I was a history student at Williams College until I contracted severe neuroborreliosis, a type of Lyme disease affecting the nervous system. Lyme disease is a little-recognized epidemic in the northeastern United States. It can have frightening consequences if left untreated, which is often the case due to major problems with diagnostic techniques and widespread ignorance among doctors. While many people manage to fight off the disease on their own, others succumb to a dizzying array of debilitating and sometimes irreversible symptoms, such as memory loss, confusion, fatigue, paralysis, weakness, vertigo, muscle and joint pain, speech problems, blindness and heart failure.

Luckily for me, I found a doctor within the first few months who was able to diagnose and treat me, but even so, complete recovery took almost two years. I had to drop out of school and move back home. I couldn’t even work part time for the first several months.

Compared to many of my friends and their relatives on the east coast who got Lyme disease and recovered after a few weeks, my case was severe. While the type of Lyme spirochete (or Lyme bacteria) can have an effect, the strength of a person’s immune system has a huge influence on how hard the disease hits.

My immune system was already in shambles, and had been for almost ten years. I had been on and off antibiotics for recurring bouts of pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus infections since puberty. My health was great as a kid, so what exactly started the cycle of infection and antibiotics isn’t clear to me. My best guess is that it had a lot to do with emotional and physical stress caused by perfectionism, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and poor eating habits (although they were good by average American standards).

Looking back, I can see that neuro-Lyme was really just a continuation of this vicious circle, except that the Lyme was so debilitating that it forced me, for the first time in my post-pubescent life, to put down the textbooks, chug some chicken broth, and go to sleep. For two years.

Well, I haven’t exactly been asleep for two years, but I’ve been resting, sleeping as much as I need (sometimes more than twelve hours a night), avoiding stress, doing moderate amounts of easy exercise to rebuild my strength, and researching nutrition and lifestyle habits that protect from, rather than perpetuate, disease. And something paradoxical has happened. As I have emerged, slowly, from this dark-night-of-my-body, I have gotten a taste of what health, real health like I had when I was a kid, feels like. This has driven me to see how healthy, strong and disease resistant I can become.

How do people become disease resistant? I am researching this as carefully and open-mindedly as I can, and have come to the conclusion that diet is a hugely important, and probably the most important, factor. Other important factors are sleep, stress, and possibly exercise (although the type of exercise matters a lot).

I have also come to the conclusion that most mainstream advice is wrong. In fact, in many cases people are better off doing exactly the opposite of what doctors and nutritionists tell them.

My opinions on diet and lifestyle have been strongly influenced by the paleo/primal diet movement and observations of relatively disease-free modern hunter-gatherer populations. Eating patterns that have sustained healthy populations for generations seem like a much better place to start than recently invented diets based on incomplete and sketchy nutrition research.

Don’t get me wrong, I love science, and it can be enormously helpful in elucidating which foods lead to poor health outcomes and why. But it can also lead to dead-ends, like the unfortunate lipid hypothesis that blames saturated fat for heart disease, even though decades of expensive research have failed to show a connection. Then again, the lipid hypothesis might be better categorized as religion rather than science.

On the other hand, research has been able to show plausible mechanisms whereby certain foods, especially wheat, vegetable oil, and sugar, can cause health problems in humans. These foods are already suspect because they were not consumed by our hunter-gatherer ancestors in significant quantities, meaning that we have probably not evolved to deal with them, and are not found in the diets of modern healthy hunter-gatherer cultures. In fact, everywhere wheat, vegetable oil, and sugar go, disease seems to follow rapidly. They have been (I suspect rightly) called the three horsemen of the modern health apocalypse.

An important thing to note is that diet and lifestyle cannot provide complete protection from communicable diseases. Bacteria and viruses are tricky little buggers that want to survive and reproduce just as much as we do, and some will find a way to get around even the most robust immune defenses. However, a healthy body and strong immune system can mean the difference between a cough and runny nose and full-blown pneumonia that lands a person in the hospital for weeks. It can mean the difference between fighting off a disease like H1N1 and dying from it.

In any case, the death rate from infectious diseases in this country is low due to modern sanitation and medical care. The biggest killers and wreckers of quality of life are heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and autoimmune disorders, all of which are absent in non-industrial cultures eating a traditional diet. These diseases are not just unhappy genetic accidents. Something has gone terribly wrong with the way people nourish and care for their bodies in industrialized nations, and the medical industry will never find a cure for modern disease until it addresses this fundamental problem.

This blog is a resource for anyone who wants to read about the research I’m doing and my take on a healthy diet and lifestyle. I wish I could promise that everything here will end up being correct and helpful, but I’m a human being, and I don’t have a medical degree (although having passed medical school might actually make me less credible in this area).

So enjoy this blog with a grain of salt, but please pass on the wheat, sugar and vegetable oil!

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