There’s no specific “Lyme disease diet” at this time. Fortunately, most people fully recover from Lyme disease after taking antibiotics.
Preliminary research suggests that certain plant oils have antibacterial effects that may support Lyme disease treatment and reduce lingering symptoms. Additionally, anti-inflammatory compounds in certain foods may boost your immune system to help you recover from Lyme and other infections.
This article explains how an anti-inflammatory diet may be beneficial, how it works, what foods to eat, and whether it might be a good choice for you.
A study conducted by researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University found evidence that oils from garlic and other medicinal plants help fend off the germs responsible for Lyme disease, particularly the form of the bacteria associated with lingering and resistant symptoms such as fatigue and joint pain.
Not eating enough protein is a known risk factor for infection. However, this issue isn’t common in the United States.
Beyond getting enough high-quality protein, dietary patterns that include omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, and micronutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, B vitamins, selenium, iron, and phytonutrients (beneficial plant compounds) have been shown to support the immune system.
Diets high in saturated fats, trans fats, and refined sugar have adverse effects on the immune system. To simplify the recommendations, many experts advise following a Mediterranean diet—which meets the guidelines above—to reduce inflammation.
How It Works
In addition to garlic cloves, essential oils from cinnamon bark, myrrh trees, thyme leaves, allspice berries, and cumin seeds demonstrated “strong killing activity against dormant and slow-growing forms of the Lyme disease bacterium.”
Essential oils are concentrated liquids from plants that are often used in aromatherapy. In aromatherapy, the oils are inhaled through a diffuser or diluted in oil and applied topically (to the skin).
Although this initial research is promising, essential oils are not a replacement for standard antibiotic treatment. The essential oils listed are not considered safe to ingest in high quantities. Clinical studies examining the effects of essential oils in human subjects are needed to inform future recommendations.
Inflammation happens when your body recognizes something harmful (such as infections, injuries, and toxins) and triggers a response to fight it. While inflammation is a natural part of fighting an infection, excessive or chronic (long-term) inflammation may lead to a variety of health issues.
Choosing anti-inflammatory foods can help slow down the inflammatory process. However, there is no direct research proving a perfect dietary pattern for Lyme disease.
Anti-inflammatory foods include tomatoes and green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale; fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, and cherries; fatty fish such as salmon and tuna; and a healthy oil like olive oil. Nuts and coffee, which contain polyphenols, an anti-inflammatory compound, may protect against inflammation as well.
Unless stated otherwise by your physician, a Mediterranean diet is considered a healthy option for life. Rather than seeing it as a short-term choice to help your body recover from Lyme disease, adopting a long-term Mediterranean diet may improve your body’s ability to fight off future diseases as well.
What to Eat
The Mediterranean diet is a style of eating that’s rich in anti-inflammatory compounds. Along with potential benefits to the immune system, a Mediterranean diet may ward off brain issues like dementia and depression.
All fruits such as berries, peaches, cherries, and apricots
Beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh
Dried herbs and spices
Extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, and olives
Milk, plain Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese
Non-starchy vegetables such as eggplant, peppers, artichokes, and dark greens
Nuts such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and cashews
Starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and root vegetables
Water, coffee, and tea
Whole-grain bread and other whole grains such as quinoa, barley, and brown rice
Refined grains such as white bread, white pasta, and pizza dough containing white flour
Refined oils, like soybean oil
Foods with added sugar such as cookies, cakes, and sodas
Deli meats, hot dogs, bacon, and other processed meats
Soda, fruit juice, and sweetened coffee drinks
Ice cream and processed cheeses such as American cheese
Make Healthy Swaps
Focus on choosing fresh foods over packaged foods which tend to be more processed, and make vegetables the central part of your meal. First, try thinking about foods you can swap, like fish for red meat or olive oil for canola oil.
Experiment with new foods like whole grains, or try a new recipe made from beans and legumes. Buy a variety of spices and herbs, either dry or fresh, to flavor your food.
Increase Fruits and Veggies
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes seven to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, so look for opportunities to add more fruits and vegetables to your meals, such as adding peppers to your eggs, adding avocado and tomato to your sandwich, or pairing an apple with whole-grain crackers.
Fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation. Whitefish and shellfish, although high in protein, are not as high in omega-3s.
The Mediterranean diet does not recommend the specific timing of meals. However, other studies suggest that consuming most calories earlier in the day and extending the overnight fast by not snacking at night may reduce inflammation.
Eating a diet with more focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans may seem daunting. You may be used to planning your meal around the meat, so giving center stage to vegetables and whole grains may take a little extra planning and creativity.
Think ahead about your meals to make sure that you have the proper ingredients on hand. Sauté foods in olive oil rather than deep-frying them, and try making your salad dressing from healthier oils and avocado.
While some alternative medicine treatments (like essential oil therapy) come with potential risks, the Mediterranean diet is a nutritious way of eating that focuses on whole and natural foods. Herbal remedies may not be safe and could interfere with Lyme disease antibiotics or other medications you’re taking.
Always talk to your doctor before making significant changes to your diet or taking supplements, especially when you’re undergoing treatment for an acute condition like Lyme disease.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) recognizes the benefits of a “healthy Mediterranean-style eating pattern” in the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. According to the USDA, the Mediterranean diet offers higher intakes of fruit and seafood when compared to a healthy U.S.-style eating pattern.
The nutrient content is similar, however, since the Mediterranean diet includes lower intakes of dairy; calcium and vitamin D intakes may also be lower.
Sustainability and Practicality
Following a specific style of eating is often easier at home than during social events. However, the Mediterranean diet is an exception. Since it includes an array of foods, the Mediterranean diet translates well into both home and social eating situations.
The Mediterranean diet allows for a wide variety of palatable foods. Making the transition away from high-sugar processed snacks or fast food can be an adjustment, but with some practice and creativity, the Mediterranean diet is flexible enough to suit most taste preferences and budgets.
The Mediterranean diet centers around home-cooked food rather than restaurant meals or processed foods. Cooking your own meals can be a money-saver, depending on how you shop.
While seafood, nuts, and olives tend to be higher-cost items, followers of the Mediterranean diet can save money by balancing their plate with plenty of beans, lentils, and brown rice.
Purchasing fruits and vegetables in season and taking the time to prepare them yourself (rather than choosing precut items) can help to stretch your food dollar on the Mediterranean diet.
Excess weight gain is considered pro-inflammatory. Although the Mediterranean diet is high in satiating nutrients, like healthy fats and fiber, it’s possible to gain unhealthy weight when your energy intake is off balance.
Continue to be mindful of portion sizes and incorporate regular physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle on the Mediterranean diet.
If there are specific foods you are unable to eat due to a food allergy or intolerance, such as nuts, speak with a registered dietitian to modify the Mediterranean diet to suit your body.
In addition to antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease, an anti-inflammatory diet might be beneficial. A Mediterranean diet is one that can be used long term to support your immune function.
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A Word From Verywell
Diet is not the number one factor in Lyme disease prevention or treatment. Avoiding tick bites, seeking early care for suspected infections, and following through on your doctor’s recommended antibiotic treatments are crucial to reducing your risk of severe symptoms.
While alternative therapies can seem enticing, they aren’t always the best course of action. Nonetheless, complementing Lyme disease treatment by using nutrition to lower inflammation throughout your body stands to benefit your immune system and general health.