Rebecca Snow - How to maximize your healing with herbs and nutrition
Lyme and its co-infections can be treated with antibiotics, but there is proof that not all the bacteria is killed off. Some patients experience additional symptoms after completing antibiotic treatment.
I investigate elements that contribute to healing Lyme beyond simply taking antibiotics. Integral healing takes into account herbs, nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle, and explores how these factors can help us live radiant, healthy lives again.
Here is the transcript of my conversation with Lyme expert Rebecca Snow:
LDRD: I am talking to Rebecca Snow, and Rebecca is a nutritionist, herbalist, and a Lyme disease expert. And Rebecca you also are a teacher, is that right?
RS: Yes, I worked at MUIH, the Maryland University of Integrative Health for many years. Currently, I mentor new practitioners and I teach other professionals. Those are the main ways that I currently teach.
LDRD: Wonderful. The reason I was so excited to talk with you because of this combination of expertise you have.
I am a big advocate, of course, of eating really healthy foods. And the fact that you are also a Lyme disease expert and know a lot about herbs and you’re also an herbalist, is really great because I think these are the areas that people want to know more about.
People with Lyme, we want to take a pill and be over with it, but that’s just not the way it works, is it?
RS: No, Lyme disease is such a complex illness, and if we are just looking at an approach of medication than I think healing only goes so far.
What I find is that when clients do antibiotic treatment, they may get to 60, 70, 80 percent, but they don’t get to 100%, and I think that last leg of the road really requires…I mean, ideally it would happen in the beginning of treatment, but it doesn’t always.
So, depending on where somebody is in their journey, to get the full length of healing you have to look at mind, body, and spirit and certainly look at wellness behaviors as well as medication.
How can I get more energy?
LDRD: That’s wonderful, thank you. So I know that you’re going to touch on herbs, nutrition, exercise, lifestyle…so, let’s start with energy.
This is something that’s been on my mind a lot, because I get emails from people talking about, they don’t have any kind of energy in their body and mind.
That can be a really vicious cycle, because once you get too tired to exercise, so you don’t exercise, and that’s totally understandable when you are suffering from an autoimmune disease.
Yet, there’s this cycle that’s really hard to break out of.
So what do you recommend? Try to exercise? Would it be foods, diet? What kind of advice do you have for people to escape that cycle?
RS: Yes, it’s a really good question, and there are so many potential factors that could trigger low energy, and it could be an accumulation of a number of different factors.
Certainly I would look at sleep. I think we underestimate sleep, as a culture. The importance of sleep as healing.
Hippocrates is considered the father of modern medicine, and he often, his main intervention for his clients was to lie in bed and rest.
So rest is important. And so if sleep quality is poor, looking at sleep hygiene — what behaviors are happening before sleep, if people are not sleeping well, or not falling asleep easily.
Difficulty falling asleep
I have a number of clients with Lyme disease that have difficulty falling asleep, because the infection can often trigger neurological irritation, so that’s not uncommon.
So looking at improving sleep quality.
And then stress reduction. And also, the diet does have such a big role on energy, and so, are there trigger foods?
Triggers in the diet
A lot of the foods that disrupt the gut permeability, which are triggers for autoimmune de-activity, such as gluten, and other triggers, maybe dairy for some people, maybe some of the GMO grain, such as corn, or GMO soy.
So, looking at what potential triggers are disrupting gut health, because we know there is such a strong connection between the gut and the brain.
And if there are some of these trigger foods that are a problem for people, they can really cause a lot of brain fog and difficulty concentrating, and some of that mental fatigue that people experience.
So, addressing that.
But you know the exercise is a challenging one, because it’s a vicious cycle, because if you’re not exercising that can trigger fatigue.
Less tolerance for exercise?
But sometimes for someone dealing with Lyme there’s such a repercussion, like feeling inflamed and really bad the next day.
And so there’s the lack of desire to exercise.
So I think that also in our culture, if we’re not sweating for 30 minutes, it doesn’t count.
I think we just have to redefine what that looks like and start small, and stop before exhaustion.
So, if that’s 10 minutes of walking on Day One, then great. And then building yourself up where you can tolerate more.
I think that with a chronic inflammatory state there’s less tolerance of exercise, so it’s a combination of bringing down inflammation so one can tolerate exercise more, and then slowly, gradually building up, so that you can start to get some of those benefits of physical activity.
LDRD: Yes, that’s a really good point. So while we’re talking about inflammation…
Herbs and inflammatory illnesses
…that’s my next question, really, it’s about anti-inflammatories agents and factors in our diet.
I see so many articles online about types of anti-inflammatories, I mean we can all sort of tick them off now: turmeric, ginger, people know not to eat too much sugar, which causes inflammation.
But how do you know the best kind of anti-inflammatory for your own situation? Is there any way to know?
I mean, one of the things that really gets me about inflammation, is that, as they call it the silent killer.
It’s not as if you can see it happening, it’s happening deep inside the tissues.
And so, even if we don’t think it’s going on, it’s probably responsible for some of the icky ways we feel, right?
RS: It’s a huge piece of Lyme, of healing from Lyme, is reducing inflammation. And inflammation is a key piece of many illnesses.
So Lyme overlaps with other autoimmune illnesses, or just inflammatory illnesses that way.
Quality food is the foundation
The way that I look at it, because I’m an herbalist and a nutritionist, I do both of those.
But I really see the food as the foundation.
One of my teachers used to say, “herbs work because the body does.”
So, herbs are gentler than medications. I mean, there’s no doubt about it.
Now that’s not true across the board — there are many potentially toxic herbs out there. But most of them are not in commerce.
Most toxic herbs you cannot buy.
And most of the herbs that are in commerce are pretty gentle to moderate in their effect because they’re more food-like.
Because most drugs are just a single constituent.
Most herbs, like ginger, has 300+ known constituents. It’s a very complex entity, and so it is more food-like in that regard.
And because herbs are more food-like, I don’t think a lot of the inflammatory herbs work well, if one is not looking at diet as well.
Good fat, bad fat
So, to me, there are some foundational things in the diet that need to be in place. I can just tell you a couple of those things if you’d like, of what that would look like.
One of them is fats. Fats play a big role in inflammation.
And the types of fats we eat can produce, so for instance, grain-fed, factory farmed meat produces arachidonic acid which is an inflammatory prostaglandin.
And other things that promote arachidonic acid are soy and canola oil.
Standard American diet = SAD
And it’s pretty much impossible, almost impossible to find salad dressings and mayos that don’t have soy oil in them.
So, these are some of the factors we’re dealing with with what we’re exposed to with our American diet.
like grass-fed meat, wild fish, raw nuts and seeds, good avocado and olive oil, and maybe some fish oil. But limiting some of those poor quality fats, that plays a big role in inflammation.
Eat a rainbow every week
Another big factor would just be how much color is in the diet. I call it the rainbow effect, and aiming for 6-7 cups of color a day, mostly vegetable, but fruit too.
And the thing that we get from color, like the red and blue color in fruits, like blueberries, pomegranates, those antioxidants, those red and blue antioxidants are actually really good for vasculitis, for inflammation of the capillaries, which is common in Lyme.
You know, people get this numbness and tingling in their hands and feet. So doing those red and blue fruits is really good for that.
Also, those colors are representative of good anti-oxidants that actually have research as biofilm busters.
And so getting that array of color is so important for people dealing with Lyme. So vegetables, and then I would say, hydration, and as you said minimizing sugars and refined flours
Add the positive foods & minimize the pro-inflammatory ones
So, there are the health positive things we can do, by adding in, like the fish oils, the good colorful fruits and vegetables…
And then minimizing the things that are pro-inflammatory, or sugar and refined flours, that are more pro-inflammatory.
What about soy and GMO issues?
LDRD: Wow, I’m thinking about all the packaged food that have soy in them.
We don’t eat meat in our household, but we do love a good veggie burger for lunch, it’s so easy sometimes.
But a lot of them are just stacked with soy, aren’t they?
RS: They are, there are ones that aren’t made with soy, like Sunshine burger is a favorite burger of mine that made of sunflower seeds and black beans.
And soy is not a horrible food.
I would try to go organic because of the GMO issue. The soy oil is more pro-inflammatory, but small amounts of it are okay, it just happens that our SAD is so inundated with some of these refined vegetable oils.
It is big picture. How much is in the total diet, and that makes a difference.
I try not to demonize any one particular food, because it really is about balance.
How much protein do I need?
LDRD: I totally agree.
And actually that leads right into the next question.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the role protein in the diet.
I often field questions from people, they’re vegetarian, but their nurse or doctor is telling them to eat a little meat, especially when people are suffering with Lyme infection, they tend to either gain a lot or lose a lot of weight in the acute stage.
So protein, tell us about its role in healing Lyme, and maybe good ways to get protein.
Protein found in all foods
RS: In acute Lyme infection, protein needs do go up.
So stress and infection do increase protein needs.
But you know the standard protein needs are about 10% of total calories is the minimum somebody needs in a day, and that’s highly bio-available protein.
So, certainly animal flesh, animal-derived protein, dairy, meat, fish, all provide more protein.
But protein is found in all foods, fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
So it’s not hard to get 10% of protein. It’s hard not to get 10% protein.
Most people get the minimal amount of protein requirements.
Now, whether they’re getting optimal amounts, that’s another story.
Optimize your detox
Because the Standard American Diet does tend to be a bit meat heavy I would say, compared to other cultures, if one is eating more of a SAD and having an animal derived protein twice a day, then they’re pretty much going to be getting enough protein.
I think that the individuals in acute illness, who have increased protein needs, who may not meet those needs might be someone who is vegan or vegetarian, and needs to be more conscious of protein intake during acute infection, because those needs go up.
The other key factor in protein is that the amino acids play a big role in detoxification.
And as we know, detoxification is another key piece of healing from Lyme, along with reducing inflammation.
So getting those co-factors for optimal detoxification is really another key piece of why protein is so important.
Plant-based diet & protein needs
With somebody who eats a more plant-based diet I’m really encouraging them to have multiple servings a day of their higher protein sources — of beans, of good organic soy — not multiple servings a day of soy, but having that throughout the week.
Having at least one or two servings a day of nuts and seeds.
Because really for a vegan the main sources of protein they’re going to have are legumes, nuts and seeds, and that would be important.
You know the thing about weight loss too, it varies. For some people, with chronic Lyme they find it hard to lose weight.
Harder to lose weight with Lyme
And what I find is that actually the inflammation that is up-regulated in dealing with chronic Lyme makes it harder for people to lose weight.
So I’ve had several clients that I’ve worked with who eat 1200 calories a day pretty religiously and their weight does not budge.
But as they start to heal from Lyme, that weight starts to come down.
Now I do think that for people who are trying to lose weight and are dealing with Lyme, that 10% of their calories as protein really is not sufficient. They need to go to 20-25%.
Eat protein = Burn calories
Because protein is very metabolically boosting. It’s the most metabolically boosting of all the macronutrients.
Because you burn 30% of the calories that you eat from protein just to metabolize it.
So it runs hotter, it tends to be more thermogenic where it raises body temperature more, and it also boosts metabolism.
So when it comes to weight management, I do think protein is a key macronutrient for people to be thinking about when they’re trying to lose weight.
LDRD: Okay, that’s really good information.
You just touched a little bit on my next question, and I don’t know why it’s going so smoothly, but I love it! (laughter)
Yes, it’s great. This is wonderful information, really.
RS: Oh good, yes, I mean, it’s like basic stuff, but it’s helpful to talk about in relation to Lyme.
Types of healing diets for Lyme
You know, there are healing diets for Lyme, like ketogenic diets are a potentially healing diet for Lyme.
LDRD: What kind of diet is that?
LDRD: Okay, and that is…?
RS: A ketogenic diet is a very high fat diet, and it’s actually aiming for 60 to 80% fat.
Ketogenic diets originally developed in the realm of epilepsy. And have been found to be very therapeutic for individuals with epilepsy.
But now ketogenic diets are being applied to other neuro-degenerative diseases like Parkinsons, Alzheimers, and also being applied to neurological Lyme.
Because basically what a ketogenic diet does is help people switch from burning glucose as fuel to ketones, and has been shown to be anti-inflammatory in the brain.
A ketogenic diet is a potential kind of dietary strategy when dealing with Lyme.
Low allergen diet
Another example of another healing diet would be a low allergen diet, where someone eliminates gluten and dairy, soy, corn, some common allergens. and that would be another potential healing diet.
But doing something like that takes a lot of energy, but it’s a big change from where people are.
So it’s also good to talk about what the average person could do with minimal effort.
LDRD: Meet people where they are, instead of asking them to change too much.
RS: To do a total dietary overhaul. Right. Particularly when you’re not feeling well.
LDRD: Absolutely. Also, you may be trying to figure out what works for you.
And your diet may not look normal for a long time I remember when I was trying to figure out what was triggering some of my herxes.…so I ended up eating practically nothing.
I had a hard time keeping weight on at that point because I was basically eating lettuce, without anything on it. Just avocados and lettuce.
RS: It’s good to listen to the body, and to really figure out, okay this is what somebody told me is good for me, but what feels right in my body.
And yes, you can get too deficient if you go a little too extreme with limiting things as well.
Vegan and vegetarians - should you eat meat?
LDRD: That’s right.
And I think a lot of people do have that problem though, if they’re eating a vegetarian diet, they’re just not really sure what they should be eating, so this is really helpful. And also to go back to the rainbow diet, I love that too. Did you say 6 or 7 cups a day?
RS: Getting the rainbow, it doesn’t have to be every day, but if you look at over the week, getting every color of the rainbow in my diet.
Institute of Functional Medicine has some nice handouts about that, like what are the different constituents of each color, and really they’re all anti-inflammatory.
But we can get into a food rut.
We can say well I haven’t eaten much orange, maybe I’ll get some…maybe I’ll get some beets, and just getting out of those food ruts that we can get into as well.
Probiotics — what kind is best?
LDRD: Thank you, and this is something that has been on my mind, partially since I have a new dog, a little adoptee.
And she came to us having been diagnosed with Lyme.
So she was on antibiotics, and as soon as she finished her antibiotics, I couldn’t wait to get her on probiotics. Her energy level has just zoomed, and she looks great. I wish that my hair would grow as fast as hers does.
Probiotics for humans can be, I think, a very confusing thing. I mean, just looking at the price of probiotics, they can be really costly.
And they’re one of those things that you just don’t know whether they’re making a difference or not, you know what I mean?
So, could you talk a little bit about your go-to brand or what to look for on the label?
Probiotics role in healing Lyme
RS: Yes, definitely. Yes, so probiotics are such a key piece, particularly if people have done even a month of antibiotics, even the standard 28-day Doxycycline for acute Lyme.
And then there are those who have been on month to month, or even years of antibiotics.
They do play an important role. It’s funny, because I think when you’re taking antibiotics you’re taking probiotics pre-emptively.
You’re trying to ensure optimal health of the gut micro biome, and to reduce the impact that the antibiotics will have on the gut micro biome.
Taking probiotics while on antibiotics
And so, you may not notice a difference in symptoms, because, knock on wood, when you’re taking antibiotics you don’t have any gut side effects.
Some people do have gut side effects, and find that taking the probiotics helps reduce the gut side effects.
I think it’s important to be on probiotics while you’re taking antibiotics, but to take them at a different time.
Maybe space them out an hour or two from when you’re doing the antibiotics, which could be hard if you’re taking the antibiotics multiple times a day.
But, what we’ve found with probiotics is that they have multiple benefits. Not only do they help repopulate the gut, but they have immune modulating effects.
And so they can support immune function in a positive way, they can help reduce brain inflammation.
So many positive effects that probiotics have.
The thing is, we really don’t know the best species for….Science is really emerging with understand how to identify the best species of probiotics for an individual person.
What to look for in probiotics
I do have some standard brands that I like, and what I will say is for the standard person, it’s best to get a type with a number of different strains of bacteria. Like 10 or more strains, because when you look on the label it will tell you all the different species of bacteria. It will have a list of all the different strains.
So I would aim for one that has 10 + strains.
And I would also aim for one that has more than 20 billion bacteria per capsule.
Culturelle is a common one that people take, it’s only 1 billion per capsule.
So I have clients with IBS and they say they’ve taken a probiotic and say it didn’t help me, and when we look at the probiotic it was a pretty low dose. And when we try a 20 or even a 50 billion per cap, then they really do notice a big difference.
So sometimes it’s just dose dependent for people to notice a difference.
LDRD: Wow, that’s interesting.
RS: Yes, and sometimes it’s the types of bacteria present in the probiotics, so sometimes you need to try one or two different brands.
What are soil-based probiotics?
The other thing I wanted to mention was that when people are on longterm antibiotics, they can develop SIBO, or small intestinal bacteria overgrowth, and start to develop sensitivity to different carbohydrates, like different types of vegetables and different types of grain.
Those individuals will not do well with probiotics that include pre-biotics.
Pre-biotics are like starches that feed the healthy bacteria. And that’s like what get in bananas and artichokes and flaxseed.
And actually to have a healthy micro-biome, you want to have good starch, good fiber, as well as the good bacteria.
But some people are sensitive to those fibers because they’ve been on antibiotics a long time and they start to develop these issues in the small intestine.
And in that case, I really like the soil-based probiotic as an option.
I just had a client this week who was very sensitive to all the probiotics she tried.
So I switched her to a soil-based probiotic, because they do well with people who are sensitive to some of those different strains of bacteria, or the pre-biotics that are added to different probiotics.
LDRD: Wow, that’s interesting. I was just reading an article this morning about eating dirt.
RS: (laughter) Yes! I know, sometimes I don’t wash my greens from the farmer’s market, thinking, I probably need that dirt!
The “no-no” list
LDRD: I have just a few other questions here before we let you go. What are some of the no-no’s?
Like what should people do. We’re human, so we often focus on what’s wrong, or how bad things are, or what isn’t working.
But it is helpful to have a list of things to avoid (cigarettes and alcohol, etc.). We probably all know what they are, but is there anything we can add to this no-no list?
RS: It’s a really good question. I don’t like to add too much to people’s no-no lists, because I think it is very individualized.
But I would agree with you that sugar and refined flours, basically foods that are white and tasty, pastas, refined breads, cakes and candy.
You know, sugar suppresses immune function, and we want a robust immune system.
Getting rid of an infection is twofold
It’s the body’s immune system does what it needs to do. It’s the infectious organism, but it’s also the body’s terrain and so when we’re talking about diet and sleep and all these wellness behaviors, it’s really supporting the body so it can do what it needs to do to get rid of the infection.
Sugar is really very counterproductive when it comes to healing from infection.
And I think what’s challenging is, like, if you have bronchitis, it’s easy to stay away from sweets for a week.
But if you’re dealing with Lyme, that can be a three-, six, nine-month process and so it can be a little bit more challenging to stay away from sugar for longer periods of time.
Good, better, bad
The way that I frame it for people, is it’s good, better, bad.
Yes, it’s best to stay away from as much sweetener as possible, even honey and maple syrup.
But it’s better to do things like honey and maple syrup, and make some homemade baked goods that are healthier, and use maybe some almond flour, or some really nutrient-dense kind of flour.
Hungover after one glass of wine
it is really about tiering things, too, and making it attainable for somebody. I think that a lot of people with Lyme don’t do well with alcohol, and don’t do well with coffee.
I mean coffee is variable for people, but I would say that alcohol does challenge liver detoxification.
It does seem that people who are dealing with Lyme, they become sensitive to things that they weren’t sensitive to before, and alcohol is such a great example of that.
At least half of my clients with Lyme will say that they’re feeling hungover from one glass of wine, and that just was not typical previously.
Listen to your body
So, the body often tells us what’s not good for us. But it is nice to hear it too, the confirmation from somebody else sometimes gives us more resolve to say away from those things.
LDRD: I had no interest in drinking wine or beer when I had Lyme, and since then. I’m really happy without it, but we do live in a culture, pretty much every culture is very much about relaxing with a glass of wine or a beer after work.
So you just have to get used to going an alternative route, with water and lemon, or something like that.
RS: Yes. Or kombucha.
Kombucha has a teeny bit of alcohol in it, but it’s a nice fermented beverage that helps with bacteria.
I find that some of my clients with Lyme feel good when they have some kombucha.
It does have a little bit of caffeine in it. Just to be aware of. There are no-caffeine varieties out there too.
But that’s an alternative to beer or wine that could be drunk
at night as a recreational beverage that has some healing benefits as well.
LDRD: Thank you for introducing that, and well, it sounds more interesting than water and lemon, anyway. (laughter)
To wrap up our conversation, I would love it if you could chime in about some of the herbal protocols that you’ve seen working.
Herbs vs. pharmaceutical antibiotics
What is your opinion of them? Do you think that herbal tinctures are as powerful? I know that they work in a very different way than pharmaceutical antibiotics
but a lot of people who are listening to this podcast are taking the Cowden protocol, or the Buhner protocol, and they can be very powerful as well.
What are your thoughts on that?
Do you have recommendations about who should be taking antibiotics?
Are they absolutely necessary to kill the Lyme bacterial complex?
RS: I think there’s probably too much focus on antibiotics in the Lyme-literate community.
Because I do think that there is evidence that chronic symptoms of Lyme may be infection, but they may also be related to an auto-inflammatory response.
So, I think that we need to take a broader focus than just antibiotics.
And in my experience, herbs and antimicrobials, or antibiotics, are not as strong as prescriptions antibiotics.
However, because I think Lyme is more complex, I mean, it’s an infection-triggered disease process, and I think that disease process is more complex than just the infection itself, that herbs have a lot to offer.
Herbal antimicrobials & immune-modulators
And for me, I kind of divide the herbs I use into two categories.
There’s the antimicrobials I use, and I use a lot of the same herbs
I like Buhner’s protocol, I’m familiar with Lee Cowden’s protocol, and so yes I love garlic, I love artemisia,
…so there’s a lot of products that I do like that are antimicrobial,
But I would say there is this whole other piece that I do with herbs, which is really about body support, the anti-inflammatory herbs like the turmeric, and the resveratrol.
And the immune-modulating herbs, like medicinal mushrooms, reishi and porticeps.
So I kind of feel like this other piece of supporting, reducing inflammation, modulating immune function and supporting blood flow dynamics, and all of that plays just as big a role, in my opinion, for the healing process.
So I probably put more effort into the body-support wellness piece, because some of the clients I see are already seeing a Lyme-literate doctor and they’re working with antibiotics.
So they need support from me to help them with detox support, and diet and lifestyle protocols.
Using sauna therapy, and pretty much using whatever tools we have at our fingertips to enhance the healing process.
LDRD: I always say that we need to get it from every angle. Don’t let Lyme takeover any part of your life or mind!
LDRD: I love that, that’s really helpful, Rebecca, to think about the way you divide the herbs into two categories like that.
And I’ve heard that echoed by other more traditional healers I have interviewed about Lyme disease.
A two-step dance
They say the same thing, it’s really a two-step dance, where you really have to attack or address the bacterial complex, but also support the body in doing its work.
RS: Well, it’s really nice to talk to you, and it’s fun to talk about this, and to share it with a larger number of people.
So, hopefully there are some good tidbits there that can help…people just get aware of possibilities about how they can use nutrition and herbs towards their healing process.
LDRD: Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time and all of your knowledge. It’s fascinating.