One of the greatest components of living that I have used to fight back against Chronic Lyme Disease and the damaging effects that it has had on my body is food, real food. Throughout the years, I have made various dietary changes, of which began as a simple gluten, soy, dairy, sugar, and corn-free diet. Later down the road, as the complications grew worse, I adopted Paleo, of which turned into Autoimmune-Paleo by my own intuition, implementations of low-FODMAP, and last but not least, ketogenic as part of the PK Protocol. Of course, many of the doctors that I have encountered have had little to say about what I put in my body, leaving the choice completely up to myself. That being said, it is easily one of the most important aspects of my healing journey. However, I do not believe that this is just for myself, but also everyone else who has Lyme and (or) some type of inflammatory or autoimmune health condition. Of course, it is a journey, taking some longer than others to get to where they are able to realize that food is truly medicine, and that what you eat does effect your past, present, and future. This brings us today’s topic of autoimmune, and the chronic Lyme Disease connection, which fits absolutely perfect with the fact that today is May 1st – the month of Lyme Disease Awareness.
Lyme and Autoimmunity
Quote, “Lyme borreliosis in humans is an inflammatory disease affecting multiple organ systems, including the nervous system, cardiovascular system, joints and muscles.” If you are new to Lyme Disease, it is an infection that from the Borrelia Burgdorferi spirochete, and is typically carried by ticks and the lesser known rats, mice, mosquitos, spiders and a variety of other organisms (such as mites), causing inflammation throughout the body. That being said, when Lyme is present in one’s body for an extended period of time, it can cause a serious autoimmune issues. To make things even more confusing, spirochetes can also have immunomodulatory and immunosuppressive effects on the body, of which can make it hard to find and eliminate the infection as a whole. However, for a large portion of patients, the body will react negatively to to invading Borrelia due to the proteins that are located on the surface of the bacteria themselves, called “VlsE.” When antibodies in the body see this protein, they call on their “attack crew” to respond and get rid of the invaders. Due to the high variety of epitopes (part of the antigen that activates the immune system) that Borrelia bacteria carry, it has been shown that in a chronic infection of Lyme, a diverse amount of antibodies is created as a result. When this happens, attacks that the body has on its own tissue and cells becomes quite common, due to the overwhelming need for new “attackers” to destroy the invading VlsE proteins from the spirochetes. Overall, the longer the infection is present in ones body, the greater variety of modified proteins found on the antigen (i.e. Lyme bacteria), causing a large variety of antibody production in the body, and thus a higher likely hood of autoimmunity (i.e. when the body mistakenly attacks itself). To summarize, there is a wide range of epitopes (a molecular region on the surface of an antigen capable of beginning an immune response) that Borrelia Burgdorferi spirochetes carry, thus causing a variety of internal immune responses, that in turn, can cause the body to attack itself. Therefore, it is quite clear that Lyme is and (or) has the significant potential of being a true, autoimmune disease. That being said, this may also apply to other chronic illnesses that all stem from an underlying infection as well, Parkinson’s and MS.
The Big Debate
Despite all of the proof behind Lyme causing autoimmune issues, there still still tends to remain a “big debate” in the medical community over chronic Lyme, as to whether or not it is resulting autoimmunity, or an actual infection, that is still causing the lingering symptoms despite patients being treated. Figuring out what the true cause behind one’s condition is tricky, especially since Borrelia Burgdorferi can become resistant to antibiotics, hide out in the body away from any attacks of the immune system or a given treatment, and can also change forms to kill the very cells of one’s body. Yet because it has been shown that autoimmunity is a large component of a chronic Lyme infection, (regardless of if it has been completely eradicated or not) it is more than likely both conditions causing one’s chronic illness (autoimmunity and a hiding infection). However, because everyone is affected differently by an infection of Lyme , it is rather obvious to conclude that the reason behind each patients chronic Lyme disease is not the same, and therefore must be treated differently.
The Autoimmune Protocol
While Lyme Disease can cause serious neurological damage in one’s body, it can also cause a large autoimmune flare as previously discussed. Though I had both neurological and autoimmune symptoms arising from my chronic Lyme Disease, I would say about 80-85% of my neuro-lyme was fixed through two, 6 month intervals of a weekly infusion known as IVIG. While I will be delving into that subject in another post, the conclusion was that this treatment did not come close to addressing everything that has (or is) going on in my body. Despite healing what we knew to be neurological damage, there were still many, debilitating symptoms in my gut, joints, bones, and muscles, that the IVIG was not fixing. This is ultimately how I found myself following the Autoimmune Protocol, as outlined by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne. While my symptoms may not match up to the next person with chronic Lyme disease, this protocol is certainly something anyone with an autoimmune condition should seriously consider doing.
Paleo and Autoimmunity
For some, simply removing all pro-inflammatory foods found in the standard American diet, can aid significantly in putting their autoimmune disease into remission (i.e. Paleo). However, for those whose immune system is simply too far gone to be fully effected by these changes, following the autoimmune-protocol may be necessary for a time. That being said, the major “food groups” that are eliminated on both Paleo and Autoimmune-Paleo are quite similar, with the exception of nuts and seeds, eggs, nightshades, and a few others. Yet the general gist is the same. In order to completely heal one’s body from the the vicious cycle of attacking itself, you must take away what accounts for 2/3rds of overall autoimmune conditions in the first place, and that is inflammatory food. While 1/3 of the cause behind an autoimmune disease is genetic, the other 2/3rds is caused by diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors. What this may look like for the standard American, is a diet high in grains (especially gluten), sugar, and other foods high in excess (and thus toxic) carbohydrate load. On top of poor diet, stress levels, toxins in one’s environment, cleaning supplies, makeup, skin care, and pretty much anything and everything we are exposed to on a daily basis if we are not careful, also contribute to the formation of an autoimmune disease. An example of this would be toxic cleaning products, of which contain estrogen mimicking compounds, which as a result ,cause a dysfunctional thyroid, and thus various types of thyroid disease (i.e. autoimmunity). However, the majority of “diet, lifestyle, and environment,” all comes back down to the food we eat, as it is undoubtedly one of the biggest aspects of life as we know it. Therefore, depending on the severity of your condition, following simple Paleo, or autoimmune-paleo if you see fit, is certainly one of the most important parts to start in getting your body back on track in the long run. Changing one’s diet to reduce immune system activity also applies to healing from an autoimmune disease that stems from an infection (i.e chronic Lyme).
Autoimmune and Lyme Connection
While Lyme Disease in and of itself is special, due to stemming from the Borrelia Burgdorferi bacteria, the general gist of all autoimmune diseases is the same. They all begin through antibody production, of which is a protein that binds to antigens as a way to inactivate a given invader (in the case of Lyme, the spirochetes), then signaling other immune cells and proteins to attack it. Ultimately, an antibody is made up of four polypeptides, which contain short chains of amino acids, two of the chains being “light,” and two being “heavy,” thus forming a “Y” shaped molecule, with the tip of each extension in the “Y” being antigen binding sites. This is where the antibody binds to certain amino acid sequences on a foreign protein (i.e. invader such as a spirochete), of which are termed epitopes (VlsE for Borrelia Burgdorferi as previously discussed). Overall, there are 5 different kinds of antibodies that our body produces; IgA, IgD, IgE, IgM. As a note, this is why traditional allergy testing can prove to be unhelpful, as the body can undoubtedly produce an antibody, and thus allergic reaction through mast cells and resulting histamine, that the test is unable to detect. Ultimately, an antibody and its “immune system helpers” job is to get rid of any foreign or invading proteins in the body, of which can occur through food, environment, and infections such as Borrelia Burgdorferi. However, the cycle does not stop there. Due to there being only 20 amino acids that make up different sequences, and thus different aspects and parts of all living organisms, there are some sequences that are inevitably repeated throughout nature. That being said, the body only uses 15 of these amino acids to make its proteins, which creates an even greater risk for molecular mimicry when an antibody is trying to get rid of a given, harmful protein (such as Borrelia Burgdorferi). To summarize, autoimmunity occurs when the body mistakes its own proteins and cells for the “bad guy,” thus causing it to attack itself. Though molecular mimicry does happen in everyone’s body sometime or another, some people’s immune systems are simply unable to keep in check through what is called “selection” and “suppression” methods, of which ensure that the body doesn’t get stuck on attacking itself. When this happens, whether through genetic predisposition, systemic inflammation (via diet, lifestyle, and environment), one contracts an autoimmune disease, or in most cases, a few autoimmune conditions over time. This is one reason why chronic Lyme Disease can mimic so many other serious illnesses, and for this, is known as the “great imitator.”
In the end, Chronic Lyme Disease is an autoimmune disease, and there is simply no two ways around it. Therefore, while getting rid of “the bugs” as a way to stop the immune system from attacking itself is very much important, there is so much more we as a patient can do to heal, and that is through the food we eat, household products that we use, and mindful stress management. That being said, it is key to note that while Lyme in and of itself is an autoimmune condition, it can also mimic, and therefore “cause” other autoimmune diseases. When this happens, patients typically get treated for these more “common” conditions, without doctors ever trying to get to the route cause of their health problems. Because of this, it is very tricky, yet important, to rule out what hidden infection might be causing the autoimmune conditions in the first place, all of which could be easily caused by Lyme spirochetes, Borrelia Burgdorferi. Overall, the take away is that while autoimmunity is a disastrous result of a chronic Lyme infection, there is something that those infected can do about it, and it starts with food. I can only speak from experience when I say that Paleo, and the Autoimmune-Protocol by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, have been a true life savor. Without this way of life, the never ending cycle that was infection, co-infection, and resulting damage, would never have been able to calm down. In the end, the power of food is tremendous, and in order to truly heal one’s body from the inside out, it is critical to make this lifestyle change. To learn more on chronic Lyme and autoimmunity, be sure to to check out the latest video for the Autoimmune Connection on chronic Lyme Disease, where Vanessa from True North AIP and I discuss differing aspects of our journey with Lyme.
1 Corinthians 5:20-22 “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”