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ILADEF > Nourishing Wellness: The Vital Role of Nutrition in Health

Author: Dr. Jody S. Greenfield, DO

The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) is a nonprofit, international, multidisciplinary medical society dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme and other complex inflammatory diseases. With these educational blog posts, ILADS aims to promote awareness and understanding of health and wellness, especially as it relates to complex inflammatory diseases, so that we can all learn and grow together. If you have any questions or want more information, you can email us at contact@ilads.org

Disclaimer: Every patient is an individual with unique characteristics. This blog article is not medical advice. It does not constitute a physician-patient relationship. It is for educational purposes only. Do not try out what is in this article without medical advice, working with your licensed physician and licensed healthcare providers. 

The role of nutrition is vital in maintaining and improving a patient’s health. After all, one of the most popular phrases in medicine is “food is medicine.” What we eat affects our energy levels, immune systems, and overall feeling of well-being. It can even impact the levels of inflammation and allergic responses in the body. However, with proper nutrition and avoiding an inflammatory diet, we can calm an overactive immune response and improve the functioning of the immune system. 

Impact of Diet on Chronic Disease

Eating foods that cause increased inflammation and histamine release can exacerbate problems in patients who have chronic diseases. Conditions like vascular disease, coronary artery disease, diabetes, arthritis, allergies, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), and even chronic infections can take longer to heal because of certain dietary choices.  

Common Misconceptions About Nutrition

Nutritional misconceptions abound! Although healthcare providers are taught about the benefits of the “food pyramid,” the latest information on this is that following the food pyramid may not be the best choice. 

The bottom of the pyramid advises you to “eat the most” grains and cereals — this may not be beneficial for many people. These foods can spike blood sugar, which could push some toward getting diabetes. A lot of these foods also contain gluten, which patients can be sensitive to. Gluten can cause inflammation in people, especially those with chronic health problems. I have seen patients with chronic symptoms of Lyme disease as well as coinfections, and even patients with mycotoxin toxicity from mold, experience less severe symptoms when they become as “gluten free” in their diets as possible. People with mycotoxin toxicity from mold can also experience an increase in their mycotoxin levels when ingesting grains (as well as other foods such as dried fruits, coffee, and peanuts, to name a few).

Eating more servings of fruits and vegetables (about nine servings per day) is generally beneficial for most people, but it is best if one chooses those foods with a “low glycemic index” — carbs that break down slowly and release glucose gradually into the bloodstream — as they are less likely to spike one’s blood sugar. It is also important to take into account that patients may have allergies or sensitivities to certain foods — including fruits and vegetables — and that some food allergies are more likely to occur with certain pollen allergies. There can be cross-reactivity between specific pollen allergies with particular food allergies due to some foods having similar proteins to the pollen. For example, patients who are allergic to ragweed may also be allergic to mango, melon, or banana. 

Moving up the food pyramid, it recommends a moderate amount of dairy. In specific patients, dairy can increase inflammation, so again, patients with chronic diseases such as arthritis and/or vector-borne illness may feel worse after consuming dairy.  

The top of the food pyramid recommends eating fats and oils, as well as sweets, sparingly. Minimizing sweets is generally a good idea, as sugary foods increase inflammation and can make your white blood cells (which fight infection) not function as well as they should. A high-sugar diet can even reduce the number of white blood cells, weakening your immune system and making it harder to fight infections and heal wounds. Too many sweets can increase your risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease, as well as arthritis symptoms. High intake of sugar in the diet can contribute to neuroinflammation or can cause an autoimmune disease to develop or worsen. 

Although the food pyramid shows to minimize fats and oils, it is important which fats and oils we are talking about. Most people are now aware that it is best to avoid partially hydrogenated oils, as they contain trans fats that are not good for one’s health. However, certain fats like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil, or eating avocados, can have beneficial health effects. There are studies showing that a high-fat, low-carb diet can improve patients’ cholesterol levels, helping with weight loss and lessening pre-diabetes. I have had patients who followed this diet and were able to come off of their statin medications (drugs that can lower your cholesterol) after improvement in their cholesterol levels. Although in traditional medicine we are taught that there is no significant difference between organic and non-organic foods, in general, I have seen that when patients eat as organic as possible, they generally have less inflammatory symptoms.  

How I address nutrition in my patients varies, as all patients are individuals with their own unique health histories. I see many patients with chronic complex problems, vector-borne illness, and mold mycotoxin toxicity. A large number of these patients experience improvement by following a diet lower in carbs, higher in protein, and from organic sources. I generally recommend my patients try to limit gluten as much as possible — even patients without celiac disease (an immune reaction to eating gluten). As gluten can be inflammatory in some people, most of my patients have less symptoms when they follow this diet. Plus, a lower carb diet and low glycemic foods are generally helpful. In patients with mold mycotoxin toxicity, it is best to avoid grains, dried fruits, and coffee.  

Dietary Supplements

In terms of dietary supplements, this can be controversial. Some doctors feel supplements are not regulated, that they just come out in the urine, and that they are not needed if patients do not have a documented deficiency. Certain supplements can even do more harm than good, depending on the patient. For instance, there are studies showing that too much beta-carotene can increase the risk of getting lung cancer in people who smoke or are exposed to asbestos. A lot of doctors recommend eating a balanced diet to prevent deficiency of vitamins and to not to take supplements. However, how many people do you know who regularly eat a balanced diet in this modern era? Probably very few, if any! As most people do not eat a balanced diet regularly and soil in modern society lacks a good deal of nutrients, I frequently recommend a daily multivitamin to my patients.

I see a number of patients with joint pains due to Lyme disease and/or other vector-borne illnesses, and their symptoms are lessened by taking turmeric or circumen (a compound in turmeric) supplements. There are even studies showing turmeric or circumen to be as effective as some anti-inflammatory medications.

Another supplement I frequently recommend to patients is omega-3s, which can have health benefits including the lowering of triglycerides (the main components of body fat). They can also lessen joint pains due to their anti-inflammatory properties. If one can eat two or three servings of wild fish per week, that is even better because they can get the health benefits of omega-3s and eat fish instead of meat. Meat contains saturated fats and more omega-6s, which could be worse for one’s cholesterol, increase inflammation, and potentially increase joint pains.

I also often recommend magnesium supplements. Many people do not get enough magnesium in their diet and there are studies showing an increase in all-cause mortality (death from any cause) in people with lower magnesium levels. Magnesium is important in over 200 enzymatic reactions in the body, so this is one supplement I frequently advise my patients to take. 

Future of Nutrition in Medicine

I look forward to improved discussion and research in nutrition in healthcare now and in the future. As the years go by, like anything in medicine, what we think is true today can, due to further study, be found to be not as accurate tomorrow. Medications, which have an important role in healthcare, may not solve all of patients’ problems. More patients are realizing this, which is causing a growing demand for natural and less potentially toxic strategies to improve one’s health. Many times, by employing natural treatments such as eating certain foods and/or supplements, and avoiding other foods, patients’ symptomatology can improve and these efforts can possibly extend their lives. To contact Dr. Jody S. Greenfield, or to make an appointment, check out Get Well Medical Care of South Florida, P.A.