Lessons from Lyme Disease by Parys Edwards
by Guest
in Blogs

I never recalled a tick bite or a rash, so this illness was not on my radar. I guess it all started in July 2016 when I returned to racing after a 7-month break following surgery to repair a torn hamstring tendon.

My first race back did not go to plan – a traumatic experience in treacherous ocean conditions in the swim meant an 8-minute deficit to make up on the bike and run. I utterly buried myself and was rewarded with a second-place finish after exiting the water stone last. I recall feeling like I’d ‘poisoned myself’ after that race. Possibly the surgery was the trigger, or the race itself, but that was the beginning of a steady decline in health and performance.

My symptoms

I gradually noticed worsening gut health: constant bloating, stomach cramps and diarrhoea, regardless of what I ate. Fatigue, brain fog and a vague sense of unease, that developed into anxiety and depression. This took me a few months to acknowledge as I’m a very positive and optimistic person. I found myself thinking that life was pointless and then it clicked: this is what depression must be like. Poor concentration and indecision destroyed any productivity I wanted to achieve. I wrote in my dairy at this time “I feel like my brain has been hijacked.”

The worst symptom for me as an athlete was a constant oxygen deficit. I’d feel hypoxic in the warm-up of a swim set, or my legs would go lactic in an easy warm-up on the bike or run. I couldn’t walk up one set of stairs without getting short of breath; this is humbling when you are used to taking on Ironman triathlons.

My system was so inflamed – I had an awful post-nasal drip and was constantly coughing to clear my throat. During a run or bike session, I had to huff each exhale or I choked on the secretions. I’d break out in hives, or spend the nights scratching my legs due to constant itching. My feet would swell for no reason.

There was no pattern to my symptoms. I went in circles trying to figure out what was wrong, spent a fortune on tests and various remedies and all the while I couldn’t work as a physio or compete properly as an athlete. I was incredibly blessed to have the support of my family during this time to take financial pressures off my mind. My first turning point came when I stopped fighting it. I was so frustrated with my body letting me down… then I realised how much I’d put it through and I changed my mental approach and expectations for each day. If there is one thing that every Lyme sufferer has in common, it’s that we are very active, capable and busy people and this illness asks us to do what we hate – slow down or worse of all, stop completely. So be kind to yourself - it’s the first step towards healing.

What didn’t work for me

In desperation I took a 10-day course of Doxycycline before travelling to race in China and Thailand in October 2016 and it definitely gave me a short-term reprieve, but after that, I was worse than before. I had been advised that the antibiotic route involved a pulsed course for anywhere between six months to a year. However, Lyme disease exists in many forms - cell wall deficient, spirochete, cystic etc., so there is not one antibiotic that works and it’s a process to work out which ones to use and the dosages. This just seemed like guess work to me. I’ve also struggled with 'leaky gut syndrome’ for years and since I knew that my body would never cope on this regime, I opted for the herbal/natural route.

What worked for me

There is growing evidence of which herbs are most effective for treating Lyme disease: Cat’s Claw (Unicaria tomentosa), Indian Echinacea (Andrographis paniculata), Sarsaparilla (phytochemicals), Dyer’s Woad (Isatis tinctoria), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Wormwood (Artemisia annua), Teasel Root (Dipsacus sylvestris). Natural anti-inflammatories include turmeric/curcumin and ginger, and antiviral/fungal foods such as garlic, olive leaf, and liquorice are also effective.

I believe that most chronic illnesses go hand-in-hand with some level of heavy metal toxicity. I think this was the reason for my oxygen deficit and I’ve noticed an improvement since including the following for a heavy metal detox: spirulina, barley grass juice extract, Atlantic dulse (red seaweed), wild blueberries, coriander, and parsley.

A heavy metal detox smoothie that packs a big punch: two bananas, two cups of wild blueberries, one cup of coriander, one cup of orange juice, one teaspoon of barley grass juice powder, one teaspoon of spirulina, one small handful of Altlantic dulse. Blend and drink straight away.

Also consider all areas of possible toxicity from chemicals in water. I drink only filtered water and use BPA-free water bottles. Eat organic where possible to avoid pesticides and herbicides. Use ‘green’ cleaners and paints in your household. Avoid cooking with tinfoil, minimise tinned foods, and cook in glassware or ceramic.

Rife machine
I bought a Rife machine and use that on a cycle of 12 days on and two days off. This is a bioresonance machine. Apparently, everything resonates at a preferred frequency and this delivers a frequency to the body that bacteria can’t thrive at. The programme is one hour a day. I fall asleep with it and the machine turns itself off so that’s how I fit it in to my day. I have no idea if it’s helped, but I certainly noticed a change within four weeks of the herbs and the Rife machine – that was the initial catalyst for me.

I embraced all the nutritional action I could. If I’m honest, this is crucial to do. This means avoiding the worst allergens (gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol) and I cut out inflammatory foods like eggs, pork/processed meats, corn, soya, farmed fish, MSG, artificial flavours/sweeteners and preservatives. This sounds really tough, but when it becomes a lifestyle, it gets easier and just means I eat lots of organic vegetables and fruit and some meat. The additional vitamins and minerals I focused on were zinc (as zinc sulphate), vitamin B12 (as methylcobalamin), L-lysine and selenium.

I also make sure I sleep more than eight hours a night. Work out what your body needs – if at all possible during a two-week holiday, go to bed at your normal time, don’t set an alarm and see when you naturally wake up to work out the amount of sleep that you need. I was sleeping ten hours and then having a two-hour nap in the day when my illness was at its worst…. my body just needed to reboot. Now I thrive on eight and a half hours a night.

Alternative practices
I’ve found that acupuncture really helped me. This needs to be with a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) therapist – someone who has trained extensively in the TCM approach, as it’s very different to western acupuncture.

I also found it helpful to incorporate things like yoga, mindfulness and some time out to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, as the opposing sympathetic nervous system is usually in overdrive and this is not good for recovery.

Back to training
Once I turned the first corner and could build up training, I had to adjust my usual routine. If I just put my head down and smashed the training consistently, I got worse despite being on treatment, so I would have a few days build then two days back off, then build and back off etc. I realised that my body could deal with the bugs or the training, but both together were too much. It was super frustrating, but I felt that at least I was doing some training and I still progressed steadily overall.

In summary, my top tips:

1) Be kind to yourself and take one day at a time
2) Don’t go on antibiotics – go herbal
3) Nutrition is key and also eliminate chemical/metal toxicity from your lifestyle
4) Think laterally - incorporate TCM acupuncture, yoga and mindfulness strategies
5) Stay positive and grateful – this ailment shall pass!