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. 

Six Things You Can Do To Improve Your Gut Health When You Have Lyme Disease

Please note: This article first appeared on Prohealth.com on July 20th, 2016

Many of us with Lyme disease are on strong antibiotic, antimicrobial, or supplement protocols. As we attack a multitude of infections, we often cycle through periods where we experience gut issues; things like bloating, pain, loss of appetite, difficulty digesting food, constipation, and diarrhea are common complaints.

If you’re like me, you’ve already implemented the necessary dietary recommendations. You avoid sugar, alcohol, processed foods, dairy, and gluten, and yet, your gut difficulties persist. Thankfully, there is good news! There are many things you can do to minimize gastrointestinal discomfort and keep your belly happy during treatment. Plus, a healthier gut will improve the function of your immune system and reduce inflammation–two things your body needs in spades when battling this illness.

Below is a list of tips I’ve learned over the years to improve gut health during Lyme treatment. While I wish I could say I do all these things daily, the truth is that sometimes I forget, and my stomach lets me know it. When tummy troubles arise, I get myself back on track by incorporating a few of these strategies into my routine as soon as possible.

1. Drink bone broths every day.

A fresh, homemade cup of slow cooked bone broth contains an array of easily digestible, gut-friendly nutrients and is relatively inexpensive to make. The gelatin in the broth helps heal the gut lining and amino acids such as arginine, glycine, and proline reduce inflammation in your body. Some people report difficulty tolerating bone broths when they first try to drink them. If this describes you, a meat stock cooked for just a few hours will still provide ample health benefits and may be easier to tolerate. On a personal note, I prefer to drink two cups of meat stock per day.

2. Increase your intake of fermented foods.

Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, and kefir are some of the best foods for maintaining gut health. They provide the body with useful probiotics and a bounty of enzymes and vitamins that protect you from a variety of pathogens. Furthermore, fermented foods can reduce Candida overgrowth–which is an ongoing problem for some of us. Although many people prefer to make fermented foods themselves, I choose to buy mine from a delicious neighborhood deli for convenience.

3. Give juicing a shot.

Did you know that juicing vegetables and fruits helps to rebuild your gut and purge your body of toxins? That’s right! Like some of the other foods I already mentioned, juices are full of minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants. Additionally, since juicing requires little to no digestion, the vital nutrients found in juice are quickly absorbed and ready to nourish your healing body.

When making your juice, it’s best to use low-sugar fruits like apple and kiwi to help sweeten your drink. A favorite combination of mine is to blend apple, celery, romaine lettuce, and lemon into a tasty and refreshing summer beverage. To maximize nutrient absorption, drink your juice within 15 minutes of juicing it.

4. Try a comprehensive digestive enzyme before meals.

Many factors inhibit the body’s natural production of digestive enzymes. Supplementing with these enzymes assists your body with the breakdown of food, so you can utilize the food you consume for fuel. When choosing a digestive supplement, you should look for one that contains hydrochloric acid (HCL) to aid protein digestion, amylase to aid carbohydrate digestion, and lipase to aid fat digestion.

A word of caution about digestive enzymes: If you have a history of stomach ulcers, please consult your doctor before taking a supplement that contains HCL. Should you need a digestive enzyme, there are plenty of products on the market that don’t contain HCL.

5. Take probiotics.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that replenish the healthy gut flora often destroyed by our medications. Long-term use of antibiotics and antimicrobials can leave the gut imbalanced. Therefore, probiotics are a must-have for anyone undergoing these types of treatments. In addition, these valuable bacteria aid in our digestion, allowing our bodies to take advantage of the vitamins and minerals we take in.

If you are new to adding probiotics into your protocol, it’s best to ask your physician for advice. They may have a preferred brand that they want you to take.

6. Use castor oil packs.

With its potent healing properties, the topical use of castor oil dates back to ancient times. As a child, I remember using it as a hot pack on my swollen glands when I had a sore throat. Years later, I am once again enjoying the restorative properties of castor oil for gut health. When a castor oil pack is applied to the abdomen, it encourages the flow of lymphatic fluid, lessens inflammation, and diminishes pain.

Here’s how to make a quick and easy castor oil pack:

  • First, you’ll need a wool flannel cloth and a bottle of pure, cold-pressed castor oil, both of which you can purchase online or at most health food stores
  • Saturate the flannel with the oil and place it over your abdomen or areas of tenderness.
  • Next, cover the flannel with plastic to protect fabric, clothes, and linens from the oil. I typically use kitchen plastic wrap.
  • Finally, apply heat using a heating pad to facilitate absorption.
  • You can leave the pack in place for up to an hour.
  • When you’re finished, make a paste of baking soda and water to remove the excess oil from your skin. Rub the paste over your abdomen and rinse it off.
  • You can store the flannel in a sealed bag in the refrigerator for 25-30 uses.


This list just scratches the surface of the variety of options that are out there for protecting your gut throughout the course of your treatment. With some trial and error, nearly everyone can find ways to optimize their digestive health during the road to recovery. Please remember, it’s always best to consult with your healthcare provider for more individualized recommendations.

How Curcumin Has Helped Me Control My Pain

(Please note: This article was originally published on ProHealth on June 27th, 2016)
Last summer, I was outside walking my dogs when my neighbor, an intelligent, retired nurse anesthetist, approached me to talk about some lingering back problems that she was having. Having lived with Lyme disease and a host of overlapping conditions for more than a decade, I guess I’ve become known in my community as the “go-to” person for natural remedies.

After a lengthy conversation, I learned that conventional treatments like cortisone injections and prescription medications had failed my neighbor. As she hobbled down the street beside me, she expressed her discouragement with not being able to find anything to relieve her suffering. She was losing hope–fast!

Knowing that my neighbor preferred evidenced-based medicine to anything remotely considered “alternative,” I suggested she do some research on curcumin–an anti-inflammatory compound extracted from the medicinal herb turmeric. A search on PubMed alone yields 130 studies on the topic of curcumin and pain. I explained to her that curcumin assists the body in mediating several inflammatory processes; perhaps it could take the edge off the pain that she experienced on a daily basis. I gave her information on where I purchase my supplements, wished her well, and said goodbye. Honestly, I didn’t expect to hear from her again, as I feared this suggestion was too far out of her comfort zone.

Two days later, my neighbor visited me at my house. However, this time, she was smiling and walking with a bounce in her step–a noticeable difference from the last time I saw her. Following our initial conversation, she had immediately gone home and researched curcumin. She couldn’t believe that she had never heard about it sooner. Impressed by what she had read, she went out and bought the supplement that very same day. Forty-eight hours later, she was already feeling better. In fact, the results were so surprising to her that she began calling all her friends and family and telling them about the progress she’d made while taking it for only a few short days. More than a year later, she still thanks me for telling her about curcumin every time she sees me!

My Personal Experience with Curcumin

I stumbled upon the benefits of curcumin in 2010, as facial muscle spasms, neck, and low back pain kept me in constant agony. At that time, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and I wouldn’t learn that I had Lyme disease for another three years. To find some abatement of my pain, I tried medications for nerve pain, muscle relaxants, tricyclic antidepressants, and low dose narcotics. These drugs left me feeling hungover and with zero reduction in the discomfort.

Determined to find some help, I dove into the well-worn pages of one of my favorite books, Prescription for Natural Cures, by James Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D. In this book, the clinicians refer to curcumin as an outstanding anti-inflammatory herb. Could this be the answer I’d been looking for? Since I wasn’t obtaining relief from traditional treatments, I decided to mention this herb at my next appointment with my functional medicine doctor.

Thankfully, my doctor had been reading studies on the pain-reducing properties of curcumin, so he was highly in favor of me giving it a try. He recommended I take three to four 500mg capsules/day, and the brand needed to contain at least 95% curcumin for the most powerful antioxidant support. He advised me that it could take up to 8 weeks before I would feel a difference, so I needed to stick with the supplement until our next follow-up visit. Much to my pleasant surprise, I began to notice a decrease in neck and back pain around the seven-week mark. Furthermore, six years have passed since my initial introduction to curcumin, and I am still using it to help control my pain levels. While it hasn’t eliminated all aspects of my pain, it has reduced it to more tolerable levels. Hopefully, curcumin will be as beneficial to you as it has been to me.

More About Curcumin

  • Curcumin is a beneficial compound extracted from the herb turmeric.
  • It has been used for medicinal purposes in Ayurveda for centuries.
  • Curcumin is an effective inhibitor of some of the body’s most potent inflammatory chemicals.
  • By lowering inflammation, curcumin helps ease aches, pains, and soreness.
  • In several studies, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects have been shown to be similar to those of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents like ibuprofen.
  • It protects DNA against oxidative stress.
  • Curcumin increases detoxification pathways in the liver–processes that are vital to rid our bodies of accumulated toxins.
  • It provides the body with additional antioxidant support by boosting glutathione levels.

Potential Side Effects

  • Don’t take curcumin if you are pregnant.
  • Always consult with your doctor before adding curcumin into your Lyme treatment protocol; it could potentially interact with other medications or herbs you are taking.
  • Some literature suggests curcumin may have blood-thinning properties. Please consult with your healthcare provider if you are already on blood-thinners or having an upcoming surgery.
  • Although rare, allergies have been reported with the use of curcumin and usually show up in the first few days of using it. If you experience an increase in itching, swelling, or blotchy skin after consumption of this supplement, please discontinue it immediately and call your doctor.
  • In high doses, curcumin may cause stomach upset. If this occurs, you may need to take the supplement with food, lower the dose, or discontinue it altogether.

References:

Balch, J.F., & Stengler, M. (2004). Prescription for Natural Cures. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Turmeric. (n.d). retrieved from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78

10 Supplements Every Lyme Patient Has in Their Protocol

(Please note: This article originally appeared on prohealth.com on May 30th, 2016)

At one point in my Lyme treatment, I had supplements all over my apartment–evidence of things tried that often didn’t work or which my body could not tolerate. For my 33rd birthday, my husband installed two giant, IKEA knick-knack shelves to store my array of pills. Those shelves, once filled to max capacity, have a slight droop in the middle from the heavy weight they held day after day. The extra bottles, of which there were many, spilled over into the refrigerator, the pantry, countertops, and baskets. I bought everything that anyone suggested might help me feel better.

Over the years, I have pared down my lengthy list of supplements to the ones that are most helpful and affordable to me, and my shelving units now have some room to spare. Recently, I asked for recommendations from my fellow Lyme support group members about the supplements that they feel have benefitted them the most. Below is a compilation of the things that have been the most useful to most of us during our treatments. Of course, every doctor has specific recommendations that they want each of their patients to follow. However, this list can serve as an excellent discussion tool between you and your physician to ensure you have a variety of tools in your recovery arsenal.

The 10 supplements every Lyme patient has in their protocol:

1) Vitamin C– This water-soluble vitamin plays a critical role in aiding our overtaxed immune system, supporting healthy inflammatory levels, increasing antioxidants, and optimizing adrenal function. Your body doesn’t store vitamin C, so you must obtain it through food or supplements. Although vitamin C dosing varies from patient to patient, our bodies typically require extra amounts of this nutrient to respond appropriately to the added stress of fighting an ongoing battle with infections.

2) Glutathione- Glutathione is known as the body’s master antioxidant, and helps to support the liver through detoxification. This supplement is often a favorite among Lyme patients for mitigating the effects of bacterial die-off, also known as a Herxheimer reaction (“herx” for short). Glutathione helps the body to remove toxins, and may increase energy and decrease brain fog.

3) L-theanine– This supplement is a personal favorite of mine for supporting sleep. Many people with Lyme battle insomnia so this is important. Additionally, other Lyme patients feel it reduces their feelings of anxiousness. L-theanine is an amino acid that forms the inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA. By crossing the blood-brain barrier, L-theanine has a direct impact on the central nervous system and brings about a greater sense of calm without the next-day hangover feeling of supplements or medications.

4) Probiotics- Probiotics are healthy bacteria that support healthy yeast levels in the body and help it to combat more harmful bacteria. They are a must-have for anyone undergoing antibiotic or herbal antimicrobial therapies. These valuable bacteria replenish the healthy gut flora that are often destroyed by our medications. Probiotics also aid in our digestion so we can better absorb the restorative nutrients that our bodies so desperately need.

5) Curcumin- Curcumin is a beneficial, anti-inflammatory compound extracted from the herb turmeric, and it has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine. Curcumin supports a healthy inflammatory response by mediating several inflammatory processes in the body. It’s also a great supplement to have on hand if you experience increased pain, and is an extremely popular supplement within the Lyme disease community for minimizing a Herx reaction.

6) B12- Undoubtedly, many of us with Lyme disease will experience prolonged or intermittent periods of debilitating fatigue. This type of fatigue can be due to several factors such as poor sleep, nutrient deficiencies, toxin overload, and adrenal fatigue- just to name a few. B12, in an absorbable form such as methylcobalamin and hydroxocobalamin, promotes detoxification supports immune function, and may improve energy.

7) D-ribose- D-ribose is a specialized sugar that the body uses to produce energy molecules that fuel muscle cells, including skeletal muscles and the heart. Accordingly, supplementation with D-ribose shows promising results for persistent fatigue, pain and muscle stiffness. D-ribose can lower blood sugar, so some people find that it works best to take it with food.

8) Milk Thistle- Some medications put stress on the liver, and can cause liver enzymes to rise. However, thanks to certain herbs like milk thistle, we have options for supporting this vital organ throughout our treatment. Milk thistle provides some reinforcements to the liver to effectively metabolize our prescriptions and remove toxins from our body. A word of caution about using milk thistle: if you are taking Mepron or Malarone, consult with your doctor before trying it, as it can lead to reduced amounts of those medications in the body.

9) Fish Oil- This essential fatty acid has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is extremely nourishing to the nervous system. In addition, it counteracts the dry eyes, mouth, and skin that so many of us develop with Lyme.

10) Melatonin- Since insomnia is an all too common complaint among Lyme patients, a preferred supplement for many people is melatonin–a natural hormone produced by the body in response to darkness. Supplementing with melatonin before bedtime might be an appropriate step toward helping you to fall asleep. Be sure to talk with your doctor about his or her desired dosing recommendations. Use of melatonin varies considerably among healthcare providers.

Though not a comprehensive list, these are just a few of the well-liked, natural remedies many Lyme patients take and have readily available as part of their healing protocol. However, it’s always best to consult with your practitioner for more individualized recommendations.

What are the supplements you need as part of your journey toward recovery? I’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Six Supplements that Support Better Sleep

Please note: This article originally appeared on prohealth.com on April 20th, 2016.

In a prior life, I was an occupational therapist and a Pilates instructor. Despite working forty plus hours per week, I never lost the athletic spirit of my youth. I weight trained five days a week, took Muay Thai kickboxing classes, did Pilates and yoga, and even took the occasional hip hop dance class at a nearby studio (I wasn’t very good at dancing).

Specifically, I enjoyed challenging my body physically, but even more so, I loved the feeling of rest after a hard workout. A long nap or a full night’s sleep was blissfully refreshing to me to continue with my hectic schedule; I’d fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. With such an active lifestyle, I’m probably one of the last people my friends or family ever imagined would become ill.

However, sleep slowly began to elude me. At first, I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep for a few hours here and there. Then, a few hours became entire nights without sleep. By 2010, I became a full-fledged insomniac. Sadly, I was no longer able to even take a nap, and I ended up in the emergency room begging the doctors to knock me out. Lucky for me, they obliged my request, and when I emerged from my drug-induced snooze, I knew I had to make some serious changes in my life to heal from what I was told was a “severe case of chronic fatigue syndrome.” I read every book I could get my hands on, about how to eliminate insomnia and restore sleep.

In addition to insomnia, other symptoms began to pop up quickly. In my heart, I believed that a diagnosis of CFS no longer accounted for the continued severity of my symptoms, especially my unrelenting sleep disorder. I sought further answers, and in October 2013, a Lyme-literate nurse practitioner finally diagnosed me with chronic, neurological Lyme disease. Immediately, I began treatment, and one year into our protocol, I experienced my first nap after four, distressing years. That single moment–with drool on my pillow and all–felt as if a small part of heaven had touched my brain. I was elated.

Although I am still in the throes of treatment, I am passionate about helping people improve their sleep. After all, sleep truly is the most important occupation we will engage in throughout our lives. It’s vital for our healing and rejuvenation.

Many factors influence sleep, including infections, illnesses, toxins, extreme stress, hormonal imbalances, and poor sleep hygiene. Insomnia is a common complaint among people with chronic Lyme disease. Most of us already know that a lack of sleep causes us to be grumpier, to aggravate pain, worsen fatigue, increase inflammation, and further suppress our immune systems. Nevertheless, achieving the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night is nearly impossible for some of us.

So, what’s a person to do when one of the most crucial healing activities is unattainable? Fortunately, there’s a whole host of natural sleep aids to help you catch some reparative zzz’s. The following is a list of supplements recommended by various integrative health practitioners that can support restful sleep. Since every person has an individualized set of needs, please consult with your physician regarding dosing, side effects, and drug interactions before incorporating any of these into your treatment protocol.

1. Curcumin- Curcumin is a beneficial compound extracted from the herb turmeric. While not technically a sleep aid, this herb helps reduce inflammatory cytokines–small proteins released by the immune system as a result of the ongoing battle with a multitude of infections. Cytokines are known to lessen the production of sleep-generating hormones in the brain. By taking curcumin throughout the day, you decrease inflammatory cytokines and lower inflammation in your body. As a result, curcumin may increase the sleep activating hormones you need to bring about a tranquil slumber.

2. Phosphatidyl-serine (PS)- PS is a phospholipid–a fatty substance that acts as a protector of brain cells and a messenger among the cells. If you have high cortisol at night, this supplement may be helpful to you. PS works to decrease the excess production of a particular hormone in the pituitary gland, called ACTH, resulting in an overall reduction of cortisol levels in your body. When used at night, this supplement helps diminish stress and induce relaxation. It works well in conjunction with other sleep supplements, but dosing recommendations depend on your bedtime cortisol levels.

3. L-theanine- This supplement is an amino acid that comes from green tea and which assists in the formation of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter. L-theanine crosses the blood-brain barrier, which means it has a direct effect on your central nervous system to help dial down an over-stimulated mind a notch or two; GABA is a necessary neurotransmitter for sleep. Additionally, L-theanine has been shown to support sleep without the next-day hangover feeling of other supplements or sleep medications and is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration.

4. 5-HTP- Your body uses this supplement to bolster the production of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter that encourages relaxation and improves the quality of your sleep. It may take 6-12 weeks for the effects of 5-HTP to be fully realized, so you probably won’t notice an immediate change from supplementation. As a word of caution, don’t use 5-HTP if you are using other serotonin-boosting treatments like certain antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and pain medications. Even though 5-HTP is natural, too much of a good thing is, actually, too much of a good thing; an overproduction of serotonin can keep you wide-awake.

5. Melatonin- A quick Google search on this supplement will likely yield mixed results. Some physicians caution against using it for fear that it will disrupt the body’s ability to manufacture melatonin while others use it in seemingly large doses. Well, what’s the real story? There seems to be some truth in everyone’s viewpoint.

Some experts believe that melatonin works best for those who have trouble falling asleep. Others believe that it does next to nothing for those who can’t stay asleep. Many doctors recommend an initial dose of 0.5 milligrams–an amount that more closely mimics your body’s natural production. However, some people seem to have trouble absorbing the supplement and benefit from higher doses–like the 1, 3, or even 5-milligram range. For some Lyme patients, melatonin has been an incredibly useful supplement in the sleep arsenal, and for this reason, I have included it on my list. Since physicians have different opinions regarding the use of melatonin, it’s best to work with your LLMD (Lyme Literate Medical Doctor) or integrative health practitioner to determine the appropriate dosage for you.

6. Magnesium Glycinate- It is well known that most of us are deficient in magnesium, and magnesium glycinate, a favorite form of magnesium among Lyme patients, is one of the most absorbable forms of this mineral. I repeatedly hear my fellow Lyme friends say that they have trouble “winding down” at night. If this describes you, taking magnesium before bedtime promotes relaxation of your muscles and nervous system, and assists your body in achieving a better night’s rest.

No matter how intense your insomnia is, don’t lose hope! It’s a frustrating situation to endure, but from the experience of a 6-year insomniac, it’s a situation in which improvement can, and often does, happen. It takes a lot of trial and error to find a sleep “cocktail” that is right for you, but it’s worth persevering until you have a combination that gets you some serious shuteye.

References:

Horowitz, R. (2013). Why Can’t I Get Better? : solving the mystery of lyme and chronic disease. New York, NY. St. Martin’s Press.

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

The Successful Treatment Recipe. (2011-2015). Treat Lyme and Associated Diseases.  Retrieved from http://www.treatlyme.net/lyme-treatment-guidelines/.

Phosphatidylserine (PS). (2009, May 19th). Whole Health Chicago.  Retrieved from http://wholehealthchicago.com/2009/05/19/phosphatidylserine-ps/

Five Ways Pilates Can Help You Heal From Lyme Disease

Please Note: this article first appeared on ProHealth on March 22, 2016

It’s no secret to those who know me that I love Pilates. In fact, I’ve written about it a few times in the past (and probably will again) Pilates is a unique system of exercises, created by Joseph Pilates, designed to enhance strength, flexibility, posture, balance and to foster a connection between the mind and the body. 

In this article, I share with you some of my journey toward wellness, and ways in which Pilates is a useful, therapeutic tool to help you on your road to recovery.

The word “challenging” does not even begin to describe the starting point of my health struggles. For years, I battled an ever-growing list of strange symptoms until a doctor diagnosed me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 2010. Despite doing everything right; all that my doctor told me to do, I became more frail by the day, as weight inexplicably dropped from my 5-foot 6-inch frame.

Soon after my diagnosis, a series of soul-crushing events occurred; I lost my job, my car, most of my friends, my ability to sleep, financial stability, and my physical strength. During the next three years, I spent 18 months bedridden, only able to get up for a few minutes each day.

Sadly, I began to believe that my chances for a better quality of life were quickly slipping away. In a last ditch effort to find some help, I saw yet another doctor. He carefully combed through my medical history as my spent form draped over the chair across from him. When he lifted his head from his desk, he calmly said, “I think you have Lyme disease.”

Though armed with a new diagnosis and a heap of information, an entire year passed before my weak body was able to tolerate any treatment. In October 2013, a nurse practitioner created a gentle protocol for me that paved the way for healing to finally begin. I had an enormous uphill battle in front of me, but I was ultimately glad to be moving forward.

Along with my medical treatment, I promised myself that I would faithfully integrate Pilates into my protocol. Initially, it was a monumental task due to the level of physical decline I experienced from years of being homebound and incapacitated. However, I persevered, and stuck to my decision to make movement-based, exercise therapy a priority. Pilates has been a crucial part of my rehabilitation as it has safely allowed me to explore my current relationship with my body, my strength, and limitations, as I progress toward restoring my health.

I believe that nearly everyone–yes, both males and females–battling Lyme disease can benefit from incorporating the Pilates method into their treatment regime. Here are five ways Pilates can help you heal from Lyme disease.

1. Pilates reconnects your mind and your body.

Chronic Lyme disease can make you feel as though your body has betrayed you, and that you have no control over what’s happening to you. In contrast, a consistent Pilates practice reinforces the connection between the mind and the body and allows you to see that although many things may not be in your control, you still have the power to make specific changes to movements in a manner that feels best to you. When you focus your attention on the muscle groups working during an exercise, you become acutely aware of the slight adjustments each muscle is making to rebuild your body.

Understanding that your mind and body work together to develop a stronger you is a very encouraging thought.

2. Pilates balances your body.

If you’ve experienced prolonged periods of inactivity or bed rest, you’ve probably noticed an increase in muscle weakness, tightness, and perhaps, even an increase in pain. These are the results of a body that has become imbalanced and deconditioned. With an emphasis on strength, flexibility, stability and mobility, Pilates provides a balanced workout for you. With each session, you will slowly notice an increase in muscle tone and joint range of motion.

3. Pilates reduces restrictions and poor movement patterns.

As I mentioned earlier, stress, pain and lack of movement take their toll on you. Your body adapts in the best way it knows how—by overcompensating in some areas and under compensating in others. These types of maladaptive patterns lead to muscle misalignment. Fortunately, Pilates allows you a chance to release restrictions throughout your tissues, adjust poor movement patterns, and improve your postural alignment. As renowned Pilates instructor Alycea Ungaro explains:

“As you exercise, you must always be aware of your alignment. Your workout is an opportunity to self-correct your misalignments. By learning to strengthen your weaknesses and correct your poor habits, you can restore optimal alignment to your body.”

As you engage the right muscles needed for each exercise, you will discover you can let go of excess tension and effort. Soon, you will see the advantages of new, more efficient movement in your body.

4. Pilates develops a strong core.

The core (AKA the “powerhouse”) is made up of the muscles in your abdomen, low back, hips, and gluteal area. Your core is always on duty; in fact, it’s constantly working to provide support and stability to your spine. When you’re sedentary for an extended length of time, your core begins to weaken, which decreases your ability to move efficiently.

The source of energy and the starting point for all exercises in the Pilates repertoire is your core group of muscles. As you strengthen this area, your balance will improve, and your movements will require less energy. You will sit and stand with better posture and more comfort.

5. Pilates adapts to your current level of fitness.

When traditional exercise programs often deplete you of energy, Pilates can be customized to suit your current fitness level. In my early days of recovery, I dealt with severe orthostatic intolerance problems and relentless fatigue that only allowed me to practice Pilates in a supine position. Thankfully, there are hundreds of exercises and variations that can be done lying down, so I never lacked options.

Similarly, you too may deal with severe fatigue, pain, or other concerns making most forms of exercise impossible to do. In such circumstances, Pilates can be used as a restorative tool to gently rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit.

If you are considering incorporating Pilates into your pursuit of wellness, I suggest that you invest in at least a few sessions to learn the foundational principles of the method before undertaking a personal practice. With a solid list of benefits, Pilates truly is a fitness solution for those of us with chronic Lyme disease.

References:

Ungaro, A. (2011). Pilates Practical Companion. New York, NY: DK Publishing.

Q & A Sunday

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Q: How are you doing after Brucella treatment?

A: Recently, I’ve gotten a few emails asking me this question. I treated Brucella in August of 2014. I took a combination of 600mg of Rifampin and 200mg of Doxycycline for six weeks. This protocol is one in which Dr. Horowitz recommends for his Brucella patients.

To be perfectly honest with you, I am not sure if it did anything. Brucella has not popped up on any other tests and treating it didn’t seem to yield much improvement. Additionally, I wasn’t able to tell which of my symptoms were linked specifically to Brucella. I am still battling many of the same symptoms since I was first diagnosed in 2013 (fatigue, insomnia, burning sensations in my brain and spinal cord, jaw pain, and so on). However, I am battling some of these symptoms to a lesser degree now. All in all, I can’t say that I made any significant progress in treating Brucella.

At the present time, I am treating Borrelia (still) and Babesia. This new protocol remains challenging, and although I don’t yet feel any drastic changes, I believe there maybe some subtle shifts happening inside. I just try to take things one co-infection at a time, hoping that with persistence, I can beat Lyme, get my energy back, and go on with my life.

I am so ready for that to happen!