Friday, September 27, 2013

Lecithin Granules for Life's Little Lapses

Have you ever walked into a room and paused, forgetting momentarily why you'd wanted to go there? I'll be surprised if anyone says no. I suspect it has happened to all of us at one time or another. As we get older, it can happen more and more. We do remember, usually within a second or two, so I wouldn't call it a memory issue, necessarily; more like a lapse in attention. The older I get, the more I understand the true literal meaning of "absentmindedness."  :-)

This summer I've dealt with numerous tick bites and resulting symptoms, including brain fog. Brain fog feels like there's a vaseline-coated barrier between your brain and the world around you. Thinking slows down, and as my son said to me last month, "It seemed like you couldn't pay attention to anything, not even a conversation." I couldn't.

Another facet of brain fog was an extreme form of the the brief blank moments described above. Not only would I forget why I'd entered a room, but I would forget why I'd walked seven steps across the kitchen. Or I would overshoot my goal and walk 9 or 10 steps before I realized I'd walked right past it. As with the other example, I would remember almost immediately, but that "almost" was beyond annoying. After weeks of this, it was scary.

Then I remembered something I learned about back in the 80's. A study showed that lecithin, a food product present in egg whites and soybeans, greatly improved this exact kind of mental lapse in the elderly. It improves neurotransmitter contact, and only the granules (not capsules) were effective. My dad was in his 80's at the time. I told him what I'd read, and he started taking a couple of tablespoons of lecithin granules a day. It's cheap and easy to take. He lived to be 90, and never had a memory issue that I'm aware of. (His insistence that teenagers were having sex in his garage doesn't count.)

I took it for a while back then, too, and so did my husband. But we did it mostly for lecithin's other benefit: It breaks up blood fats and is very good for heart health.

One of my stepdaughters took lecithin as well—not on my recommendation, but because the instructor in her LSAT course (the course she'd paid $$$ thousands for) told the class to start taking lecithin granules two weeks before the test to improve their scores. She did, and she got into Harvard Law.

So a couple of weeks ago I remembered all that, and I got myself a container of non-GMO lecithin granules. I started taking two heaping teaspoons a day, which I figure is more or less the equivalent of two tablespoons. Like I said, it's easy to take. You can eat it plain, by the spoonful, but that's sort of like munching on tiny pieces of wax. You can add it to beverages or just about anything, but these days I've been mixing it into yogurt.

Results are supposed to be noticeable in two weeks, but in 10 days I was the biggest fan of lecithin granules you could ever imagine.

Here's a brief article on lecithin and its benefits. The author isn't an MD . . . but can you imagine med school including a lecture on lecithin granules? I can't.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

At the Mercy of a Merciless Tick, Part II

I wrote in June about the toll tick bites have taken on my health. As the summer progressed, I realized just how much of a toll was involved. In recent years it has taken some time to adjust to the physical demands of spring and summer; after sitting at my desk or in my rug hooking chair all winter, I had to build up some stamina before I felt on top of things like lawn mowing. This year I had to face the fact that there was no stamina to be had.

There were days when my arms felt too weak to push my "personal pace" lawn mower. Even when I wasn't mowing, there were days when I struggled to walk up the slight grade on the path from my garage to the house. I've lived here 38 years--I can't even estimate how many times I've walked that path without giving it a thought. The only time I was even aware of the grade was in winter when it was icy and I was in danger of sliding down.

Every morning for the past two years I would wake up and break into a sweat. Summer, winter, it didn't matter. I keep my bedroom cool all year round, and in winter, with woodstove burned down by morning, my room was cold. Still I would sweat.

People who know about Lyme disease and its co-infections say sweats are common with both babesiosis and bartonella. Sadly, the people who seem to be the most informed about tick-borne illness are not physicians. At least not physicians within 100 miles of me. I also read that the weird rash I had last year (the one two doctors couldn't identify) looked like it might have been caused by bartonella.

People have Lyme and babesiosis. They have Lyme and bartonella. Or they can have them without Lyme. There are other combinations too. A couple more diseases are well-known Lyme co-infections, and more have appeared in the news in recent months. Ticks in the Hudson Valley area of New York, just north of us, have been found to carry encephalitis. And also in New York state, farther north, ticks have been found to carry the Powassun virus, which has a 30% fatality rate.

This summer I have had eight known tick bites (so far).

I send the ticks to a nice guy who runs a program in a neighboring county. I enclose a couple of dollars. He can tell how long the ticks were attached, and he faxes this information to my doctor. We've gotten into a routine.

At one point this summer I knew I'd been bitten before I found the tick. My right knee suddenly hurt in a specific way, and I knew. There's a certain Lyme knee pain. I've experienced it before, and it's unmistakable. I searched for a tick, found one on my foot, and requested a prescription for doxycycline. Then I found two more ticks, one in back of that right knee.

I started on the doxy, and my knee pain was gone in two days. After three weeks I felt better than I had in two years. My energy probably wasn't where it should be for a healthy person my age, but it had increased dramatically. My muscles were stronger, my breathing better. Much of the brain fog that has plagued me cleared up. Most amazing to me, the morning sweats stopped.

There's no consensus on how long one should take doxycycline. Two days . . . ten days . . . three weeks . . . a year . . . I've heard them all, and more. I took it for a total of five months in 2010 and 2011, but this time after three weeks I decided to stop. It was probably a bad decision. Doxy is hard on the stomach, and is a nuisance in other ways. You have to cover your head in the sun or your hair will fall out. You can't ingest calcium or magnesium within two hours of taking the twice-daily pill, so things like yogurt must be scheduled. I was just tired of taking doxycycline, and my improved well-being probably gave me a false sense of optimism.

I continued to feel better in the ensuing weeks. I was certain it wouldn't last, but I felt encouraged. Doxy is one of the two meds needed to treat babesiosis, and the fact that one of those meds made me feel so much better was a good sign, I thought.

Then the knee pain struck again. Hard. Once again I knew I'd been bitten, but I couldn't find it. I started back on the doxy. When I'd just about decided that the tick must be on my back somewhere, I discovered what might be a tick bite on my leg (the right one again). It took a strong magnifying glass to ID the tick. It was the smallest I'd ever seen. I've seen nymphs--many of them--but this might have been a larva.

This time the knee pain didn't go away. It improved, but it's still very much in evidence. My other symptoms came back, including the sweats. Once again, it takes some effort to do anything. The hardest part of all this is the lack of a clear plan of action. I don't know what to do. I don't know anyone who's been cured, and I haven't even read of anyone who's been cured. The last time I visited one of the online Lyme message boards, I couldn't get off fast enough. It is almost literally dizzying to read everyone's symptom lists and supplement lists, their detox programs, the amount of money they're spending on cures that never happen, the drugs that didn't work, the new drugs they're trying, the trips to Germany and Switzerland and Florida, and on and on and on and on.

There's a woman in town, much younger than I, who is escorted everywhere by her husband. She smiles at everyone, and recognizes no one. She used to be a teacher. She was popular and bright. When her dementia began, they thought it was early Alzheimer's. But it turned out to be late-stage Lyme.

We live in a "hot" area of tick activity, and I worry about my children and grandchildren. In various areas of the U.S., the ticks are gaining on us. We are weakening, and they are gaining power: power in numbers and power in the number of diseases they carry. This isn't just a problem of the northeast anymore, and government has got to address it. Money. Research. Priority. Speed.