Lyme disease can deplete your vitamin D levels–which ironically, are essential in your recovery. Read about the positive effects of Vitamin D and techniques to increase it.
While kayaking recently, a friend noticed that I was getting a lot of sun on my face and asked if I wanted a hat. “No thanks,” I replied. “I’m wearing sunscreen, and I want to soak up as much vitamin D as I can.”
There were summers during my convalescence from tick-borne illness when I couldn’t be in the sun at all, due to the phototoxicity of the medication I was on. Doxycycline, the most common antibiotic used to treat Lyme disease, can cause you to be very sensitive to the sun. When I was on doxycycline or other antibiotics in the same family, my face would feel like it was on fire if I was exposed for more than five minutes. I spent summers bundled in protective shirts, under hats and umbrellas in the shade.
A former camp counselor who spent every day in the sun before I got sick, summers in the shade were not my style. Now that I am in remission, I want to (carefully) get as much sun as possible, making up for lost time and summer glow. But it’s not just sun-kissed cheeks that I’m after. I literally am trying to soak up vitamin D, provided by the sun, because I know that Lyme disease can cause a deficiency in that vitamin.
The Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, directly reduces vitamin D receptor expression in immune cells. Low vitamin D can be involved in immune dysfunction and autoimmunity, so Lyme patients who are already struggling with compromised immune systems may be further compromised by a vitamin deficiency. As Clinical Nutritionist Lindsay Christensen, MS, CNS, LDN, CKNS explains in her blog post “Lyme Disease Nutrition Tips for Optimal Immune Function,” Vitamin D3 is “essential for healthy immune function. Within the innate immune system, vitamin D3 supports the production of cathelicidin, an antimicrobial peptide (protein) that protects the body against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Vitamin D3 also regulates dendritic cells, which are immune cells that ‘bridge the gap’ between the innate and adaptive immune system branches and may help defend the body against Borrelia.”
In other words, the very vitamin that can be depleted by Lyme disease is also necessary to help fight it.
So what should Lyme patients do? First, make sure your doctor is monitoring your vitamin D levels. A blood test can tell you whether you have a deficiency. If you do, sunshine, and certain foods like egg yolks and fatty cold-water fish, can help you get vitamin D. You also may need to supplement with vitamin D3 to maintain what Christensen describes as “an optimal vitamin D3 level of 40-60 ng/mL, which is tighter than the 30-60 ng/mL range suggested by most labs.”
Testing vitamin D levels can also help a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor (LLMD) determine if you have Lyme disease, if you have symptoms but have not yet been diagnosed. Though not a definitive diagnostic marker (low vitamin D is also seen in other conditions like multiple sclerosis), low vitamin D can be a tip-off that Lyme disease could be the cause of your symptoms.
Vitamin D is not the only vitamin that can be affected by Lyme disease, or that you may need more of to help fight tick-borne illness. Many Lyme patients have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Others have anemia or low ferretin. It’s important that your doctor do regular blood work to check for any nutritional deficiencies, and then you can determine together how to best supplement them, to support your overall healing. In the meanwhile, as long as you’re not on a phototoxic drug, sticking your face in the sun can’t hurt!
The above material is provided for information purposes only. The material (a) is not nor should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, nor (b) does it necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of Global Lyme Alliance, Inc. or any of its directors, officers, advisors or volunteers. Advice on the testing, treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history. *Make sure to protect your skin when in the sun.
Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. Her work has appeared in local and national publications including Harvard Health Publishing and The Boston Globe. As a GLA columnist for over six years, her work on GLA.org has received mention in publications such as The New Yorker, weatherchannel.com, CQ Researcher, and ProHealth.com. Jennifer is a patient advocate who has dealt with chronic illness, including Lyme and other tick-borne infections. Her memoir, One Tick Stopped the Clock, is forthcoming from Legacy Book Press in September 2024. Ten percent of proceeds from the book will go to Global Lyme Alliance. Contact her via email below.