In my previous post about Borrelia bacteria and Lyme Disease, I gave a brief overview of the behavior and infection tactics of Borrelia bacteria. In this article I would like to bring attention to some of the most powerful herbal allies that can be utilized to help reduce symptoms and effectively help the body rid the itself of this bacteria. These herbs can be utilized alongside conventional medical treatment (in other words, antibiotics) or on their own.
I would also like to reiterate one of my sentiments from my previous post- that because of what these bacteria do in the body, and since every person's body ecology is so different, there is an extremely, frustratingly, wide range of symptoms that can be present (or not) for this illness and the disease will always be slightly different for every single person, every time it occurs. That is why for this disease especially, a one-regime-fits-all protocol is pointless, or worse, harmful. Each person needs to have their protocols tailored to exactly what is going on for them. The following herbs have been used in clinical practice by experienced herbalists, including well known herbalist and Lyme activist, Stephen Harrod Buhner (these suggestions are based on his protocol).
Suggested doses may be given, but remember some people respond extremely well to only a few drops of an herbal preparation while others require several teaspoons or more! Any herb not listed here could still have major potential in helping anyone dealing with this illness- it just depends on how the illness is presenting itself for that individual. So again, use these suggestions as a guideline and build upon them depending on individual symptom pictures.
Be prepared to commit to some form of your herbal protocol for long-term as it can take 8-12 months to clear the infection.
The first and foremost thing to do, is to try and prevent ever contracting the Borrelia bacteria in the first place. See my article on Ticks which covers their infection potential. Tick bites are the most common route of infection so you'll need to know how to prevent tick bites and what to do if you do find an attached tick. After properly removing the tick, Buhner recommends liberally applying Andrographis tinctures and a glob of bentonite clay that can be fastened in place for 12-24 hours. He also recommends the homeopathic remedy Ledum 1M 3x a day. At the appearance of a rash he says Apis 30C 3x a day for 3 days and then begin treatment for Lyme disease.
To keep your immune system strong, consider taking Astragalus all year around. This immune tonic can be safely consumed long term. Take 1000 mg and increase to 3000mg in endemic areas or for the duration of tick season. "[s]tudies have found that if the levels of interleukin-2 and interferon gamma in lab mic are kept high, the rate of Borrelia infection drops precipitously... Astragalus, an immune-potentiating herb, is very effective at keeping these levels high". (128)
As a preventative, Astragalus can be taken, though SOME people with chronic Lyme can not take it due to some of the immune hijacking of our immune responses the bacteria initiate- but many still can. Basically if you take Astragalus and feel worse, discontinue it.
Make sure you are taking care of yourself! Sleep, proper nutrition and lowering stress are the foundations for health no matter what your goals. The immune system cannot be strong and healthy if the rest of the body is weak.
If you have an infection by Borrelial bacteria (currently called Lyme Disease) your top priority should be to protect the endothelial structures of the body. These are the cells that form an interface- kind of the barrier on the interior surface of blood vessels, etc.- that connects other tissues and fluids.
The Borrelia bacteria break down endothelial structures (read more about this in my previous article) to feed as well as gain access deeper into the body. This damage caused by disrupting endothelial structures is at the root of most of the devastating symptoms, particularly in the brain and heart, seen in Lyme disease. By protecting these structures, you deny the bacteria access into deeper parts of the body as well as crucial nutrients they need to survive and replicate themselves.
Many herbs can help protect endothelial cells. The known ones that are most beneficial (and consequently also help with the other objectives for treating Lyme) are Polygonum cuspidatum root, Prunella vulgaris and green tea extract (EGCG).
As degradation of hyaluronic acid in the extracellular matrix is a problem, Echinacea angustifolia can also help as it is a hyaluronidase inhibitor. Scutellaria Baicalensis, Wthania, Triphala, Melissa and Rosemary can also inhibit hyaluronidase and supplemental Hyaluronic Acid is also recommended (by Buhner) and he reassures that no, it won't feed the bacteria.
Herbs need to be taken that stop, or interfere with the cytokine cascades that the bacteria are initiating (and have hijacked in our immune systems).
By taking cytokine re-modulators, most of the inflammation can be diminished and it will help interfere with the Borrelia's ability to find and enter target cells, gain nutrients and reproduce. (Starve the buggers!)
The best general cytokine remodulators (according to Buhner) to use during infection are Scutellaria baicalensis and Salva Miltiorrhiza.
There are so many different cytokines that the bacteria can activate or that are activated in a chain reaction and different herbs inhibit different cytokines. Scutellaria and Salva Mitiorrhiza seem to be the most diverse acting, but others that work for a multitude of different cytokines are cordycepts, polygonum cuspidatum, EGCG (green tea extract), and Olea europaea (olive leaf).
Collagen Protection, Neuroborreliosis & Restoration of Damaged Tissues
Collagen structures must be restored. They are damaged by the bacteria which use them for food. You can support this by taking a gelatin supplement, bone broth soup stock, selenium, vitamin C, Kudzu, echinacea angustifolia, as well as infusions of nettle, oatstraw, horsetail & parsley
Motherwort is particularly helpful in protecting nerves and mitochondria in cells.
Chinese Cat's Claw (uncaria rhynchophylla) and Lion's Mane mushroom are both good at protecting and regeneerating neural structures in the brain. When mentioning Uncaria, Buhner states that you "can't find a more specific herb for treating damage caused by neuroborreliosis" 363.
Polygala senega is used to stimulate neural regrowth and Melatonin is also a great general supplement to use during Lyme infection to help protect neural structures.
Bhuner quotes researcher Cadavid, "little if any tissue injury occurs in immunocompetent animals" (211). Translation? Sypport your immune system to minimize damage in the first place.
Important immune remodulators for Lyme disease are Cordycepts (must take at least 3-6g daily), Eleutherocuccus, Rhodiola, Scutellaria baicalensis, Uncaria tomentosa, Withania somnifera (best taken as powder).
You can also take herbs that help break up or inhibit the formation of biofilms (think bacterial community) such as Polygonum, Andrographis, Rhodiola and Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis). This will help clear them from the body.
Reducing Specific Symptoms in order of severity
You'll want to think about which herbs you can take that specifically will help the most severe symptoms you are experiencing. These will differ for each person, however there are certain supplements that can be taken by all such as tryptophan, since levels tend to fall during infection and it can help repair CNS damage as well as help to restore healthy T-cell functions.
Lyme disease always occurs with co-infections, so those will have to be identified and treated as well.
Some of the symptoms you may be addressing will be things like, pain, sleep issues, low energy, Bell's palsy, seizures, tremors, memory problems, joint problems, behavioral problems, etc.
Many people think that taking antispirochetal herbs (herbs that kill spirochete bacteria) should be the first thing you do when trying to treat infection by Borrelia bacteria. The reality is that many people who have undergone strong antibiotic therapy which failed to rid their bodies of the infection find that by simply protecting their endothelial structures and working to restore the immune system and collagen structures, the bacterium is cleared without the need to take anything else.
That being said, there are not many herbs that have been studied and proven to be strong antispirochetals, though Andrographis has shown positive results and can be included in a Lyme protocol. It is rapidly excreted from the body, however, and needs to be taken every 4 hours (when you are awake).
I did not include exact dosages for any of the suggested herbs. The reason is, there is no guideline that everyone should follow. Recommended doses are simply made up. Everyone is going to need slightly different combinations of herbs and slightly different amounts of each one. Anyone who tries to tell you that they have a one-size-heals-all protocol hasn't actually treated enough people. Here I would like to directly quote Buhner, "Anyone who says there is [a one size-fits-all treatment], is either trying to sell you something, has powerful self-image needs involved, or doesn't really understand the borrelial group of infectious organisms. There is not and never has been one single way to health such that in all times and in all places and with all people it will always work. Life, and disease, and the journey to wellness are much more complex and challenging than that. Each treatment intervention, as treatment progresses, will become unique to each person. It has to do so for healing to occur." (191) - Buhner in healing Lyme.