Gastrointestinal health is a hot topic at the moment, and for good reason: much of your overall general health is governed by the state of your gut. In fact, the gut is often referred to as the body’s second brain. While you get on with the cognitive stuff, bacteria in the digestive system are busy making autonomous decisions that benefit the whole body, via a network called the enteric nervous system (ENS for short). There’s always a lot of information and tips out there about how best to serve your gut health, with new fads and diet trends providing a sometimes contradictory ebb and flow. However, low-FODMAP diets have gained traction in the nutrition world, seeming to produce concrete results. So what exactly is the low-FODMAP diet, and how does it square with the recommended Lyme disease nutrition guidelines?
First of all, the basics: FODMAP stands for ‘fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols’. They are a type of short-chain carbohydrates found in many different types of food. They are typically resistant to digestion, which is why cutting down on their intake can have remarkable effects on gut or gastrointestinal symptoms. Nutrients are usually absorbed in the upper intestine, but FODMAPs aren’t – as they reach the colon they are fermented, leading to bloating and a general feeling of fullness. The bacteria in the gut use carbohydrates for fuel, which produces hydrogen gas and methane (CH4); this gas is what makes you feel full and bloated, particularly if you’re sensitive to them. FODMAP carbs are also osmotically active and can pull liquid into your intestine, resulting in bouts of diarrhoea. The issues surrounding FODMAP intake are very similar to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and indeed, one can compound the other. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone is sensitive to FODMAPs, and even in those who are, not everyone is equally sensitive.
Some examples of common FODMAPS are fructans (found in grains and many other foods); galactans (found in legumes); lactose (found in dairy products); fructose (found in many fruits and vegetables); and polyols (often used as sweeteners). Implementing a low-FODMAP diet can be a crucial step for patients who suffer from persistent bowel and stomach problems, and can often help reduce instances of bloating, pain and diarrhoea. It is estimated that around 10–15% of people across the world suffer from IBS, most of them undiagnosed. There is no specific determined cause of IBS, but the low-FODMAP diet is an all-natural way of reducing some of the symptoms of this prevalent disorder.
But how useful is this approach when it comes to chronic Lyme? The answer depends on exactly how the Lyme bacteria is affecting you personally. When it comes to chronic Lyme, the goal is to treat the inflammation the body is experiencing in concordance with the dominant infection. Most of the severe symptoms of Lyme are due to this inflammation, with the body’s confused immune response compounding the initial bacterial infection. Treating Lyme disease means tackling both these problems simultaneously; unfortunately, modern medicine isn’t quite up to speed with Lyme, and doctors who truly understand the disorder are few and far between. Make Well is a German company that is vastly experienced in Lyme and chronic disease, producing a range of all-natural herbal products and supplements that can support patient treatment. A large part of Make Well’s focus is given to nutrition, as an anti-inflammatory diet is one of the key ways to reduce inflammation symptoms in patients. Patients are offered a one-on-one nutritional therapy session, where they can talk through their eating habits and come up with an anti-inflammatory plan moving forward.
Make Well also offers a product designed solely to impact gut health, called G.I. basic. This is a high-level probiotic that contains at least 12 billion bacteria and eight different strains per capsule. These friendly bacteria are key to restoring balance in an offset gut and promoting general body health. A G.I. plus product is also in the works, which will further refine and support gut health for sufferers of chronic diseases such as Lyme. However, when it comes to Lyme disease and a low-FODMAP diet, the two don’t necessarily work in tandem. Generally, a low-FODMAP diet wouldn’t be recommended for a patient as a general form of therapy; it very much depends on the patient’s specific symptoms and their nutritional make up. The problem with FODMAPs in general is that they are very personal, meaning the diet can take a long time to refine on an individual basis. You start by eliminating everything harmful in the diet and rebuilding from there via trial-and-error. On top of this, the low (or no) FODMAP diet is extremely restrictive, and can eliminate useful elements as well as bad ones.
If a Lyme patient is suffering from particularly debilitating intestinal discomfort and inflammation, then lowering FODMAP intake can absolutely be helpful. There are also some crossovers between the low-FODMAP diet and the traditional Lyme anti-inflammatory diet: both reduce intake of fructose, wheat, fast food and additives. Freshly prepared food is the order of the day for both. Ultimately, a Lyme disease treatment diet needs some professional input, as the symptoms vary wildly between patients. However, whether it’s low-FODMAP or not, there’s no doubt that attuning your diet to your individual needs is one of the key components of a successful counterattack against chronic Lyme.