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Lyme disease is an illness caused by the Borrelia bacteria. The bacteria gets into the bloodstream via tick bite and can spread to all areas of the body, especially if treatment is delayed. Lyme disease is called ‘The Great Imitator’ because its symptoms can mimic countless other diseases. Due to this, Lyme disease wasn’t documented until the late 1900s, but fossils dating back 15 million years have tested positive for the bacteria.
Lyme disease presents with different symptoms depending on the severity. In acute Lyme disease, flu-like symptoms will occur and a bullseye-shaped rash will be often present at the bite site. If treated at this stage, it’s unlikely that the bacteria will progress throughout the body; antibiotic treatment is generally effective in eliminating the bacteria and preventing chronic issues.
In chronic Lyme disease, however, symptoms become more pronounced and severe, and can include neurological problems such as memory and concentration issues; muscle and joint aches; chronic fatigue; and widespread pain. Treatment for chronic Lyme also involves antibiotics, but the bacteria tends to be more resistant at this stage, and people suffering from chronic Lyme can experience lasting symptoms even after treatment.
In late-stage Lyme disease, symptoms can take as long as three years to present and can include confusion, arthritis, tingling in the hands and feet, and chronic fatigue. Late-stage Lyme disease can cause permanent nerve damage and is difficult to recover from, even with treatment.
Can Lyme disease cause food allergies?
As it wreaks havoc on the body, Lyme disease may even favour the development of allergies or other health issues such as leaky gut syndrome, a condition in which gaps form in the lining of the intestines, giving bacteria and toxins the ability to pass through from the digestive tract into the bloodstream.
When this happens, the blood vessels in the intestines become broken. This gives partially digested food the opportunity to get into the bloodstream as well as the aforementioned bacteria and toxins. When this happens, the body reacts as if the food is a threat and triggers antibody production, often leading to food sensitivities and allergies.
What is Mast Cell Activation Syndrome?
Mast cells are a defence mechanism in the body against pathogens, alerting the body to allergens and helping heal wounds. Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) occurs when the immune system is heavily compromised. It causes the immune function to become overactive to certain stimuli, leading to the body to ‘think’ that it is allergic to these things without an actual allergy being present.
Patients with MCAS may feel like they have developed new allergies to certain foods, chemicals, and other substances, as their mast cells become much more active and trigger an anti-inflammatory response even when one isn’t required. MCAS symptoms range from mild to severe, and tend to present in the same way as Lyme disease symptoms. They include fatigue, brain fog, chronic pain, and muscle and joint aches. Other symptoms include food sensitivities, gastrointestinal issues, degenerative disc disease, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and heart palpitations.
Specific food allergies caused by Lyme disease
Because Lyme disease can trigger MCAS, it can also lead to the body becoming sensitive to certain things. One example is sulfur, which is found in eggs, onions, garlic and some cruciferous vegetables. Other foods that can trigger an MCAS reaction in Lyme disease patients include oxalates (found in spinach, swiss chard, potatoes); salicylates (found in herbs and vegetables); gluten products (found in grains such as wheat, rye, spelt); histamines (found in fermented foods, citrus fruits and vegetables); and other food products containing MSG or preservatives.
While not everyone who suffers from Lyme disease will develop these food sensitivities, it’s important to note that Lyme patients are at far more risk of developing MCAS due to their already weakened immune systems.
Does Lyme disease make you allergic to red meat?
In Lyme patients experiencing MCAS, a meat ‘allergy’ can develop among other sensitivities. Alpha-gal, a carbohydrate molecule that occurs in red meat, often triggers an allergic response in those with Lyme disease when it enters the bloodstream and the immune system doesn’t recognise it, treating it as a threat.
When this occurs, symptoms such as rashes, upset stomach, swelling, anaphylaxis and hives may occur shortly after consumption of red meat. Other digestive issues that can occur in those with Lyme disease or an insensitivity to the alpha-gal molecule include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, heartburn and blood in the stool.
Currently, there is no cure for allergies caused by Lyme disease, nor the symptoms of Lyme disease that occur following treatment of the Borrelia bacteria.
How to combat Lyme disease-induced allergies
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Lyme disease. Antibiotic treatment may rid the body of the bacteria, but MCAS and other chronic ailments can still be present for years following treatment. When it comes to food allergies that are triggered by Lyme disease, the best course of action is to avoid those particular foods altogether.
Strengthening the immune system can also help patients recover from MCAS and the allergic reactions it causes. This can be done through healthy diet, exercise, and supplementing with vitamins and minerals that aid in the overall healthy function of the body. Another majorly important factor is to listen closely to your body and monitor any diet-related symptoms that may appear. Keeping a food diary of ingredients and symptoms might make it easier to identify patterns or sensitivities and to temporarily eliminate the foods causing them.