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My partner, Sarah, has a table at the Santa Fe Artist Market on Sundays. I often drop her off in the morning, and I pick her up in the afternoon. This most recent Sunday Sarah told me of her new acquaintance she’d met during the market – a woman who now uses a wheelchair to get around because of multiple sclerosis. This woman confided in Sarah that over the years she has been approached by numerous so-called healers who have duped her into using their services because they promised that they could heal her. And none of them succeeded. But all of them took payment for services rendered.
So here’s my message to those who claim to be healers and engage in this sort of unscrupulous behavior: STOP IT because you’re hurting people. And I’m not just talking about those who take advantage of people in wheelchairs, either. I’m talking about Reiki practitioners who are suggesting that they have special powers beyond simply offering some relaxing time. I’m talking about those who offer channeled healings from the Ascended Masters. I’m talking about anyone who oversteps the clear bounds of what they can actually offer.
I think much of the problem may come from the fact that many so-called healers are, frankly, clueless as to what they are doing. Some of them may get some hit or miss results with clients. But the fact of the matter is that placebo is powerful. Relaxation is powerful. Hope is powerful. And perhaps even in many cases it’s just a matter of luck or Divine Intervention – depending on your religious persuasion.
It just seems deeply unethical to seek out potential victims for your “healing art.” I understand that we’ve all got bills to pay. But there’s a more ethical way to go about it. You can still sell your Reiki services or your Ascended Master channeling or your tapping services or your NLP services – because these services all likely have some honest value. But it’s unethical to misrepresent your services and then charge people for something other than what you claimed. Instead of promoting yourself as a Reiki Master Energy Healer Who Can Cure Everything, maybe it would be more honest to suggest that you offer a deeply relaxing space and intention that can facilitate the client’s innate healing powers. Because that is probably true. Relaxation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which means that healing potential is greatly increased. So that’s a valuable thing.
Or, let’s say you want to sell your tapping services. Well, no problem there. If you understand what you do properly then you can represent your services honestly and still offer something of genuine value. Tapping (EFT, etc.) creates a paradigm shift for most people not because of meridians or because of some special power in affirmations or even because of the tapping process itself. Rather, it offers a new way for a person to relate to their problems, and a new way for a person to understand themselves. Just by using a different strategy for a moment than one is used to can create profound changes. So a tapper could advertise that he or she uses a funny process to create changes in perspective than can offer the client unique insights that may result in profound changes in life. But, you see, that’s different than suggesting that you’ve got a cure-all for everything because of a special way of activating meridians and energy flow.
If you consider yourself to be a healer, then please take the time and invest the energy to truly understand your offering – not just a fantasy of your offering. And then represent yourself and your services honestly. Remember that these are real people you are dealing with. And how you treat them can have a lasting impact on their lives. And remember: do no harm.
I’ve posted a few new videos on YouTube. Here they are!
First, a video about using the Law of Attraction to get what you REALLY want (hint: it’s not what you think you want).
Second, a video about how to take tapping (EFT, TFT, FasterEFT, etc.) to the next level to experience true freedom in your life.
If you like the videos, do me a favor and like them on YouTube.
If you’re in Winnipeg, Manitoba and you’ve experienced any sort of trauma that is still burdening you in your life, then I’m happy to let you know of an event happening this November 13 in your city. My friend, Bernie Bowman, is holding an event called Butterflies by Bernie: Transform Your Traumas into Triumphs.
What makes this event particularly wonderful is that Bernie has transformed her own traumas into triumphs, and now she is sharing her wisdom. I have had the honor of working with Bernie, and I’ve seen the remarkable transformations in her life. She is the survivor of traumas in which she lost three family members to violent crimes. She suffered for years until she developed the skills and the insights to turn her life around. Her story is remarkable and truly inspiring to those who presently suffer from traumas. She stands as a testament to the possibility of true transformation and living a life of peace. Plus, she is now sharing not only her own experience and her own transformation, but also he recently-certified skills as a TFT practitioner.
So if you’re in the Winnipeg area and you want to change your life for the better, check out this event. It’s totally free, and Bernie promises that you’ll learn some skills to change your life.
You can learn more about the event, including contact information and RSVP details by viewing the flyer.
Tell the truth. Raise your hand if you let your fear of what other people might think about you constrain you and limit you. Well, there you go. At least you’re not alone!
So lately I’ve been reflecting upon this. And then, in a very timely fashion, an acquaintance of mine shared with me some writing she’d found on the subject. And when I she’d read that to me, a light went on in my head: it’s not worth it to care what other people might think…not even just a little bit. Not even just once.
This, of course, may seem easier said than done. But I’m convinced that it’s actually much easier to be free than to live the rest of our lives in fear of what others might think. Or, at least, the latter sounds so awful that I wouldn’t even care how difficult it is, I’d do whatever necessary to be free!
I lived for twenty plus years without taking my shirt off where anyone could see me – even with lovers if I could get away with it. Why? Because I was terrified of what people might think. And then, I realized that the true pain wasn’t the fear – it was the layers of control and censorship and vigilance that I had grown to accept as normal.
In this article that my friend read to me, the author suggested that what we think of ourselves is more important than what others think of us. And, perhaps, I can see that there is some truth in that. Because, after all, if I can think good enough things about myself consistently, then it may give me courage to take my shirt off even if people laugh or point or snigger. But what about when I can’t muster up the positive self-thoughts? What about when the doubt creeps in? What about when I’m tired or having a bad day? Then will I have to shroud myself and run in shame?
But what about this instead? What about not giving undue importance to what anyone thinks – including yourself? In my experience this is the essence of true freedom.
So what are the ways in which we limit ourselves out of fear of what other people may think? And what do we hope to gain from that? Will it give us happiness? Peace? Love?
What is it that we really get when we live our lives according to our fears of what others may think? We get surrounded by people who “love” us for what we’ve projected. We get anxiety of being found out. We get loneliness. We may get anger or sadness that “no one truly understands us.” And we may feel that we’re missing out on life.
And what about when we live our lives according to what we ourselves may think? How we may approve or disapprove? We become both prisoner and guard in our self-made prisons. We are constantly watching ourselves. We are judging ourselves Condemning ourselves. Policing ourselves.
And what occurs to me is that when we give undue importance to what others (or ourselves) may think then we perpetuate this painful cycle of prostituting ourselves for the love and acceptance of others so that we subject posterity to more of the same.
Yet on the other hand, we have the possibility of being authentic in every interaction (or at least as often as we manage it…no reason to try and make it an all-or-nothing sort of thing) so that we begin a new cycle of true freedom and true love. Then our children and our children’s children and so forth get to be born into a world of more sanity. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful gift to give to them?
But mostly, truly, I just want to live fully – to be fully and completely alive in every moment, no exceptions. And if I give any of my attention to concerns about what anyone thinks about me then I feel that I’m missing out on the magnificent mystery of life. Of course, that’s not quite right. But then again, no words ever truly capture the essence of what is meant.
So let me try to say it again, although equally futilely. What I mean is that I’m certain that each and every one of us has unique and important gifts to share with the world – simply by being ourselves. We needn’t try to do that. We needn’t try to be ourselves. We are that when we let go and show up in life as we are – warts and all. There is no other you. You are needed. This is so obvious that it couldn’t be any more obvious.
Here’s my challenge to you (and to myself): be fearless. Be courageous. Trust that you are exactly as you should be – including the way you look, the way you talk, the way you act, and all that you are. Have the courage to be yourself without trying to be yourself. Just you, as you are, warts and all. No attempts to be better, more likable, more acceptable, or anything of the sort. Just you. And trust that this is enough.
I’ve started a new series of YouTube videos about OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and how to recover naturally and fully for life. I’m passionate about this subject because I suffered tremendously from OCD for decades. It started out slowly and then grew worse and worse until by the time I was 30 I was performing rituals such as washing and counting (plus lots of strange mind games that are impossible to even describe) most of my waking hours.
I plan to keep adding more videos to this series, and I’ll post here when I do that.
Here are the videos I’ve just added:
This is just a heads up that moments ago I posted a new page on this site about anxiety, obsessions, and compulsions – namely, how to be free of these things. On the page is a series of 13 videos that I just recorded that walk you through some of the understandings and practices that I believe can help others who are struggling with anxiety, obsessions, and/or compulsions.
So please check it out. I welcome your feedback and comments. You can view the page here.
I have long been an amateur herbalist. I believe in the power of plants. I believe that plants are our allies; in other words, they can help us, but they cannot do everything for us. This is true of all medicines, whether plant-based or synthetic. They can help, but they cannot do it all for us. Of course, the same is often true of “mind-over-matter” therapies as well: they can do much for us, but they may not always be the entire solution. So often times the answer is in the balance of internal and external medicines – relying on external medicines to provide support and healing while also letting go of mental and emotional imbalances that have been provoking a chronic stress response. When these two “sides” come together, this is often where a lot of healing can take places.
This is the first post on this site (of which I am aware) about plant medicine. I intend to write more on this subject in the future. There are so many wonderful, amazing plants that it would be impossible for me to select one or even one group of plants to single out as my “favorite.” However, there are some plants that excite me more than others. And in this post I will write about a group of plants that I find to be very exciting – the berberine plants.
Berberine is a yellow, bitter alkaloid present in a many plants, but it is most concentrated in a handful of herbs that are used medicinally, including the well-known herb, goldenseal. It is also found in high concentrations in the barberry plant (particularly the roots,) the roots of oregon grape, as well as some other herbs that are used in Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal traditions and in folk medicine world-wide.
I like the berberine plants. I have long been attracted to them. My favorites are barberry (there are many varieties that grow wild and that are grown as an ornamental) and oregon grape (even though, to the best of my knowledge, I have never seen an oregon grape plant live and in person.) I’m not as familiar with most of the rest of the berberine plants. And although I typically prefer to work with whole herbs, I have also used berberine extract derived from Indian barberry.
Although every plant is unique, there is a long tradition of using some groups of plants interchangeably depending on availability. And so it seems that the berberine plants are, by and large, interchangeable when it comes to antibacterial and blood sugar regulation properties as well as the ability to improve impaired liver function.
The traditional uses of berberine plants tend to focus on the plants’ affinity for the digestive system. In modern scientific terms these plants can be said to possess antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, and hepatic qualities. But simply tasting berberine plants can tell you through intuition. Why? Because berberine is bitter, a taste which often imparts most of these qualities. Plus it has a clearly astringent taste that can cause a mild puckering sensation.
The antibiotic qualities of berberine plants are quite strong. The berberine plants are effective in treating infections or overgrowth of a wide range of organisms, including many strains of staphylococcus, strains of streptococcus, hepatitis B, strains of salmonella, and more. In fact, they are so effective that Stephen Buhner dedicates an entire chapter to the berberine plants in his excellent book, Herbal Antibiotics 2nd Edition. Yet it is important to understand what the berberine plants do and what they do not do when used as medicine for their antibiotic qualities. They work almost exclusively on the digestive system. They do NOT work on systemic infections. What this means is that berberine plants are wonderful for infections or overgrowth in the digestive system – things such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or cholera..
The benefits of the berberine plants are extensive, and certainly not limited to the (impressive) antibiotic properties. One of the traditional uses of berberine plants is for improving flagging liver function. I have read some studies that demonstrate that berberine (the alkaloid) is effective in various liver conditions, including liver cirrhosis, hepatitis, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Traditionally we can expect berberine to benefit the liver because of the bitter taste and the yellow color, but modern studies bear this out. One would presume that berberine plants increase the flow of bile. In addition, studies show that berberine decreases the fat content of a fatty liver and stabilizes the liver by preventing the production of cells that might otherwise lead to fibrosis in the liver.
As I’ve already noted, berberine plants have antibiotic properties and increase bile flow. But what is remarkable is that they also combine the astringent property, which makes them among the best plants for treating dysentery. They are active against many organisms that can cause digestive problems, and they increase the digestive power, but the astringent quality means that berberine plants also stop diarrhea.
The quality of berberine plants that has most recently renewed my deep admiration and respect for them is that they demonstrate the remarkable, unrivaled ability to improve and even reverse insulin resistance, including type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that the berberine alkaloid is at least as effective as the leading pharmaceutical drug for reducing blood glucose. The plants seem to not only prevent insulin resistance, but they can actually reverse it and increase insulin sensitivity.
There is even some evidence that berberine may be helpful for those with type 1 diabetes. Berberine has insulinogenic properties, and has a long (1400+ year) history of use for diabetes (presumably including type 1) that demonstrates its effectiveness.
There is even more research that shows other amazing results attributed to berberine. I cannot personally attest to any of these, but there are studies reporting berberine can help treat or prevent cancer, HIV infection, congestive heart failure, west nile virus infection, depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s!
As with all medicines, there is no one-size-fits all approach. Every person is different – with different bodies, circumstances, etc. – and therefore will respond differently. I believe that it is important to listen to one’s own body – biofeedback – to determine proper use of any medicine. Berberine plants and even berberine extract work really well for me. I like them. Sure, they are bitter. Sure they are astringent. But I really like them. The smell, the taste, the entire experience is pleasurable for me in a way that is difficult to describe. But I believe this is the nature of the experience of good medicine. Even if it is not pleasurable in the conventional sense, good medicine produces a desirable experience. So I cannot say that berberine or berberine plants are right for you or for anyone. Only you can know that.
The Mountain Rose Herbs profiles for some of the berberine plant herbs that the company sells state that one should only use the herbs for up to seven consecutive days at a time. I cannot substantiate this claim. I have never read this caution anywhere else. It is not mentioned in any of the herbals that I have read, whether old or new. And although I know of no studies that monitor the long term effects of berberine or berberine plants, I haven’t read that there are any short term results that suggest that long term use would be inadvisable. With that said, neither do I believe that it is advisable to use berberine or berberine herbs long term arbitrarily. There are some so-called adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha, for example, that seem to be well-suited to long term use. Berberine plants don’t strike me in the same way. Berberine seems more like a healer than a long-term, chronic use sort of solution. And I believe that this is evidence to support this view: berberine and berberine plants seem to correct imbalances and repair the body, returning it to within optimal functioning parameters. In other words, typically the need for berberine decreases over time. One does not become dependent on it, but rather berberine fosters independence and healthy functioning.
Mountain Rose Herbs also advise against taking supplemental vitamin B6 concurrently with berberine herbs. The reason given is that vitamin B6 may increase resistance of pathogenic bacteria to berberine herbs. I have seen this same caution reported elsewhere, though not often. So I cannot confirm nor deny this. The berberine alkaloid has been shown to affect B vitamin metabolism in the human body, which may support the claim that supplementing with certain B vitamins could be potentially antithetical to berberine effects.
Berberine and especially berberine plants (because they contain synergistic compounds) demonstrate the ability to increase the effectiveness of other medicines, including both plant medicines and pharmaceuticals. So if you use other medicines, particularly anything with similar properties to berberine, then it is highly advisable to closely monitor things if you choose to use berberine in conjunction with those other miedicines. For example, there are studies (and lots of anecdotal evidence) suggesting that berberine is highly synergistic with the the drug metformin (in fact, it may out-perform metformin when used alone.) As such, people who wish to use berberine at the same time as metformin need to closely monitor their blood glucose because berberine will likely greatly reduce the necessary metformin dosage.
Personally, I believe that berberine plants are unrivaled for treating infections in the digestive system as well as dysentery. I would whole-heartedly endorse the use of berberine plants or even berberine extract for these purposes. Many people diagnosed with SIBO report improvement with the use of berberine medicine. Also, as a note, Stephen Buhner mentions that berberine is effective against cholera only 50% in clinical trials, but that it is 100% effective against cholera when combined with geranium, pomegranate bark or peel, or bark or leaf of guava.
I am also very excited about the tremendous potential for berberine medicines in the treatment of insulin and glucose metabolism problems such as diabetes or pre-diabetic insulin resistance. My present working theory is that in many cases insulin resistance can be reversed in many cases by reducing dietary polyunsaturated fat (and possibly increasing saturated fat) in conjunction with berberine medicine, with the possible addition of resistant starch in some cases (raw potato starch, for example, has been shown to have powerful effects on glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity.)
So what is the best way to use berberine medicine? There’s no one-size-fits all answer to that. I can offer a few suggestions, however. For one thing, dose is important. In particular, too much of a good thing in this case can be quite unpleasant. Overdosing on berberine medicine isn’t really easy to do, so there isn’t a great danger of this. From what I’ve read, the toxicity of berberine medicine is extremely low. But eating large amounts could result in some symptoms resulting from too much drying out – nose bleed, eye and skin irritation, and indigestion. Personally, I am sensitive to overdrying, and in my “reckless youth” I experienced some minor indigestion from eating too much berberine medicine. But most people wouldn’t be able to stomach too much of the raw herb to achieve this. So for most people this is only even a possibility with encapsulated extracts.
So in terms of dosage, I’d say that if you’re using raw herbs (i.e. fresh, dried, or powdered) then taste is going to be your guide. And if you encapsulate raw powder you’re not likely to be able to overdose. Buhner suggets 25 “00” capsules for acute dysentery, to give you an idea of an extreme senario. That is probably the equivalent of more than a tablespoon of raw herb powder, and I highly doubt that most people would be able to get that much down unencapsulated. So there’s really no danger with raw herbs. And in most cases even less than a gram a day will be effective.
More or less, much of what I’ve written about raw herbs also applies to tinctured berberine medicine. it is unlikely that you’d want to take more than a small amount in most cases. The taste of a dropperful is likely to signal berberine-satiety in most people. And for extreme cases of dysentery Buhner recommends up to a tablespoon of the tincture several times a day.
With berberine extract my best recommendation is to use a relatively low dose to start. I have used 500mg capsules from Thorne with absolutely no problem, but I wouldn’t consider that a low dose. Thorne does have a 200mg capsule berberine extract as well, which may be more suitable for someone who hasn’t tried berberine before. (I mention Thorne because it is the only reputable producer I know of that has berberine extracts with no stearates or other objectionable fillers. They do use silicon dioxide, but I find that to be rather innocuous.) The studies that I’ve perused have used 500mg capsules twice a day, and that seems reasonable. That’s a lot of berberine, but it’s low enough that it shouldn’t pose a problem for most people. Those are the doses I have read for use in improving insulin sensitivity – typically one 500mg capsule 15 minutes before the two largest meals of the day.
Another important consideration for berberine medicine is to determine what form to use. Stephen Buhner offers some valuable insights into this in Herbal Antibiotics 2nd Edition. Because several important berberine plants are endangered in the wild, many herbalists, including Buhner, recommend against using the wildharvested versions of those endanagered plants. American goldenseal is particularly notable in being endangered in the wild. Buhner suggests wildharvesting only phellodendron (corktree), barberry, or oregon grape. If buying herbs, he recommends cultivated berberine plants – in other words, if purchasing, say, goldenseal, then look for cultivated (not wildharvested) roots. (I’ll add that organic is highly preferable when purchasing cultivated herbs.)
Personally, I prefer the whole herb to the extract because I believe that the whole herb has other synergistic compounds and an essential intelligence that proves beneficial. With that said, berberine extract seems to be a reasonable option with no side effects for most people of which I am aware.
I find it fascinating and saddening that so many people seem to have tremendous, perhaps overwhelming dislike (and in some cases hatred) of their own bodies. And furthermore, as a culture we try to shame others into thinking in this same way. I see why this might be – a society of people who dislike their own bodies provide an easy audience for promoting products, diets, routines, lifestyles, solutions, and anything else that can be sold or promoted for the purposes of supposedly improving people’s bodies. And if I’m right about some of the reasons for this phenomenon then it makes it all the more sad. But whatever the reasons, I am of the opinion that it is possible to exempt oneself from this trend.
It seems to me that nearly everyone can manage to find something they don’t like about her or his body. The cliche example is for someone to think themselves “too fat.” But there are countless other ways in which people dislike their bodies. Although “too fat” is more common, I’ve known people who perceived themselves as “too thin.” Various body parts can be “too big” or “too small.” Parts can be perceived to be misshapen. “Too tall” or “too short” is possible. Coloration of eyes, hair, and skin are all frequent targets. I’ve known people to dislike their hair texture. It’s possible for people to agonize over waist-to-hip ratio and eye placement. Basically, you name it and someone dislikes the quality about themselves.
But why? Who said that bodies should look a certain way and if they don’t then we should be ashamed and beat ourselves up endlessly? What I will suggest is that whatever the source of this idea, it is a completely baseless and mistaken idea. Now, I will grant you that there may be a biological basis for being attracted to certain traits and features in another. But this manifests differently in every person. So I don’t believe that it is reasonable to believe that cultural ideals for physical attractiveness are based in biology. And, more importantly, the preferences of others and even cultural biases are external factors, not intrinsic forces that mandate self-hatred if a person doesn’t happen to conform to those external ideals. In other words, even with tremendous social pressures and tons of propaganda that attempt to intimidate us to judge and condemn ourselves, there is not any force that truly forces us to comply. It is a choice.
And so too do we have the choice to accept and love ourselves. Okay, okay, I know that is a bit cliche. But in my own experience it is true. And what I’ve noticed is that life is SO MUCH BETTER when I choose to love and accept myself exactly as I am. That doesn’t mean I may not still have aspirations and goals. It just means that I don’t set goals because I believe that achieving those goals will add to my self-worth. Nor does failure to achieve goals mean that I have fuel for the self-hate machine. Because I realized that the self-hate machine isn’t me. It’s not the truth. And nothing good comes from it.
I’ve read the opinions of others that suggest that loving oneself is unrealistic for most, that it is far too lofty a goal, one that will never be reached. To which I say: hogwash. That’s just more of the same old thinking. Why stop short of love? What would the possible benefit be in that? And again, it is a choice that every person gets to make. There’s no reason that a person could not love himself or herself.
When I talk about self-love, I’m not talking about narcissism. I’m talking about the confidence and knowledge that you are valuable as you are and that your worth is intrinsic, that it is not and cannot be defined by arbitrary external beliefs or ideas. This doesn’t take a lot of practice. This just takes clear seeing. Because it is the truth.
So how can you discover this sort of clear seeing? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can give a few hints and suggestions. My own experience is that clear seeing is natural, and it is not something that you can achieve as much as you can simply uncover it. You can uncover clear seeing by removing the blinders. Just as you can see clearly with your physical eyes by opening your eye-lids or removing your hands from over them. The ability to see clearly is already present. So confused seeing is the result of mental and emotional clutter that obscures seeing clearly.
Much as muddy water clears as long as it is not agitated, allowing the sediment to settle, my own experience is that seeing clears naturally when it is not agitated. What I notice is that when thoughts used to come up for me, I often gave them more importance than they deserved. And when unpleasant emotions arose I gave them too much importance too. This resulted in a lot of agitation. I would feel anxious and I had a sense of urgency, a feeling that I must do something to resolve the whole mess. But the more I focused on that thought-feeling whirlwind, the more agitated I became – the less clear my seeing. I came to believe that my worth was determined by what other people thought of me, whether or not they approved of my body.
Seeing thoughts for what they are – thoughts and nothing more – was perhaps the only thing necessary for me to begin to see clearly. By seeing that thoughts are just thoughts I stopped giving them so much importance. And for me, what naturally followed was that I began to see that emotions and feelings are also just emotions and feelings, nothing more. Where I used to react to emotions and feelings with more thought – trying to figure it all out and make it better – I stopped reacting and just noticed. And little by little, my seeing cleared and my life became more vibrant and lighter. And love is the natural state that becomes clear as the agitation ceases and the sediment settles.
So really, ultimately, who determines your self-image? Is it “them” or is it you? And if it is you, then why stop short of complete self-love? Whether you are “too fat” or “too thin” or “too tall” or “too short” or too anything else (or not enough of anything else,) what happens when you let thoughts thoughts settle and fall away as they naturally do when you stop agitating your own mind and body?
I’ll tell you something that I’ve heard again and again from all sorts of people: confidence is attractive. Again, I’m not talking about egotistic or narcissistic “confidence.” I’m talking about genuine, easy, natural confidence that flows effortlessly from those who live and breathe and move from love – meaning meeting every moment and every experience with spontaneous curiosity. It’s not about liking everything. I’t just about being curious and not believing any thought to be the actual truth. And it’s about wisdom – the wisdom of recognizing that in life there are choices, and life is much more enjoyable and wonderful when we choose love. Again, I’m not talking about naivete or a sort of pollyanna worldview. I’m plenty cynical. But I’m also happy. I’m skeptical. But I choose love. And the truth is that I enjoy walking around shirtless in the summer sun. I enjoy the shape and appearance of my body. My body doesn’t conform to the cultural standard of beauty. But so what?
First off, let’s get some terminology out of the way.
Lyme disease – also known as borreliosis, is an infectious disease thought to be caused by a microscopic organism called borrelia. Lyme disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose. However, classic symptoms include sudden-onset fever following a tick bite, the tell-tale “bulls-eye” rash, and migrating joint pain.
chronic Lyme disease – also known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, is the presentation of lingering symptoms (or appearance of new symptoms) following the resolution of a case of Lyme disease.
IDSA – The Infectious Diseases Society of America is a medical association with a focus on infectious diseases. IDSA makes clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of infectious diseases, including Lyme disease.
CDC – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a federal agency of the United States responsible for “protecting public health.”
ILADS – The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society is a medical association that advocates for a wider recognition of chronic Lyme disease. Furthermore, ILADS makes its own treatment guidelines for chronic Lyme disease.
LLMD – A Lyme literate medical doctor is an unofficial self-designated title that some medical professionals choose to describe themselves. LLMDs typically follow the ILADS guidelines to some extent, and they are known to diagnose chronic Lyme disease.
So imagine for a moment that you are sick. Very sick. You are extraordinarily fatigued all the time. Not just “I’m tired” fatigued, but the sort of fatigue where you literally spend hours trying to talk yourself into standing up to go to the bathroom because you have to pee but you’re so exhausted that it seems better to hold it in rather than expend the precious energy needed to walk 20 feet. You’re tired all the time, but you cannot sleep. In addition to the extreme fatigue, you also cannot seem to think straight and you experience mood swings that leave your few remaining friends walking on eggshells around you. Working a job is next to impossible, so chances are you lost yours a while back. And when you go to your doctor you’re told that there’s nothing wrong with you and it must all be in your head. This is a taste of the experience of chronic Lyme disease. Of course, the symptoms are widely varied, and there is no official, standard definition for chronic Lyme disease, and so many who have this affliction may experience vastly different symptoms.
Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose. Although there are other vectors, ticks are one of the most common. So sudden-onset fever following a tick bite is a good indicator. Add to that a “bull’s eye” rash, and you’ve got a pretty clear case of Lyme disease. However, reportedly, not all cases of Lyme disease ever present these tell-tale symptoms. Without a clear route of infection and a bull’s eye rash, Lyme disease is difficult to differentiate from many other mysterious diseases such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis. In fact, many of the symptoms are overlapping with these other conditions So the next step is to use medical tests to determine if Lyme disease is likely. The problems here are many. For one thing, apparently few doctors will order these tests or even suggest the possibility to patients, particularly in areas with low incidences of confirmed Lyme disease. But then there is the issue of the accuracy of the tests for Lyme disease. While the CDC maintains that the tests are accurate by at least 65% (a number that seems very low to begin with,) other organizations state that the tests are next to useless because of their inaccuracy.
Now, if a doctor has clinical evidence and/or test results suggesting Lyme disease, and if the doctor is reasonably Lyme literate (which seems to be a big “if” in many areas,) then in most cases such a doctor would follow the IDSA treatment guidelines. According to the IDSA guidelines the recommended treatment is a three-week course of antibiotics. In many cases this seems to work. But sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s where it gets even more complicated.
The tests for Lyme disease test for the presence of antibodies. In a person who has been infected it is expected that the antibodies will continue to be present even after the infecting bacteria have been successfully killed. Put two and two together and you quickly realize that there is no way to test to determine if a treatment has been successful other than the absence of symptoms. The trouble is that after a three week course of antibiotics most doctors will consider that the disease has been successfully treated regardless of presenting symptoms.
According to the CDC reports, there have been an average of 24,000 confirmed new cases of Lyme disease every year in recent years, and the numbers have been trending upward since 1977 when the disease was first identified. (Incidentally, since I wrote this, the CDC has issued press release that they are going to modify their number of confirmed cases to 300,000 a year! I’m not even going to publicly speculate about what could have motivated this extreme change in numbers.) The CDC further reports that as many as 20% of those treated for Lyme disease will continue to have symptoms, something that the CDC calls post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. Add to that all the unconfirmed and unreported cases, and you’ve got a whole lot of chronically sick people who are receiving little to no support from any official channels.
With so many sick people and with the obviously short-sighted IDSA guidelines it should come as no surprise that there would be all sorts of angry responses. The responses range from lobbying groups to conspiracy theories suggesting that Lyme disease is a bioterrorism agent leaked from the government laboratory on Plum Island.
And then there is ILADS. ILADS challenges the CDC’s claim that there is no such thing as chronic Lyme disease. ILADS encourages sick people to get a second (or third or fourth) opinion and to ignore negative test results. ILADS also advocates for long-term uses of antibiotics, a highly-controversial practice that the CDC expressly advises against. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has sponsored four studies examining the efficacy of long-term antibiotic use for Lyme disease. Two of the studies found no discernable difference in outcomes between short-term and long-term antibiotic use. The other two studies found that long-term antibiotic use offered no greater outcomes in terms of Lyme disease but did create other problems such as drug-resistant infections and even death in some cases. And so it is that the CDC and ILADS are two sides in what has come to be known as the Lyme wars, with lots of sick people as casualties.
LLMDs typically have waiting lists many months long. Insurance companies usually cover little to nothing of the expenses of visiting with LLMDs or following their treatment protocols. So visiting LLMDs turns out to be very expensive. But many people turn to this option because all other medical professionals have failed them. The trouble, aside from the expense, is that there is no way to have confidence in the diagnosis of an LLMD. By definition there is no real definition for chronic Lyme disease. ILADS suggests ignoring test results. And just about any symptoms can be chalked up to chronic Lyme. LLMDs are in the business of diagnosing Lyme. So from my perspective a diagnosis from an LLMD is largely worthless.
Truth be told, a good number of LLMDs do seem to help some people get well again. However, there are no studies to demonstrate the efficacy of their treatments. So we are left to “take their word for it.” But the LLMDs’ words don’t mean much because the truth is that even they don’t have good information unless they are following up long-term with every one of their patients – which they are not. And it isn’t hard to find patients who have taken the six months (or more) of various antibiotics, antifungals, and all the other “anti-”s only to find themselves sicker and poorer to boot. So while I’m not questioning the intentions of many LLMDs, I do question the efficacy of what they do.
Like many things, I suspect that the truth of this whole thing is found somewhere in the middle rather than at the extremes. It seems rather obvious that the IDSA and CDC are dropping the ball and failing to provide real help to people. They are leaving a lot of people in the lurch. At the same time, ILADS and LLMDs are capitalizing on this situation. Because IDSA and CDC have failed to provide any sort of practical definitions that have applicability to the real world, ILADS and LLMDs can get away with diagnosing a disease (chronic Lyme disease) for which they provide no real definition and for which they offer no tests whatsoever.
In the spring of 2010 I lived in the woods in New England. I slept on the forest floor. I pulled tens of ticks off of myself daily. And then I had a sudden-onset fever followed by a bull’s eye rash. Then I had several months of migrating joint swelling and pain. The next two years I couldn’t sleep, I was extremely fatigued, my digestion failed, and I had extreme mood swings. I was angry and irritable for no reason. I was depressed. I lost 40 pounds after already being slightly underweight. Due to a distrust in the medical system and an aversion to pharmaceuticals coupled with extreme anxiety, I never went to see a doctor. But I did try every “alternative” approach I could. I tried various dietary modifications. I tried many different herbal protocols. I fasted. I sweat. I even sank so low as to try and “zap” myself healthy with a small electronic device. But I remained sick. I was convinced that I had chronic Lyme disease.
Then I started eating 5000 calories a day, including plenty of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. And miraculously, I felt well. Not all of my symptoms disappeared overnight. But most of them did. I put on 50 pounds. I had energy enough that I built two cabins. I could carry my kids around and toss them up in the air. I found myself sprinting spontaneously on occasion!
For reasons that are too complex to describe, I stopped eating as much after some months. I switched to an ideological diet that most closely resembled a low-carb paleo diet. And I started feeling terrible again. I lost weight. I lost energy. No matter what I tried, I just felt sick.
After far too long sticking with that restrictive diet, I finally had sense enough to re-evaluate. I measured my resting pulse, and found that it was 50 bpm. My basal temperature was 96 F. I had problems with frequent urination. My hands and feet were cold. I had food sensitivities. I had all the signs of low metabolism. And so I decided to do the only sensible thing, and start eating large amounts of food in an unrestricted fashion once again. Unsurprisingly, once again I felt better and better as I continued to eat enough.
So what am I suggesting here? Am I suggesting that all people with “chronic Lyme disease” are really suffering from nothing more than low metabolism – that they can all heal completely by eating lots of food, including all macronutrients? No. Of course not. That would be naive and insulting. But I am suggesting this: that improving metabolism is a sensible first step and is likely to help no matter what, even if it does not prove to be the solution to all the problems. Certainly individuals should do whatever they believe is best – be that seeing a doctor or not, using pharmaceuticals or not, using herbs or not, etc. But improving metabolic function is compatible with just about anything else that a person may or may not do. As such, it makes a lot of sense to take some steps to improve metabolic function. Plus, it’s relatively cheap and easy!
You can find plenty of advice for improving metabolism elsewhere on this site, and so I won’t attempt to summarize it all here. But I will offer you my own personal top recommendations for improving metabolism and feeling better overall.
Relax your body. Stress of any kind, typically built upon anxious thoughts, starts a chain reaction of stress responses in the body, eventually adversely affecting metabolic function. When you notice that you have anxious thoughts or feel any stress, focus on relaxing your body. What I’ve noticed is that it is darn near impossible to relax thinking by focusing on it. But it is amazing how relaxing muscles in the body seems to relieve anxious thoughts. My suggestion is to just notice where you hold tension in your body, and consciously relax those muscles over and over for as long as necessary until you can relax without trying. Do you hold your jaw tight? Is your tongue relaxed? What about your shoulders? Is your forehead furrowed? What are you doing with your belly? Are your feet tensed? Just notice, and relax one muscle at a time.
Question your thoughts. If you notice that you are feeling stressed about something, question whether you can truly be certain about your beliefs regarding whatever it is. The truth is that we can never be certain. And so be willing to perceive other, less stressful, possibilities.
Pay attention to your breathing habits. If you are a mouth breather then work on breathing through your nose. Nasal breathing not only filters and warms air, but it also provides the benefit of creating nitrous oxide (NO.) NO is a vasodilator, which means it is a relaxant. In other words, nasal breathing is a natural stress reliever. Also, notice if your breathing is relaxed or if it is forced. The anatomy of breathing dictates that natural breathing uses a muscular contraction (of the thoracic diaphragm) on inhale and is completely relaxed and passive on the exhale. If you force the exhale then relax instead. And if you notice that you rely on auxiliary breathing muscles such as shoulders, chest, or neck, then relax those muscles. The more relaxed your breathing, the easier it is to relax more fully.
Eat food. Lots of it. If you’re sick it logically follows that you need extra energy to heal. Food provides that energy. If you don’t eat enough you make it impossible to heal. I expect that an average adult needs probably 3000+ calories a day. Obviously that number will vary depending on size, sex, age, etc. But if you’re eating significantly less than 3000 calories then chances are you need to eat more. And more is better in this case.
Give up the restrictions. Low carb? Gluten free? Sugar free? Low salt? Vegan? Casein free? Guess what? Unless you have a genuine allergy to a food, you are probably hurting your ability to heal by cutting out foods. Especially if you are starting from a place of compromised digestion function, you need to get calories from easy-to-digest sources. In my own personal experience carbohydrates, particularly sugars, have been extremely important. Salt is also important for me. And many other people report similar experiences. Adequate protein also seems to be helpful when healing. So while I don’t advocate for a high protein diet, I believe that including quality protein sources such as dairy, egg, and various other animal foods is helpful. The bottom line is, eat according to your desires, and give up the ideologies. If you desire starch or sugar then eat starch or sugar. If you desire cheese then eat cheese. And make sure you are eating enough. Often times eating enough is the real challenge, and so you may need to keep track of your calories and find ways to increase calories if you are eating too little. It is extremely unlikely that you will eat “too much.” If you are hungry enough to eat 10,000 calories (or more) in a day then that is not too much. When healing plenty of people do eat that much. So there is no real upper limit. Just make sure you are eating a reasonable minimum, which is likely to be at least 3000 calories if you are healing. (Note that most people will – at least initially – gain weight when they start eating enough after having eaten too little and lowered metabolic rate. Gaining weight in such an instance seems to be mostly inevitable. I understand that many people have a strong psychological aversion to gaining weight. That is a topic for another post.)
Lay off the polyunsaturated fats. I know that I just said to give up the restrictions. And I mean that. So if you truly crave soy oil or canola oil, then I guess you should eat them. But otherwise, ditch them – especially if you were eating them for ideological reasons (i.e. because the experts told you to.) I believe that high levels of dietary polyunsaturated fat suppresses metabolic function. And, frankly, who wants to eat spoonfuls of that stuff? On the other hand, most people genuinely enjoy butter! So consider eating saturated fats in place of polyunsaturated fats if you enjoy them (the saturated fats, that is.)
Those are my recommendations. It’s not a cure-all. Nor is this a comprehensive list of every consideration for metabolic healing. But this ought to provide a good foundation.
The experience of chronic Lyme disease is a real one. But the causes are uncertain. My hypothesis is that some people with chronic Lyme disease (so-called) are really suffering from little more than low metabolism that may itself be the result of a previous Lyme disease infection or from some other (non-Lyme) infection. In other words, Lyme disease (or other infections) may lower metabolism so that even after the infecting bacteria are killed, the person will continue to experience a great many unpleasant symptoms. On the other hand, in some cases it is likely that there may be lingering infections – whether from borrelia or from so-called co-infecting pathogens. It is possible that raising metabolism will resolve some of those infections by itself. In other people the infections may persist after improving metabolism. But in either case, raising metabolism seems like a logical first step. Or, at a minimum, it is sensible to do in conjunction with other treatments.
To be clear, my recommendations are for so-called chronic Lyme disease. If you have reason to believe that you have recently been infected with Lyme disease then that is another issue, and one for which I do not wish to make any recommendations at this time. As I have already stated, I had a very clear case of Lyme disease, and I never chose to use antibiotics. On the other hand, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that antibiotics often do clear up Lyme disease if caught early enough. I don’t wish to argue for any course of action in terms of recent infections. However, if you have reason to believe that you have or may have so-called chronic Lyme disease, then my suggestion is that as a foundation for any other course of treatment you could hardly go wrong by improving metabolic function with my aforementioned recommendations. It is possible that in some cases this alone will restore health. In other cases it may not, but it may make some improvements. If nothing else, my recommendations are relatively inexpensive and quite unlikely to cause major medical complications whereas long-term use of antibiotics is both expensive and risky. In some cases long-term antibiotics may be necessary. Personally, I would want to rule out other possibilities first.