By Laurie Radovsky, MD
When I was in medical school, I learned that antibiotics were like the Knight in shining armor who saved the Princess (the body) from the evil Dragon (infection). It is true that antibiotics can be lifesaving, and have transformed not just the practice of medicine, but human society. At the same time, antibiotics alone are not what keep infections from being fatal. Think of someone who is radically immunosuppressed, such as with a bone marrow transplant. Even a relatively weak germ can kill them. In other words, the body’s own immune system must take a role in fighting off the infection. While the Knight has to wound and distract the Dragon, the Princess needs to take out her own sword to kill it.
I have written before about the importance of lifestyle in chronic illness: diet, sleep, exercise, and stress management. Diabetes cannot be managed without a low-glycemic diet and exercise. Depression and anxiety cannot be controlled without adequate sleep and a diet that provides the precursors to neurotransmitters. These four areas are also essential in the management of persistent Lyme disease.
Diet: To quote Terri Guillemets, “If you plant Twinkies in your body garden, how do you expect to harvest health?” Your immune system requires a low-sugar diet high in a rainbow of vegetables and adequate protein to function properly. I’ll write a separate blog on nutrition and Lyme in the future.
Exercise/pacing: in other conditions, I usually work with patients to increase their physical activity. For patients with Lyme disease, I often do the opposite: they are usually overdoing it. Sometimes patients have to work to support their families and to maintain their health insurance. Mots of us feel like we “should” be doing more—more laundry, more paid work, more parenting. But we only have so much energy, and if we try to push past these limits, we crash. This is probably the hardest of the lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, it is also the most important. If you do not respect the limits of your energy, not enough energy is left for healing.
Sleep: The immune system requires adequate sleep in order to function effectively. It is crucial for you to dedicate enough time to sleep. You might have gotten away with 6 hours of sleep a night before you got sick. That’s probably not enough now. Some patients need 12 hours of sleep. Listen to your body and invest enough time in sleep.
To complicate the sleep issue, insomnia and frequent waking are symptoms of tick-borne illness, particularly Bartonella. We can work aggressively to overcome these with sleep hygiene, guided imagery, supplements, and prescriptions if needed.
Stress management: too much cortisol from the “fight or flight” reaction will undermine your immune system. Being ill is stressful, bringing worries about finances and relationships. It is essential that you learn to cope with stress. Many patients benefit from counseling with a sympathetic therapist. Guided imagery, mindfulness meditation, and other therapies such as HeartMath can help as well. We can direct you to stress management options within our office and beyond.
Your Princess has a sword. Make sure that she is strong enough to use it to free you from the Dragon of tick-borne illness.