Herbs that Fight Lyme Disease
Scientific research has proven that several herbs and their extracts can successfully fight the spirochete bacteria that cause lyme disease.
In this article
What is Lyme disease?
Every springtime we are faced with a fresh emergence of ticks. Not all, but many ticks can cause a sometimes-debilitating condition called lyme disease. These ticks can be transported by deer, squirrels and other forest animals.
Research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has estimated there are about 300,000 cases of lyme diagnosed every year. Some research has indicated this rate may have increased in recent years due to global warming due to growth of tick populations.
Lyme is caused by an infection of the Borrelia species of bacteria. In the U.S. lyme is primarily caused by B. burgdorferi bacteria, but B. mayonii, B. garinii and B. afzelii bacteria can also cause the condition.
Lyme disease is symptomized by fevers, headaches, fatigue, joint pain and neck stiffness. Advanced cases can cause memory issues.
The bacteria are typically transferred to humans via Ixodes species ticks. Other research has found the bacteria can infect other insects, but cases from other species have been illusive.
Lyme is typically treated with antibiotics. These include doxycycline, amoxicillin, and cefuroxime.
One of the issues with this strategy has been the increasing development of antibiotic-resistant Borrelia bacteria.
Beyond this, many cases of lyme will not be mitigated with antibiotics because the bacteria were able to take hold and embed within blood, tissues and cells. The spiral (spirochete) bacteria can restructure into different forms – including:
- round bodies
Scientists have concluded that these “persister” forms of the spirochete bacteria are the likely reason lyme disease can persist despite antibiotic therapy.
This is a growing issue, because somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of cases in the U.S. continue to remain unresolved. Estimates from the Bay Area Lyme Foundation estimate that between 440,000 and 880,000 Americans continue to have symptoms. This is called Post Treatment Lyme Disease.
Can herbs help lyme disease sufferers?
This element of resistance and the continuance of an infection have led many to utilize herbs to fight lyme disease. But do they work?
A 2020 laboratory study from Johns Hopkins University and the California Center for Functional Medicine tested 12 medicinal herbs and compounds used against lyme disease by holistic practitioners.
The researchers developed culture models that duplicated the bacteria in persister forms. They compared this activity against the two most popular antibiotics used for lyme disease: doxycycline and cefuroxime.
Of the twelve, they found that seven herbal medicines actively inhibited the B. burgdorferi bacteria. They also inhibited the bacteria greater than the two antibiotics. These were (in alphabetical order):
- Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
- Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)
- Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) Sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua)
- Hoary rock-rose (Cistus incanus)
- Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum)
- Yellow-dye root (Cryptolepis sanguinolenta)
The researchers tested both stationary bacteria and growing bacteria cultures. Stationary bacteria were cultured for 7 days. Some of the herbs that inhibited the stationary bacteria did not inhibit the growing cultures of the bacteria.
Those herbs that inhibited growing versions of the bacteria (in order of their effectiveness) were:
- Yellow-dye root (Cryptolepis)
- Japanese knotweed (Polygonum)
- Wormwood (Artemisia)
- Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria)
- Cat’s claw (Uncaria)
The researchers found the Yellow-dye root to be the most efficacious, having completely eradicated both persister cultures of the B. burgdorferi bacteria, while the antibiotics could not do so. The Japanese knotweed came in a close second to the Yellow-dye root. Yellow-dye root has also been found to eradicate malaria parasites in other research.
Interestinly, the following treatments were not found to successfully inhibit the lyme bacteria in this study:
- Grapefruit seed extract
- Colloidal silver
- Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)
- Andrographis paniculata
The researchers proposed that some of the anecdotal effects of these four against lyme may come from their ability to boost the immune system.
Essential oils for lyme
In 2017 researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Medical School studied essential oils against the B. burgdorferi bacteria.
The scientists tested 34 herbal essential oils in the laboratory. They also tested these against both the stationary and growing phase cultures of the bacteria, duplicating the persister forms of the bacteria.
The research found that five of the 34 essential oils significantly inhibited the stationary cultures, greater than the antibiotic daptomycin:
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
- Clove bud (Syzygium aromaticum L)
- Citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus)
- Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
Of these five, three of them outperformed the others by completely eradicating all bacteria cells in both types of cultures of the lyme bacteria. These three outperformers were:
- Cinnamon bark
- Clove bud
Feng J, Leone J, Schweig S, Zhang Y. Evaluation of Natural and Botanical Medicines for Activity Against Growing and Non-growing Forms of B. burgdorferi. Front Med (Lausanne). 2020 Feb 21;7:6. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2020.00006.
Feng J, Zhang S, Shi W, Zubcevik N, Miklossy J, Zhang Y. Selective Essential Oils from Spice or Culinary Herbs Have High Activity against Stationary Phase and Biofilm Borrelia burgdorferi. Front Med (Lausanne). 2017 Oct 11;4:169. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2017.00169.
Hinckley AF, Connally NP, Meek JI, Johnson BJ, Kemperman MM, Feldman KA, White JL, Mead PS. Lyme disease testing by large commercial laboratories in the United States. Clin Infect Dis. 2014 Sep 1;59(5):676-81. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciu397.