Did you know that natural remedies like herbal medicine can help patients to heal from Lyme disease?
Lyme disease, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. Once only associated with woodsy areas like Northeastern United States and the upper Midwest, Lyme is now in every state except Hawaii and in many places throughout the world. Lyme is transmitted through a tick bite (specifically, by black-legged ticks), and is commonly known for its tell-tale symptom of erythema migrans rash. In addition to or in lieu of rash, this tick-borne infection, also known as Lyme borreliosis, can cause flu-like symptoms, joint pain, fever, fatigue, chills, and swollen lymph nodes in its early stage. If not treated, Lyme can spread to other parts of the body such as the nervous system, heart, and joints, causing neurological symptoms such as brain fog and Bell’s palsy, cardiac symptoms like heart palpitations and POTS, and rheumatic symptoms like Lyme arthritis (not to be confused with rheumatoid arthritis). For some, this infectious disease causes chronic illness, with persistent symptoms like chronic fatigue.
Whether dealing with early or chronic Lyme, you need to know how to best treat the infection and relieve your symptoms, and may be wondering if naturopathic medicine or herbal remedies might help.
Can Natural Treatments Help with Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that should be treated with antibiotic therapy by a healthcare provider, but natural treatments like herbal medicine can potentially help remedy symptoms. Natural remedies may also help support your immune system, which is impacted by Lyme disease, and may help with cellular repair, sleep, detoxification, and inflammation.
What Are the Best Herbs for Lyme Disease?
The best herbal remedies for Lyme disease include:
- Cryptolepis sanguinolenta
- Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
- Sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua)
- Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa)
- Japanese knotwood (Polygonum cuspidatum)
- Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)
- Cistus incanus
This does not mean, though, that you should just take all of these remedies if you have Lyme disease. Natural doesn’t always mean better, or safer; each of these products can have side effects and can interact with antibiotic treatment or other medication.
Research Information About Herbal Medicine and Lyme Disease
The seven herbal medicines listed above have been shown in research to kill the Lyme disease bacteria in test tubes. In a study conducted at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, cryptolepis sanguinolenta completely eradicated the bacteria (whereas the antibiotics doxycycline and cefuroxime did not). Cryptolepis has also been used for the tick-borne illness babesiosis.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have also studied the effect of essential oils on Borrelia burgdorferi. In a study of 35 essential oils, researchers found that oil derived from garlic cloves, myrhh trees, thyme leaves, cinnamon bark, allspice berries, and cumin seeds showed strong activity against “persister” forms of the Lyme disease bacterium.
These studies show good potential and may be exciting news, particularly for chronic Lyme disease patients, but further research is needed to determine the efficacy of herbal remedies.
How to Choose Herbal Supplements
Talk to your Lyme Literate Medical Doctor (LLMD) about the best supplements for you, and where to buy them. They’ll likely want you to consider:
- Brand—research brands and make sure the one you pick is reputable
- Ingredients—make sure the supplement doesn’t have extra, unnecessary ingredients
- Form—there are a variety of ways to take supplements, including tea, capsules, and tinctures
- Side effects and interactions—make sure you talk with your LLMD about possible side effects of each supplement and how it might interact with your other treatment
Should You Speak to Your Doctor Before Using Natural Remedies?
Yes. You should always consult your LLMD before taking any supplement or doing any kind of alternative treatments. Though natural remedies can often be purchased over the counter, they can interact with prescription medications (or with each other) and can have negative side effects. Your doctor should help you determine which natural remedies are best for you (remembering that every case of Lyme disease is different, and there is no set protocol), and they should also give you dosage instructions.
Lyme Disease Treatment
Though some natural remedies can possibly help with Lyme disease, they are not guaranteed to help and don’t have guaranteed properties. Lyme disease treatment, whether natural, traditional, or a combination thereof, should always be done by a healthcare provider.
Treatment for Lyme disease varies depending on the stage of the infection, severity of symptoms, presence of co-infections, age, and other clinical factors. The most common treatment for early stage Lyme disease is a 14-21 day course of oral antibiotics, whereas late stage Lyme disease should be treated with 3-6 weeks of oral antibiotics (depending on the type of antibiotic used) or 2-4 weeks of intravenous antibiotics. Treatment should be extended or repeated in the event of persistent or recurrent symptoms.
Other treatments for Lyme disease such as Disulfiram (Antabuse) and dapsone are also being studied. Your LLMD will determine the best course of treatment for you. For more information on Lyme Disease treatment, see https://www.globallymealliance.org/about-lyme/treatment/.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
If you’re battling Lyme or other tick-borne disease, it’s important not just to treat the infection but to make lifestyle changes that can help your body best fight the disease. This can be particularly important if you are fighting chronic disease. A healthy lifestyle should include a program of light exercise as tolerated, good nutrition, and good sleep hygiene. While on antibiotics, taking a probiotic containing acidophilus will replenish the “good” bacteria in the GI tract. Organic yogurt and kefir are also good sources of probiotics.
You may also want to try some adjunct therapies such as integrative manual therapy, neurofeedback, physical therapy, and talk therapy, which can complement your Lyme treatment and help you on your overall journey to health. Always consult with your physician first regarding non-prescription treatments, adjunct therapies, nutrition and exercise programs.
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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.