Probiotics are live micro-organisms designed to add or replenish friendly bacteria in the gut. Foods can be probiotic if they contain live bacteria. Live yogurt is one of the best-known probiotic foods – others include raw cheese, sauerkraut, miso soup, kefir, kombucha or any other foods that have been fermented or use live cultures.
Bacteria have a terrible reputation. They are seen as disease carriers and signs of a dirty home or an unclean body. They are seen as a dangerous invisible presence that should be eradicated wherever they might possibly appear.
This is in spite of an enormous body of medical and scientific research showing that bacteria are essential for all life.
Last year I visited Costa Rica, for a family graduation. I travelled round the country on my own for a couple of weeks, staying in some beautiful remote jungle areas, before meeting up with the family for the big event.
Just before I returned to San Jose, the capital city, to meet up with my family, I noticed a large circular red mark on my left arm.
The bull’s eye mark is clear to see on my left arm in the main photo and inset.
When I met up with my sister a few days later, she spotted the mark and said it looked like Lyme disease. My sister is a doctor, and she told me that Lyme disease required immediate treatment with antibiotics – otherwise it can stay in your system for years.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by a tick. You don’t have to be in a tropical country to contract it, but infection is more likely to occur when the skin is exposed. This is why hikers are often advised to wear clothing that covers their legs when walking in areas with long grass or high vegetation.
Usually the first sign that you’ve contracted Lyme disease is a distinctive red or pink circular rash with a dot in the middle, often described as a “bull’s eye” rash. However some people don’t develop this rash when they contract the disease.
Flu-like symptoms often occur in the early stages of Lyme disease: headaches, fatigue, joint pains and a high temperature. But if the disease is not treated, later symptoms can be much more serious, including fatigue, joint pain and swelling, numbness, paralysis of the facial muscles, headaches and heart problems.
Many people believe that they have chronic effects from Lyme disease, sometimes appearing long after the original infection. This is an area of controversy, but given that the ticks that pass on Lyme disease may pass on more than one type of bacteria, it does seem possible.
Symptoms can vary from country to country, as ticks can carry more than one disease. Strictly speaking, Lyme disease is Lyme borreliosis, spread by Borrelia type bacteria, but other common infections from ticks in the UK include babesiosis and ehrlichiosis.
Ticks are small black creatures related to spiders. They can be as small as a poppy seed, so they are not easy to identify. If one lands on your skin and starts to feed on your blood, it could stay there for five to seven days before dropping off.
If you spot a tick on your own or someone else’s body, it’s not advisable to just brush it off with your hand – unless you have just seen the tick landing on the skin.
The tick will burrow into the skin in order to feed on the host’s blood, and if it’s roughly brushed off leaving part of it or the contents of its stomach or mouth in the skin, the infection could be passed on. So it’s important to remove the whole tick very carefully, using either fine tweezers or a special tick removal tool, as described here.
If you are infected and the “bull’s eye” develops, the only way known to science to cure the infection is by taking a course of antibiotics.
When I realised I had Lyme disease, I did a bit of research to see if a natural cure might be possible. I didn’t find any satisfactory natural alternative to antibiotics, and I didn’t want to risk symptoms lingering in my system, possibly for years.
Luckily for me, I was due to return home a few days after my bull’s eye rash developed, and my doctor prescribed an antibiotic. Antibiotics can trigger a lot of side-effects, as they can wipe out a lot of “friendly” gut bacteria along with the targeted pathogens, so as a precaution I ate a lot of fresh raw vegetables during and after my course of antibiotics.
Towards the end of the course I developed a slight burning feeling in my gut, so I made myself a daily litre of a special anti-inflammatory juice that I used to make up for a former customer of my juice café. The ingredients are greens, celery, cucumber, lemon or lime, fresh turmeric, fresh ginger and black pepper.
After a few days of taking those, the burning sensations completely disappeared.
I’ve had no recurrence of the bull’s eye mark, and if it ever happens again, I’ll certainly recognise it.
What happens if you don’t know you’ve contracted Lyme disease?
Having read a bit more since then, it seems there is a strong argument for natural treatment of Lyme disease – although if it happened to me again I would probably still take the antibiotics.
Not everyone gets the “bull’s eye” mark, and even those who do might not notice it until it’s too late. It seems likely that many people are living with the condition without knowing that they have it.
If you have a strong, diverse gut flora, new pathogens may not stand a chance
The bacteria passed on by ticks will take their place in your gut along with your other gut bacteria.
If you have a strong, diverse gut flora, the theory goes, the new pathogens may not stand a chance. We all carry many different types of bacteria in our gut, some more helpful to us than others. Researchers have found pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria living peacefully in the crevices of many healthy people – we are all probably harbouring some pathogens that usually do us no harm.
That’s why it’s crucially important to keep the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract healthy and diverse, by consuming prebiotics to lay the groundwork in which friendly bacteria can flourish, and probiotics, to introduce good bacteria and encourage them to stick around.
Or simply by eating a balanced diet containing ample amounts of fruit, vegetables and plant fibre to feed your healthy bacteria, as well as taking regular exercise, limiting stress and getting out in the sunshine when you can.