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June 25th, 2019

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How I recovered from Lyme Disease: I fasted for two weeks, no food, just water

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

I was bit by a tick and I got sick. No doctor could figure out what was wrong. I tested negative for Lyme. I took antibiotics (Biaxin, aka clarithromycin) and 3 months later I was fine. I stopped taking antibiotics. Within 2 months I was sick again. I took Biaxin for 6 months. I felt great. I stopped antibiotics. Within 2 months I was sick again. I took Biaxin for a year. I felt great. I stopped taking antibiotics. Within 2 months I was sick again.

This time, the symptoms were completely different. The first 3 times I was sick I had suffered pain in my spine and heart, now I suffered pain in my intestines and my groin. I assumed it was a new illness. Doctors were mystified. One said it was psychosomatic. I was off antibiotics for more than 6 months. I got sicker and sicker. I was in bad shape when I decided this illness was the same as the previous illness (one day I felt pain in my heart and I realized that all the symptoms were probably linked). I took a combination of Cipro and Zithromax for 1 year. This was a dangerous combination so I got a blood test every month. And I got better. Then I stopped taking antibiotics. Then I got sick again.

I was eager to get back to my technology career so I tried a few antibiotics that might be light, cheap, easy and sustainable. I especially wanted an antibiotic that put little strain on my liver, because I wanted to avoid 12 blood tests a year. A friend of mine, as a teenager, had acne and the doctors had them on antibiotics for 4 years to deal with the acne. They’d taken erythromycin. I tried it but it did nothing for me. I tried hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which gave me great energy but did not cure me. Then I tried Amoxicillin. That worked great. I took 4 pills a day and my symptoms retreated, becoming fainter and fainter, till finally I felt fine. I took Amoxicillin for 11 years. Then I stopped taking Amoxicillin and I got sick again. I went back to Biaxin, and took that for another 2 years.

My business was going well so I could not focus on my health. I was busy. I was ambitious. We were building amazing technology. The simplest thing, for me, was to take antibiotics, which kept me healthy so I could focus on work. In that sense, my relationship to my illness was similar to the way people dealt with leprosy for most of the 20th Century — I could live a normal life but only if I took antibiotics every day (but please note, none of my symptoms had anything to do with leprosy. Whatever I had, I can believe it was a mycobacterium that sometimes went dormant, just like leprosy, but don’t get distracted by my comments about leprosy. I obviously did not have leprosy).

As the years went by, my relationship to my business partner changed. I was irritated with him and his terrible decisions (I wrote about this in my first book). So I sold my share of the business.

Now I had time to focus on my health. What had I not yet tried? What about fasting?

I went 2 weeks without food. Just water with a little bit of salt. No food. I took antibiotics the first week but not the second. I felt very sick. The fast ended. I had a vegetarian meal. I fell asleep. I woke up the next day and had a large vegetarian meal. That night I felt funny. The feeling was similar to that moment, if you have a flu, when the fever breaks. With a flu, you get sicker and sicker till a moment the fever breaks and then you know that your immune system has kicked in. That was exactly the feeling that I had then. After 20 years, my immune system had finally kicked in.

I have not taken any antibiotics since that fast, and I’ve been blessed with excellent health.

I wrote about this recently in an online forum, and I got a number of responses, that I should respond to:

1. Was this actually Lyme Disease?

I don’t know. I’ll never know. I got bit by a tick and then I got sick. Some of the symptoms overlapped with what some people refer to as Lyme Disease. I eventually ended up being treated by a doctor who specializes in Lyme Disease, and who sees a very wide range of symptoms and histories, of which mine was roughly in the range of what she was used to seeing. Clinical evidence is still scientific evidence, and in this case the clinical and empirical approach caused us to conclude that “Lyme Disease” was a useful umbrella term for discussing my symptoms and comparing those symptoms to other people who my doctor was treating.

2. Why would an infection need 20 years of antibiotics?

Nearly all antibiotics cause bacteria to self-destruct when that bacteria tries to divide, therefore, bacteria that reproduces slowly is only slowly effected by antibiotics. Some bacteria divide every 15 minutes and therefore can be brought under control, thanks to antibiotics, in just a few days. But some bacteria require longer, and those bacteria that have complicated life cycles typically need a cocktail of multiple antibiotics for many years. So tuberculosis needs 4 different antibiotics for 18 months. And leprosy, for most of the 20th Century, was only treated with one antibiotic and so the victims never recovered, they had to take antibiotics every day of their lives. It was only when multi drug treatment became common for leprosy that leprosy resolved into a curable illness.

When I wrote about this elsewhere, someone posted this comment in response:

Now I’m no medical expert but antibiotics resolve an infection after a certain amount of time. Even for Lyme and leprosy. There may be health after-effects but those would not be resolved by antibiotics since the infection is gone. What could possibly outlast 20 years of continuous antibiotics that isn’t either completely killed?

Again, for most of the 20th Century, the obvious answer would have been “leprosy” since people often took antibiotics for 40 or 50 or 60 years, to keep their leprosy under control. For most of the 20th Century, it was an illness that could be controlled but not cured. The leprosy bacteria has a very complicated life cycle that allows it to survive despite constant antibiotic treatment. It was only when multi drug treatment became common that leprosy became curable.

But I’ll point out that acne is much more common, and most of us have friends who struggled with it. I had a friend who was on antibiotics for almost 8 years, from her teens into her early 20s. She only overcame her acne when she was treated with Retinol.

Someone else wrote this:

I’m under the impression that blood is very sterile. That’s the point of your immune system.

This is very wrong. If anyone thinks this, please, if you can find a microscope, go look. Use your eyes. Your blood system is absolutely not sterile, that is a wildly non-scientific thing to say. Your immune system can not possibly go after ever protein it meets, otherwise you would be allergic to all food, and you would die. When you see an article such as “The dormant blood microbiome in chronic, inflammatory diseases” ask yourself, what is a dormant blood microbiome?

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4487407/

Do we have bacteria in our blood even after long treatment with antibiotics? Yes, of course. People you know can test this themselves. Those teenagers, who take antibiotics, with a microscope at home (or at school) can do this simple experiment: prick your finger with a needle and put a drop of blood on sterilized glass, then put that under a microscope. Do you see bacteria? Yes, of course you do. Even if you take antibiotics for 20 years, your body will still be seething with bacteria. There is no way to get rid of all the bacteria in your body. That isn’t what antibiotics do. Antibiotics work with your immune system to bring your bacterial load back to a reasonable level. If antibiotics killed all bacteria then people with compromised immune systems could be kept safe from bacteria with antibiotics. But there isn’t a doctor in the world who thinks that’s possible.

3.) Have you followed up with any of the doctors since? What did they say in response to your recovery?

When I was healthy for 6 months, and I felt confident that I was going to remain healthy, I went back to the doctor who had treated me for most of those 20 years. They simply said, “Yes, fasting seems to work really well for some people.” I was irritated that they had apparently known about this but hadn’t suggested it to me. In retrospect, I wish I had tried fasting many years earlier.

4.) Is bacteria visible with cheap microscopes?

Someone asked:

Don’t you need some kind of dye to see the bacteria?

There are certain kinds of bacteria that you need to stain, because otherwise they are nearly perfectly transparent, but there are lots of larger bacteria that you can see well with even a fairly cheap microscope, of the type that teenagers use in school. Indeed, when I was 15 years old, I remember watching a lot of single celled organisms crawl around in the microscope that I was assigned at school. Although most bacteria tend to be on the smaller side of single celled organisms, some larger bacteria are still easy to see, even with such cheap microscopes.

5.) Why would fasting be useful? How can it help?

This question has mostly been studied in the context of cancer. The model seems to be that white blood cells die off while you are starving, but when you start eating again, they are regenerated, and perhaps are more aggressive, or target new proteins:

Among the many insults our bodies endure in old age is a weakened immune system which leaves the elderly more susceptible to infection. Chemotherapy patients also face the same predicament due to the immune suppressing effects of their toxic anticancer treatments. While many researchers aim to develop drugs or cell therapies to protect the immune system, a University of Southern California research report this week suggests an effective alternative intervention that’s startlingly straightforward: fasting for 72 hours.

The study published in Cell Stem Cell showed that cycles of prolonged fasting in older mice led to a decrease in white blood cells which in turn set off a regenerative burst of blood stem cells. This restart of the blood stem cells replenished the immune system with new white blood cells. In a pilot Phase 1 clinical trial, cancer patients who fasted 72 hours before receiving chemotherapy maintained normal levels of white blood cells.

In my case, for some reason, my immune system failed, for 20 years, to recognize the danger associated with the protein in the bacteria that was attacking me. But when I fasted, and then I started eating again, my immune system seems to have been more sensitive to the danger posed by the proteins in this bacteria. And if anyone thinks that my healing was psychosomatic, do keep in mind that the above research did not exist when I was fasting, and certainly I had never heard of anything like it. I tried fasting only because I had tried everything else and everything else had failed. I had no reason to think that fasting would help. It was only years later that researchers came up with a model that would explain what I had experienced.

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"I wish I could go back," said Anna. "I guess I thought it would always be there, and I could go back and learn more when I was older. But now I'm older and it's gone."

"All the great art scenes are like that," said Mariah. "Renoir's career was half over before the term Impressionism caught on. And Fitzgerald and Hemingway had given up on the Left Bank long before the place was overrun by talentless hacks who wanted to imitate the Lost Generation lifestyle. And the Beats had mostly left San Francisco before busloads of visitors started to do tours of the Haight-Ashbury. When Johnny Rotten couldn't work with the Sex Pistols anymore, he left and the London punk scene began to die. Later on, he said he regretted his decision to leave. Everyone thinks they can go away and come back later, but they never can. When Joan Didion and her husband left New York, she quipped that some other couples were staying too late at the party, but that gets it all backward. The party ends whether you want it to or not, and it takes an unusual arrogance to celebrate the end of an era that some people will remember as the best years of their life. Hemingway lived in Paris during his twenties, but he didn't write about his experience in Paris until he was in his sixties. No one ever knows they're part of an art movement; it's something you only see afterward."

"But if we only see it in retrospect, then how can we find the next great art scene?" asked Anna. "What do I look for?"




Also read this true story about a startup I worked at in 2015:




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5 COMMENTS

July 21, 2019
5:39 pm

By lindsey

to be honest i was kind of hoping this would be a whole rhyme, with the first sentence and all. i’m glad you got better, and am thoroughly enjoying your site.

July 21, 2019
6:02 pm

By lawrence

Lindsey, thank you for writing. In fact, when I was a teenager, I went through a phase when I was very into writing epic poetry. I wrote a fairly good fantasy story, perhaps 10,000 words, about a Lady who was placed in a difficult situation by a manipulative knight who convinces everyone else in the city that another knight, who she truly loves, is a criminal who must be killed.

I had not thought of using my rhyming skills to tell the story of Lyme Disease, but I was, in all seriousness, thinking if I should ever again give epic poetry a try. I lack a subject. Maybe health would be an unexpected angle that I should examine.

August 29, 2019
5:39 pm

By Brandon

This is a fantastic story. There’s something deeply harrowing in the sentence “[then] I took Amoxicillin for 11 years.” Such a significant chunk of your life, four times in each of those days you took a pill just to keep thriving.

This, in conjunction with a few other accounts I’ve read, has inspired me to do a 72-hour fast every year. Thanks so much for sharing.

September 22, 2019
1:48 pm

By AAreth

I’m happy to confirm that all tissues are in normal circumstances essentially sterile.

The combination of ‘Do we have bacteria in our blood even after long treatment with antibiotics?’ with ‘Yes, of course’ is entirely incorrect. As is the idea a cheap microscope could be used to see bacteria in blood.

The condition of having bacteria in any tissue is called sepsis, which is a serious life-threatening condition.

September 22, 2019
2:05 pm

By lawrence

AAreth, you are misinformed. Human blood is full of bacteria. Again, please try to read some of what the NIH has published on this subject:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4487407/

“Blood in healthy organisms is seen as a ‘sterile’ environment: it lacks proliferating microbes. Dormant or not-immediately-culturable forms are not absent, however, as intracellular dormancy is well established. We highlight here that a great many pathogens can survive in blood and inside erythrocytes.”

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