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Healing from Lyme - Part 1

Q.  I noticed in the article you said that your symptoms are gone and your health vastly improved. What did you do to get to that point and how long did it take you?

A. My healing journey is still ongoing, and since Lyme changed my perspective on pretty much everything, I’m always vigilant about the consequences of my everyday choices. I’ve learned how critical it is, when dealing with any serious disease, to approach healing from as many directions as possible. This is called an ‘integral’ approach and there are four general life areas that come under consideration. I’ll get into all four areas in this multi-part post.

First, I’ll give you the general picture of the medicines and supplements I took and still take. To begin with, my doctor put me on a treatment protocol of antibiotics including Omnicef and Zithromax. He also started me on a regime of homeopathics and vitamin supplements to support my immune system. Here is a partial list of the supplements that I took everyday for the first year:

cod liver oil
vit E
vit C
L lysine
liquid chlorophyll

After six months, my doctor recommended that I stop the oral antibiotics and begin IV treatment with the antibiotic Rocephin. I had been through a rough time physically and emotionally, and though I felt better, I didn’t feel anywhere near 100%. In addition, I didn’t have health insurance, and I understood the cost of the IV and the new antibiotics would be around $20,000. Financially, my illness had already set me back in two fundamental ways. First, I hadn’t been able to work full time. And second, I had spent a great deal of money on the medicine and supplements needed already. It was a pretty disturbing place to be. My doctor was a naturopath, and typically did not treat illness with antibiotics. I knew my condition must be very serious if he thought I needed the Rocephin.

I had to decide what to do. After agonizing over it for a week or so, I chose not to go with the IV, but decided to start the Cowden protocol. There was no lapse of time between ending my oral antibiotic protocol and beginning the Cowden, an alternative protocol that I had researched, consisting of Samento, Burbur, Banderol and a number of other herbal tinctures that originate in the Amazon. These native plants have been used to treat malaria for a thousand years or more. I felt like I could make it work.

The Cowden routine worked very effectively for me, and although it took a long time (several years) I’m happy with the results. The cost, while not cheap, was a fraction of what the Rocephin IV treatment would have been. Currently I’m on a break from the r Cowden's updated Lyme protocol">Cowden protocol. About a year ago I tapered off of it, and began taking a low dose (3 drops 3 times daily) of teasel root tincture which I still take. I made this decision after reading about it and interviewing a couple of herbalist/physicians who had found it to be immensely helpful for their patients.

It took me six years to get to the point where I feel normal again. It wasn’t a quick trip. More like an excruciatingly slow journey. Normal, to me, means that I can enjoy my family and friends and take time for them. I can pursue my personal and professional goals and work long days if I so choose without crashing, I can sleep through the night every night, and I can exercise rigorously every day. I can make plans for the future.

In my opinion, exercise and diet are more important than anybody will tell you. I consider Lance Armstrong and all the athletes I’ve had the honor of interviewing for our Lyme success stories to be my solid gold role models.

Next, I’ll give a bit of backstory and talk about what happened before I found my naturopath. What can happen when the doctors don’t know about Lyme disease and prescribe the wrong medicine?


Gluten free cooking can taste good

Gluten is the protein in grains that makes bread chewy, the glue that makes it rise and holds it together. Increasingly, people dealing with Lyme disease symptoms are adopting a gluten free diet. Some LLMDs recommend it, based on the rise of increased gluten sensitivity seen in Lyme patients.

If you’re in an acute stage, it might be worth a try to eliminate gluten products for awhile. Avoid baked goods made from wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, triticale (a hybrid of barley and wheat) and rye. Especially if your stomach aches after you eat these foods.

However, bread is the staff of life. Changing your bread-eating habits can be an emotional, not simply a nutritional, issue. My partner makes the best french toast this side of the Mississippi. Since we struggled through our Lyme journey, he only makes it as a rare treat, and any resistance is futile. I sweeten it with fresh blueberries or strawberries instead of maple syrup (okay, maybe a dribble of maple syrup). I wouldn’t use sugar or syrup (sorry folks) if you’re experiencing symptoms. But I’ve discovered that if I only eat french toast as a treat, I can get away with it. These days, six years past my acute stage, I’ve returned to an old habit of relying on pasta for a yummy dish that cooks up quick after a long workday. I’m a vegetable fanatic, so my pasta sauce is crowded with fresh organic veggies whenever possible. Even though my symptoms are gone and my health is vastly improved, I’m still very careful when it comes to choosing what to put on my plate. Adopting a largely gluten free diet seems to work well for my whole family. Just takes a bit of adjusting, which is easy these days.

A few years ago, it wasn’t easy to find quick alternatives to gluteny products. Nowadays a lot of name brands offer GF products in the grocery store. Boxed mixes may tempt you because they’re fast and easy, but boxed food tends to contain too much salt, sugar, or other ingredients you may be sensitive to. If you possibly can, buy bulk from your grocery store. Try some of the alternative grains that you used to pass by in favor of the more familiar ones. I know I used to pass them by, simply because I was in a groove (more like a rut) and a little bit lazy when it came to trying new foods.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with more organic whole grains such as millet, amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa in our dinners. Couscous is traditionally made from semolina wheat, so it’s not gluten free. However, there is a brown rice couscous on the market which is indeed GF.  

One of my favorites so far is quinoa, which cooks up extraordinarily quickly. I also love cooking in a wok, which takes very little time and transforms the air with the smell of hot, fresh veggies and warm spices. Pairing quinoa with stir-fried vegetables is fast and satisfying. It’s amazing, but lifelong habits actually can be transformed, and we can change our old emotional associations with that piece of buttered rye toast or whole wheat sandwich. It just takes a little doing. But the effort it takes to live a pain free, post-Lyme life where we are finally liberated from symptoms is worth its weight in gold.

Learn more about
Lyme disease diet.

What’s your favorite gluten free diet food? If you eat mostly gluten free, have you seen, or felt an improvement in your health? Please feel free to share recipes! I’d love to hear from you.


What's wrong with conventional medicine (and what to do about it)

An insightful article on the Doctor-Patient Relationship written by Dr Lissa Rankin points out some of the specific problems created and intensified by our orthodox medical system. Rankin is searching for a more vital and meaningful way to relate to her profession, her patients and her role. In her post, she perceptively describes an enormous & paradoxical problem with what she calls Old Medicine. Lyme disease patients get to be unwilling experts in Old Medicine. Picture the doctor with his/her hand on the doorknob, nodding in your direction as you wait in your underwear on a cold table under florescent lights that are driving you mad.

From the patients’ perspective, you can boil it down to this: You want to be treated like a whole person, not a slab of meat.

From the doctors’ perspective, you want to practice medicine without losing your own health and/or being forced to put your soul on hold.

Dr Rankin shows how the rules of Old Medicine are intolerable, imposing unsustainable stresses on doctors and patients alike.  She accurately describes the ways in which ways doctors get shafted in this system. Then she turns the tables, articulating how our current cold-as-a-spectrum ‘managed care’ feels from the patients’ perspective.

What’s wrong with conventional medicine and what can be done about it

Our medical system is flawed. The question is not how bad is it, or how thoroughly can we condemn it. The question is, can it be fixed, and if so, how?

Most people are aware that there are 2 types of medicine:
1. Conventional, which treats the illness.
2. Alternative, complementary, holistic, or integrative, which treats the whole patient.

However, there is also an emerging 3rd category: Integral, which includes the first two types and treats the physician as well. I’m old enough to remember when ‘health food’ stores were totally square. Now, Whole Foods, just one example, is a billion dollar business. Our collective consciousness around health issues is constantly expanding, although not as quickly as some of us would like. There is evidence that Integral medicine is being quickly adopted by health-care practitioners around the world.

Here’s why:

Using an
Integral framework is like putting on a new pair of specs. It gives us a good look at the big picture without excluding the details. The Integral model recognizes that every event has at least four dimensions. They represent the perspectives: I, we, it and its. How does this apply in analyzing our medical system? Here’s how: Factors in all four dimensions affect both the cause and the cure of an illness. The all-too-often murky process of diagnosing and treating Lyme disease provides a classic example of why an integral medicine is necessary.

Four dimensions of medicine and why all four are important

1. Conventional medicine tends to strictly abide in only one of those four dimensions. It deals almost entirely with the physical organism using physical interventions: surgery, drugs, medication, and behavioral modification. Orthodox medicine believes essentially in the physical causes of physical illness, and therefore prescribes mostly physical interventions. Lyme disease, if caught early enough, can be greatly cured and controlled with antibiotics. The integral model doesn’t claim that this objective dimension is unimportant, only that it is just telling one-fourth of the story. (The Integral Vision, by Ken Wilber. p 92) Which leads us to the next quadrant:

2. Unprecedented interest in Alternative care makes it clear that many people (doctors included) recognize that our interior states, i.e. our emotions, psychological attitudes, imagery, and intentions, play a crucial role in both the cause and the cure of even physical illness. Conscious use of imagery, visualization, and affirmation have been scientifically proven to affect the management of most illnesses, and including these practices is increasingly more accepted in comprehensive medical care. (p. 92) Affirmations were extremely important to me while Lyme was in an acute stage. Repeating bits of positive phrases helped me focus my Lyme-addled brain and gave me a reason to believe I was eventually going to be alright, even though more than one doctor had advised me to go on disability, climb into a wheelchair and settle in for life. For me that wouldn’t have been life, but death.

3. However, this subjective dimension is still only one-fourth of the whole picture. Nothing exists in a vacuum, least of all human consciousness. We are embedded in shared cultural values and intersubjective factors that affect our state of health and our journey through illness. Cultural views and judgements affect us. In my interviews with Lyme patients over the years, I’ve noticed a significantly common thread, which is that we’ve all been told, at one time or another, that “it’s all in your head.” We may not give much credence to the dimension of cultural views, and yet our spouses’, friends’ and doctors’ subjective opinions about our health affects us (sometimes dramatically) whether we like it or not.

4. The material and economic dimension, causative factors in both disease and cure are rarely acknowledged. Yet, these factors are central to the issue, not besides-the-point. This is the Social system that delivers your medicine, sets the limits on your managed care, and accepts or declines your access to insurance. Are you wealthy? You may be fortunate enough to afford concierge medical care. Or are you in the economic class that is relegated to using the ER when things get bad enough? The Social system dimension or quadrant also includes your access to clinics and nurses and their availability in your region. In other words, if you can’t reach the clinic you need because you are too sick to drive or it is too far away, it cannot help you.

Integral medicine includes all four of the above dimensions. I’m inspired by doctors like Lissa Rankin, who intuit that Old Medicine only tells one-quarter of the story, and that in order to improve we must acknowledge the other 3 quadrants or dimensions. In the
100 perspectives we categorize our interviews, articles, and other info into all four quadrants. Integral medicine is gaining popularity around the globe, and Lyme literate doctors, because they have to deal with us Lymies on so many different dimensions of health, may be on the leading edge.