may help support a healthy balance of yeast in the gut; they are sometimes used alone or in a combination Candida support formula. Be sure to consult with your doctor before adding any herbal remedies to your protocol. Certain ones may interact with your medications.

6. If the problem persists, there are prescription medications.
Anti-fungal medications like nystatin and fluconazole are commonly prescribed for treating yeast overgrowth. Nystatin is generally safe and efficient at killing yeast in the gut without toxic or harmful side effects. Fluconazole is a more potent medication, and it’s used when there’s a more serious or systemic problem with Candida. Some medications, including antibiotics and herbal remedies, may interact with this drug, so let your doctor know what you are taking before you begin fluconazole.

With a combination of lifestyle and diet changes, natural treatments, and prescription medications, symptoms associated with elevated Candida levels may greatly improve.

References:

Balch, J.F., & Stengler, M. (2004). Prescription for Natural Cures. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Crook, W. (2005). The Yeast Connection And Women’s Health. Jackson, TN: Professional Books, Inc.

McFadzean, N. ( 2010). The Lyme Diet. South Lake Tahoe, CA: BioMed Publishing Group.

Teitelbaum, J. (2007). From Fatigued to Fantastic. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.

Six Lifestyle Changes to Improve Adrenal Fatigue in Lyme Disease

Please note: This article first appeared on ProHealth.com on November 26th, 2016.
Photo credit to  Dubravko Sorić

Photo credit toDubravko Sorić

“A Lyme patient is tired from adrenal fatigue,” a naturopath recently told me. The only way to eliminate the fatigue is to decrease infections and support the adrenal glands through the process, he suggested.

Adrenal fatigue results from low functioning adrenal glands–small hormone-producing glands located on the top of your kidneys. While the glands themselves aren’t diseased, they’re underactive, resulting in a whole host of symptoms. Lyme disease patients aren’t just “tired” due to adrenal fatigue, they’re devoid of energy, “crash” during times of stress, experience low blood pressure, feel dizzy upon standing, feel achy, experience hypoglycemic episodes and more. Some experts believe adrenal fatigue, also known as adrenal insufficiency, is caused by a disruption in the brain’s hypothalamus, the region of your brain that signals your adrenal glands to produce hormones. At times, addressing adrenal fatigue in Lyme patients can be troublesome and confusing.

In her September 19th, 2016 article, Connie Strasheim presents Solutions for Mitigating Adrenal Fatigue in Lyme Disease. Strasheim’s piece provides patients with valuable information on supplements to combat adrenal fatigue. However, if you’re like me, you may have chemical sensitivities or be intolerant of stimulating herbs like adaptogens, adrenal extracts, and glandulars. In this article, I discuss lifestyle changes to support the adrenal glands when your body can’t handle some of the more commonly recommended supplements.

1) Improve Your Sleep Schedule- You need it. You crave it. But sometimes you just can’t get sleep no matter what you do, and your sleep habits play a large part in restoring your adrenal glands. To assist your body in the healing process, plan to eliminate the use of TVs and electronic devices by around 8:00 PM. Though this may be a difficult pattern to break, the reduction in stimulating light will encourage your body to produce the sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin. Try your best to be in bed between 10:30 PM and 11:00 PM, which reduces the likelihood that you’ll be kept awake by a “second wind” adrenaline surge. Whenever possible, aim to sleep in until 9:00 AM. Adrenal fatigue expert, Dr. James Wilson, says this allows your morning cortisol levels to rise gently and without interruption. Seek to make this new schedule a routine, so that your body’s natural sleep-awake cycle gets reinforced.
2) Eat a light snack before bed- A small snack before bed, like a handful of nuts or a spoonful of coconut oil, can help you fall asleep. It balances your blood sugar and lessens the chance for a boost in your nighttime cortisol–soothing the brain and the body for a better night’s rest.

3) Rejuvenate your adrenal glands with food– Bone broth is nutrient-dense fuel for the adrenal glands. Packed with collagen, gelatin, and amino acids, bone broths contain an array of nutritious components that are easily digestible. Other healing foods that are low in sugar, high in fiber, and contain beneficial fats to feed the adrenal glands include: cruciferous vegetables, coconut oil, avocados, olives, wild caught salmon, chicken, turkey, nuts, seeds, and seaweed. These healthy foods work to replenish your body from the inside out.

4) Increase your intake of sea salt–  Many people with adrenal fatigue have electrolyte imbalances and low blood pressure, which contribute to a worsening of symptoms. “A relatively easy tactic to increase blood pressure is to simply take in more salt and water. Salting food liberally as well as taking salt-water drinks can be very helpful. Sea salt is better than table salt because it contains trace minerals. Drinking more water will increase blood volume. This helps those that have chronic hypotension, chronic orthostatic intolerance, neurocardiogenic syncope, and POTS, ” reports Michael Lam, MD, an adrenal fatigue consultant in Loma Linda, California. To help replace both sodium and fluid volume, try ¼ to 1 tsp of sea salt dissolved in a glass of water first thing in the morning. A word of caution: if you have high blood pressure, please discuss this with your doctor before increasing your salt intake.

5) Avoid harsh detoxing- Simply put, severe detoxing can further disrupt an already delicate fluid balance in the body forcing the adrenal glands to work harder. Instead of aggressive detoxification strategies, try something gentler like dry skin brushing, an Epsom salts foot bath or a hot-cold shower.

6) Begin restorative exercise- As Lyme patients, we know exercise is critical to our healing. But if you expend all your energy on trying to push yourself through an exercise routine, you’ll worsen adrenal fatigue and increase the amount of time it takes for you to recover. Exercise is essential for rebuilding your body, but it’s the right kind of exercise that matters most. You want to conserve as much energy as possible, so your goal for exercising is to restore the body; do exercises that release tension, improve movement, ease pain, increase oxygen throughout your body, and strengthen your core. Some examples of these types of activities include gentle walking, restorative yoga or Pilates, and Tai Chi. When your body has rebuilt some energy reserves, you can progress to more challenging workouts.

For some Lyme patients, the rebuilding process may take weeks. For others, this process could take months or even years. Regardless of the length of time it takes you to bring your adrenals into a state of balance, try to listen to your body and not measure your progress by what others are doing. Your path to recovery will be uniquely yours in all aspects.

References

Lam, M. (2012). Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. Loma Linda, CA: Adrenal Institute Press.

Wilson, J. L. (2001). Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. Petaluma, CA: Smart Publications.

 

 

A Quick Guide to Seven Popular Toxin Binders

(Please note: This post originally appeared on ProHealth.com on October 22, 2016)

To heal from Lyme disease, co-infections, and other biotoxin related illnesses (like toxic mold exposure), we must help our bodies detoxify to reduce Herxheimer reactions and chronic inflammation. Thankfully, there are many options available to us to lessen the toxic load.

In my Lyme support group, I often see patients trying to navigate the complicated world of toxin binders. What works for one person often doesn’t work for another, which leaves many patients confused and frustrated. In this article, I discuss seven toxin binders that can support the body’s detoxification processes, eliminate unhealthy waste, and help your body to heal. Keep in mind you may require a trial of a few products before you find one or more that works well for you.

As a word of caution: please discuss these binders with your doctor before incorporating them into your treatment. Almost all of them must be taken a few hours away from medications, herbs, or supplements to prevent them from absorbing them along with the toxins.

1) Cholestyramine- Cholestyramine (CSM) is a prescription medication that lowers cholesterol. In additional, biotoxin illness expert, Richie Shoemaker, M.D., states cholestyramine can legally and ethically be used as an off-label medication to bind biotoxins from mold and Lyme disease in the gut and assist the body with successfully excreting these harmful elements. Since CSM binds intensely to the biotoxins, it prevents them from being reabsorbed. As long as you aren’t repeatedly exposed to biotoxins, over time, CSM will remove them from the body’s tissues. Your doctor should provide you with specific instructions on how to take this medication and may also advise you to adhere to a strict diet. For some people, CSM is a useful tool to help the body recover.

2) Welchol- Welchol is another prescription medication that may provide a suitable alternative to those who find cholestyramine too harsh. Dr. Shoemaker reports that Welchol is approximately 25% as effective as CSM for removing mold or Lyme biotoxins from the body, so it’s a much gentler medication. Welchol may be a better pick for patients with severe sensitivities, and the frequency of the dosage can be slowly increased for greater effectiveness. Like CSM, Welchol binds to toxins and transports them out of the body through the gastrointestinal tract. If you take Welchol, you will likely receive specific instructions about how to time your dosages throughout the day, as well as dietary recommendations to maximize its potency.

3) Bentonite Clay- Bentonite clay is a consumable clay originating from the ash created by volcanoes. It has been used for centuries around the world to help the body detox from illnesses. It soaks up toxins, heavy metals, and other harmful materials. Additionally, bentonite clay may be a beneficial source of bioavailable nutrients. It also contains antiviral and antibacterial properties. However, more research is needed on this subject to confirm the accuracy of these ideas. In some people, bentonite clay may cause digestive upset, so you need to take it with eight to 16 ounces of water per teaspoon to prevent constipation.

4) Activated Charcoal- Many Lyme patients find activated charcoal to be an effective, low-cost alternative for reducing the body’s inflammatory responses to various toxins. Like the other options, activated charcoal absorbs adverse substances and helps the body properly dispose of them. This supplement has an excellent safety record and provides a subtler method of detox than some of the other supplements and medications.

Renowned researcher and naturopathic physician, Amy Yasko, Ph.D., proposes following activated charcoal with a high dose of magnesium citrate to flush the bowels and rid the body of excess ammonia from Lyme toxins or genetic mutations like CBS.

5) Chlorella- Chlorella is a blue-green algae rich in vitamins, minerals, iron, and amino acids. This toxin binder works particularly well for removing heavy metals from the body; some biological dentists will use chlorella in conjunction with removing mercury amalgams to prevent this unwanted metal from entering the bloodstream. Since chlorella mobilizes metals, many health care providers tell their patients to begin slowly and work up to the desired dose to prevent unfavorable side effects.

6) Zeolite- Zeolite is a popular substance and is used as part of many herbal Lyme treatment protocols. Composed of a wide array of natural minerals, zeolite powder chelates metals and draws them out of the body. However, some doctors suggest that it’s a weak binder of mercury; though it may work better on other heavy metals. Also, some physicians will combine zeolite with some of the previously mentioned binders for a balanced detox plan.

7) Pectin- Pectin is a powdered fiber supplement made from apples, plums, grapefruits, or other citrus fruits. It helps to detoxify the body by sweeping up biotoxins in the gut caused by mold, Lyme, and other infections. In addition, pectin binds mildly with heavy metals. Many people say that pectin is easier to handle than some of the more aggressive detoxifiers. Like zeolite, pectin works well in combination with other binders and is relatively inexpensive.

Although this isn’t a comprehensive list, these are a few of the more common toxin binders recommended to Lyme patients. However, it’s always best to consult with your practitioner for more individualized recommendations before beginning any supplement or medication.

Which toxin binders have you benefited from on your journey towards healing? Please leave a comment.

References:

10 Proven Bentonite Clay Benefits and Uses. (n.d.). Dr. Axe. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/10-bentonite-clay-benefits-uses/

Balch, J.F., & Stengler, M. (2004). Prescription for Natural Cures. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Shoemaker, R. (n.d). What to Expect from Cholestyramine (CSM). Retrieved from https://www.survivingmold.com/docs/CSM_Fact_Sheet.pdf

Yasko, A. (n.d). General Important Information to Guide You on Your Road to Wellness. Retrieved from http://www.knowyourgenetics.com/media/pdf/General%20Important%20Information%20To%20Guide%20You%20on%20Your%20Road%20To%20Wellness.pdf

Condensing A Year

(“I hear rumors that I am well. Someone mentioned it to ‘this’ person, ‘this’ person then told ‘that’ person, and finally, ‘that’ person told me that I am doing great. I am flattered people think I am doing so well, but the reality is much less glamorous.” More Than 43,000 Pills Later, October 23rd, 2015).

Where do I begin? I’m lying in bed typing, trying to push through the fatigue. I’m exhausted. No. I’m depleted. But that’s often the case with chronic Lyme disease. What can I say that you don’t already know? Some days are terrible. Some days are okay. I feel like a broken record sometimes–repeating the same verbiage day in and day out. Three years into treatment and yes, I’m still sick. Although you probably can’t tell by looking at me.  

I’m still fighting Lyme disease. October 2015-January 2016

My healthcare team uncovered a Babesia infection–a malaria-like parasite–and a high viral load. Since I didn’t have the obvious symptoms of these infections, I had some doubts about this diagnosis. I had done the immune-boosting, GcMaf therapy with Bravo Probiotic for several months, so I encouraged my nurse practitioner to intensify my treatment. I wanted 2016 to be my best year yet, and I thought I could tolerate an aggressive regime. Initially, I had some good moments. I went ziplining, celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, and my birthday. Then, without much warning, I got knocked down. I crashed so hard I could no longer lift my head from the pillow. My mother, who I rarely get to see, had come for a visit over Christmas. Sadly, I spent two days of her time here lying in bed. After the new year, I spoke with my nurse practitioner, and she ordered me to stop all medications and have some blood work done. Sure enough, my test results confirmed elevated liver enzymes and kidney function, and I was told to stay off all medications until my overworked organs were back in their normal ranges.

I’m still fighting Lyme disease. January 2016-April 2016

Two months. That’s how long it took for my liver and kidneys to return to normal. Following this setback, I became angry. I was angry that I was undertaking such a fierce treatment protocol without the support of knowledgeable, local physicians. I was angry that no matter where I went for healthcare, I was thrust into the role of patient, advocate, and educator always having to point out the inaccuracies of testing and the old, erroneous treatment guidelines. Lyme disease is serious; in some cases, it’s deadly. I had to explain this bitter reality to every physician I met. If it weren’t for a select group of doctors willing to put their licenses and careers on the line for me, I would be dead. Period.

That’s a hard pill to swallow.

Eventually, I consulted with a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor (LLMD) in Indiana to re-work the previous protocol that caused me to tank. The treatments I endured from him were intense–like knock-you-on-your-ass intense. But I persisted because that’s all I knew how to do. Days went by, and I was stuck in bed again trying to figure out the next step (I’m always trying to figure out what’s next).  

In March, I began weekly intravenous, ultraviolet light treatments. It’s an alternative intervention, but I heard promising reports that people were close to remission with this treatment. It was a pricey and sometimes painful attempt, but the hope of improving my quality of life was dwindling. At this point, the tremendous financial burden this placed on my family and me seemed worth the risk.

I’m still fighting Lyme disease. April 2016-July 2016

For awhile, I was improving with the new combo of medications and the UV treatments. In May, my husband and I took our first plane ride in eight years. We went to Nashville to visit some friends. While I was nervous about the large quantities of medication I had to bring with me, things went pretty smoothly. I came back from the trip feeling like I was making progress with my health–this time for good. I couldn’t believe I had conquered such a huge healing milestone!

In June, we adopted a new puppy. For a short time, I was the owner of THREE dogs! The puppy brought new energy into our apartment, and I enjoyed many walks with her through our neighborhood. Sadly, my upswing was short-lived, though, and I ended up in the emergency room after battling a colitis-type episode for a few days. While that episode resolved, I quickly began heading downhill once more. By July, I no longer saw benefits from the UVLrx treatments or my medications. The fatigue came back with a vengeance as I struggled to preserve the improvements I’d made. Sliding backward is a heartbreaking part of this illness, I’ve learned.

I’m still fighting Lyme disease. July 2016-October 2016 and beyond

So, shouldn’t I be used to this by now? I’m not. I’ll never get used to the anguish of the low points, or watching my dreams slip away. Sadly, my summer wasn’t what I had expected. I wasn’t able to attend my high school reunion, visit friends, family or do much of anything. In August, I stopped the UVLrx treatments at the six-month mark. Also, I tested positive for mycoplasma pneumoniae–another bacterial infection I had to contend with. 

“Maybe you’ve been reinfected. Do you recall any tick bites?” my nurse practitioner asked due to my increasing symptoms. How could that be? I’d hardly left the house the entire summer! I prayed she was wrong, but I was terrified she might be right. Could I have missed one, microscopic tick? What would I do if I had to begin this journey all over again? 

Then, life happened, and it forced me to put my health on hold. On October 6th, we put our almost 17-year-old beagle named Seven to sleep. Just typing her name still causes a dull ache in my heart. There’s no doubt it was her time, but it still hits me like a punch in the gut. She was my first dog, and when I was at my worst, I whispered in her ear one dispirited day, “You have to stay well until the day comes where I am strong enough to handle it.” I am grateful she upheld her end of the bargain. Even though I didn’t feel healthy, I managed her death without sliding further down the hill. Maybe I’m just too sentimental, but it sure felt like I hung on for her, and she hung on for me.

I connected with my nurse practitioner over a Zyto scan a few weeks later. The scan showed very high levels of oxidative stress, brain inflammation, and the Babesia infection from nearly a year ago.

But, there was good news too! After three years of treatment–three years of powerful medications–I no longer tested positive for Borrelia (the bacteria that causes Lyme) or the co-infection Bartonella. At least, for now. Insert happy emoji of the dancing lady in the red dress.

My nurse practitioner and I settled on a more simplified treatment plan of Malarone, tinidazole, and Tagamet. Although Tagamet is an antacid, it’s been shown to reduce brain inflammation, so I take it after meals to not interfere with my digestion. It’s still too early to tell, but I think it’s helping. Fingers crossed that it’s helping. I’m ready for a big shift to occur. I’ve been ready and waiting for a very long time…

The last of the golden fall sun.

The last of the golden, fall sun.

“A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away, and the trees stand. I think, I too, have known autumn too long.”

-e e cummings

Seven Detox Ideas That Won’t Break The Bank

Please note: This article was originally posted on ProHealth on August 20th, 2016)

A few months ago, I wrote an article entitled 10 Supplements Every Lyme Patient Has In Their Protocol. To my surprise, I received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback regarding this article. Several Lyme patients contacted me and said they wished they had seen a similar post earlier on in their treatment journey. Unfortunately, their budgets had been stretched to the max by long-term Lyme protocols that included taking a considerable amount of supplements and medications. Similarly, I too, feel the financial burden that is required to get well from this illness.

Our doctors often tell us that we need to detox while undergoing our challenging medical regimens. By stepping up our body’s detoxification processes, we help our bodies handle different combinations of medications and supplements, eliminate toxic waste, and most importantly, heal. Fueled by my desire to provide patients with more affordable resources, this article covers seven budget-friendly detox ideas that won’t break the bank.

1) Dry Skin Brushing- For the cost of about $10-$15, a dry skin brush is an economical tool to incorporate into your detox routine. Available online and at most health food stores, you’ll want to purchase a long-handled brush made with natural bristles as opposed to synthetic ones. Dry skin brushing helps to unclog pores and allows your skin–the body’s largest organ–to expel toxins that have accumulated in it. This method of detoxification is also known to increase circulation, stimulate the lymphatic system, improve skin tone, and have an energizing effect upon the body.

Dry skin brushing takes roughly five minutes to complete and is very easy to do; it’s excellent for those of us with very limited energy. After you remove your clothing, begin brushing at your feet, moving the brush in smooth strokes toward your heart. From your feet, progress up your legs, to the palms of your hands, and then your arms. Again, always brush toward the direction of your heart.

After you brush your extremities, brush your abdomen, chest, and back–still in the direction of the heart. Keep in mind these areas tend to be more sensitive, so use a lighter hand when brushing them.

Whenever possible, take a shower after your dry skin brushing session and follow up with a natural moisturizer. Coconut oil is a preferred moisturizer among many Lyme patients. For best results, you can use this technique one to two times a day.

2) Hot/Cold Showers- Although the idea of alternating a comfortable, warm shower with a burst of cold water might not sound too appealing to you, this type of shower costs nothing and has many therapeutic benefits. Right before you finish your shower, adjust the temperature to the coldest setting you can withstand and allow the water to run over you for 30 seconds (if possible). Rotating between hot and cold water increases lymph flow, stimulates circulation, and optimizes blood flow to your organs.

As you adapt to the temperature changes, you can begin to incorporate brief repetitions of hot and cold showering. I can personally attest to feeling more invigorated after cycling through this technique 4 or 5 times.

3) Activated Charcoal- Many of us experience Herxheimer reactions (“Herx” for short) periodically during our Lyme treatment. These reactions are the result of the body’s inflammatory responses to the toxins that are generated when a large bacterial load gets killed off. The duration of a Herx varies from person to person and can last from a few hours to a few weeks. Thankfully, activated charcoal tablets are a low-cost option to help you when you’re feeling cruddy.

Activated charcoal is a binding agent that absorbs these toxins and helps your body to properly get rid of them. You need to take activated charcoal two hours before or after your other medications and supplements.

4) Lemon Water- Lemon water is a favorite detox method among the Lyme community. Not only is it incredibly cheap, but the lemon adds a splash of flavor to an otherwise bland glass of water. Among its benefits, lemon neutralizes your body’s pH and improves its acid-alkaline balance. This refreshing drink also helps to cleanse the liver. You can drink your lemon water either hot or cold, but many holistic health practitioners recommend rinsing your mouth afterward to protect the enamel on your teeth from the acidity in the lemon juice.

5) Liver Support Formula- Medications occasionally place an extra burden on the liver. Investing in a liver support supplement will help your body to process these medications more efficiently. Several herbs and supplements help your liver remove harmful substances, keep your liver function within a normal range, balance your hormones, and help you to better tolerate the vast array of chemicals that you ingest.

6) Epsom Salt Baths- An Epsom salt bath is an excellent way to draw out toxins through the skin and minimize stress on your body. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a dry skin brushing session. Magnesium sulphate–the mineral in Epsom salts–has a calming effect on muscles and the nervous system, so you feel more relaxed.

Because Epsom salts can lower blood pressure, it’s best to start with just ½ cup in your bath and work up to two or three cups, for a maximum of 20-30 minutes.

7) Herbal Teas- Another economical option that can address specific areas of discomfort is herbal teas. Chock-full of beneficial nutrients, teas like chamomile relieve insomnia, while peppermint and ginger help to soothe the stomach, and milk thistle assists the liver with detox. With such a large selection to choose from, you will likely find at least one tea to aid in detoxification.


As you can see, this article serves as a starting point for reasonably-priced detox practices. Feel free to leave me a comment, so I can hear about the cost-effective things that you use to detox. Please remember to consult with your doctor for more individualized recommendations.

The Day I Told My Husband to Leave Me and My Lyme Disease

Please note: This article first appeared on The Mighty on August 24th, 2016.

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On a summer afternoon in 2013, I lay in my bed staring up at the ceiling contemplating how to cut my losses while my life spiraled out of control. I felt as though there was an anchor attached to my soul pulling me deeper into an abyss of unfathomable despair. My thoughts drifted to an existence of solitude, and for a brief moment, relief washed over me. I had already become disconnected from most of my family and friends — an unforeseen casualty of a prolonged hardship. During a period of panic and uncertainty, I considered whether or not I should also cut ties with my husband, Tom. I fantasized about living the rest of my days — however long that would be — without the expectations of someone else. Furthermore, Tom never asked to be my caregiver, so letting him go seemed noble to me. Why should we both have to struggle when he could escape this never-ending nightmare?

We lived in an old, second-story Chicago apartment where watching new cracks form in the plaster became my daily entertainment. I crashed in 2010 and then again in 2012, leaving me stuck at home and in bed, intolerable to sound and unable to sleep. I took combinations of medications and supplements in amounts that could knock out a small elephant. But they often had little to no effect on me. My brain and spinal cord burned with pain; my muscles ached with exhaustion, and I could no longer sit or stand for more than a few minutes. Too weak to talk, I communicated with my mother in Minnesota through texts. Regrettably, I couldn’t bear the idea of hearing the sadness in her voice or the possibility of her seeing me in this condition. My body had given out on me, and I suddenly realized this mysterious ailment wasn’t going away on its own.

Before my illness, I was an occupational therapist, an athlete, a pilates instructor, and the creator of a well-respected exercise DVD. Since I had carved out a unique niche in an up-and-coming health and wellness space, my career path looked bright and full of potential. Then, without warning, it all slipped away.

The illness that derailed me in the prime of my life was chronic Lyme disease. Steeped in medical and political controversy, Lyme disease is an ostracized diagnosis. Physicians are taught that this disease is difficult to acquire and easy to treat. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Lyme disease can affect every organ, joint and muscle in the body, and its symptoms mimic many other diseases. Sadly, there is no cure and no linear path to healing. At best, there is remission. Lyme is nothing if not unpredictable and destructive.

After the fatigue and pain had beaten me down each day, Tom got what was left of me — which was never very much. Although I was his wife, I was also his patient, and sickness was a prominent third entity in our marriage. I constantly needed his assistance, and therefore I couldn’t tend to his needs or reciprocate his affection. On an occasion, we had rare moments of joy and laughter, but they were always short-lived by a flood of symptoms. There wasn’t anything I could do to change my fate, but Tom, well, he could be spared from this tragedy, I thought. I became convinced I could release him of his caregiver duties if I finished out my remaining days living with my parents in Minnesota, and I prepared myself to tell him to move on with his life and find someone else.

One day, I called Tom into the bedroom and beneath an outpouring of tears, I uttered, “You need to leave me before this ship sinks. I’m not getting any better… you don’t need to sink along with me.”

Quietly, Tom sat on the edge of the bed and listened to me as I continued, “There’s still time to save yourself. You don’t deserve this! You can remarry and have the family you’ve always wanted,” I sobbed, knowing that those things weren’t possible for me.  

The heaviness of my words took my breath away as I realized I was letting go of the person I loved most in this world. My heart couldn’t endure the pain, so I covered my head with a blanket; I was no longer able to look at him.

Suddenly, I felt a gentle arm wrap around me and heard these tender words, “Jenny, if you think I’m going to leave you, you don’t know me very well. I’m the type of guy that would sink with the ship. I’m not leaving you. I love you. I need you in my life. Where would I be without you? Probably alone and a lot less happy.”

The tears slowed to a trickle and then halted. Tom could be a little rough around the edges sometimes, and I liked to think I’d softened him up a bit over the years. As an image of us laughing together popped into my mind, a small smile formed on my lips. “That’s true,” I mumbled from under the blanket, “Youwould be alone and a lot less happy without me.”

At that moment, Tom’s words reminded me of my worth in our relationship, which I had unknowingly lost somewhere along the way. I realized Lyme disease might have stolen a lot from me, but it didn’t diminish my value as a woman, wife, friend, or partner. Though, I’m embarrassed to admit I believed the lie that I was somehow “less than” more times than I can count.   

Three years into aggressive Lyme disease treatment, and I am still working toward recovery. Though I’ve made great strides, our life together looks nothing like most other couples our age — no children, no financial stability, and no grand plan for the future. We live simple, quiet lives with three dogs and the constant struggle and uncertainty of a chronic illness. During those previous months of intense struggling, I’m thankful Tom refused my offer to leave. I know I would be alone and a lot less happy without him too. Today, there’s a lot of love between us and a mutual understanding that we are stronger together than apart as we continue to fight this ongoing battle.