Category Archives: Lyme Disease

Evaluating the evidence for herbs for Chronic Lyme Disease

evidence-lyme-graphicReflecting back when I first started seeing clients with chronic symptoms from Lyme disease in 2004, there was very little published information on the topic. There were a few herbal pioneers who had published their first work like Stephen Buhner and Dr. Zhang, but still there was a long way to go in understanding how to support those who suffer this disease. So how did I navigate this new terrain?

As an herbalist, we pull our evidence from many sources, particularly when there is limited research. Since, we have a large body of safety and historical data from herb use, the burden of proof lies more with efficacy than safety.  For my upcoming talk on Lyme at the AHG Conference, I have categorized the evidence into 4 categories, 1) Current research; 2) Empirical knowledge from laypeople and practitioners 3) Traditional and historical approach to other spirochetal diseases and 4) General knowledge of herbs for immune health, detoxification and inflammation.


There is no published clinical research for herbs and Lyme disease in the US.  There may be unpublished research, like that of Dr. Cowden and case studies of his protocol and Allimax nutraceuticals small clinical study on garlic.  These studies have not gone through the rigor of peer-reviewed publication.  There is a growing body of in vitro research, like that of Brorson and Brorson on the effectiveness of grapefruit seed extract on cystic forms of Lyme in vitro (2006). Or the recent study on stevia whole plant extract on cultures of Borrelia biofilms and organisms, demonstrating that stevia was as effective as 3 antibiotic combinations for persistant Lyme bacteria in vitro (Theophilus, Victoria, Socarras, Filush, Gupta, Luecke, & Sapi, 2015).  It is challenging to translate this in vitro research to real life clinical practice.  Stevia extract will work differently in a human body than it willing a petri dish, first we must digest and metabolize the stevia extract before it will reach any Lyme bacteria.  Some in vitro research is more promising, when compounds are tested versus whole plant extracts.  In a comparison of 15 phytochemicals and micronutrients, baicalein (from Baikal Skullcap) and monolaurin (from Coconut oil) were two of the most active against the Borrelia biofilms (Goc, Niedzwiecki, & Rath, 2015).


There is a large body of empirical evidence from practitioners and those who are suffering with Lyme. Since Chronic Lyme disease is an illness not recognized by a portion of the medical community, individuals are often left on their own to sort out best treatment strategies.  For better or worse, google and discussion forums become the “doctor” for Chronic Lyme.  We have so much to learn from the individuals that have been sick with Chronic Lyme and their experiences.  On an informal basis, I have learned so much through the years listening to my patients discuss their experiences with various remedies and approaches.

Recently the Caudwell Lyme Disease Charity in the UK conducted a survey of their members. They found that individuals with Lyme spend on average between 100-250 pounds a month on nutrition and herbal supplements and would spend more if their finances would allow. Some of the most popular products used by surveyed patients were Vitamin C, Omega 3, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and herbal protocols of Cowden and Buhner.  There is a strong need to gather and organize this empiricial data in the US through a formalized survey of Lyme patients, similar to the survey that Defeat Autism Now conducted several years back for autistic children and their families.


Lyme disease is a modern disease and so there are no references to this particular disease in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and early American doctors.  However, there is a body of knowledge from China on herbal treatment for other spirochetal diseases: leptospirosis and syphilis. Commonly used herbs are Sarsparilla (Smilax glabra), Baikal skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis), and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra).  Reported effectiveness is high as is dose used.  In the United States, a group of eclectic physicians treated Syphilis without mercury in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s with herbs such as Oregon Grape Root (Berberis aquifolium), Iris versicolor, Poke root (Phytolacca decandra), Corydalis spp, and Echinacea spp. (Ellingwood, 1908).


The root cause of ongoing symptoms of Lyme disease is multifaceted. These include a triggered autoimmune response, elevated neurotoxin load, chronic inflammatory pattern and chronic infection.  Because of this, we can pull from the general body of herbal knowledge and utilize herbs that help to reduce inflammation, support detoxification, and support a healthy immune system.

For example, I frequently recommend turmeric and medicinal mushrooms to my clients with CLD.  There is an exceptional body of knowledge that has been published about Turmeric (Curcuma longa) as an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, mood stabilizer and an emerging body of knowledge on the immune enhancing and TH1/TH2 modulating properties of medicinal mushrooms like Reishi, Cordyceps and Maitake.


Brorson, Oystein. (2006). An In Vitro Study of Cystic forms of Borrelia burgdorferi. Paper presented at the Lyme and Other Tick-Borne Diseases: Seeking Answers Through Science, Philadelphia.

Goc, A., Niedzwiecki, A., & Rath, M. (2015). In vitro evaluation of antibacterial activity of phytochemicals and micronutrients against Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia garinii. J Appl Microbiol, 119(6), 1561-1572. doi: 10.1111/jam.12970

Theophilus, P. A., Victoria, M. J., Socarras, K. M., Filush, K. R., Gupta, K., Luecke, D. F., & Sapi, E. (2015). Effectiveness of Stevia Rebaudiana Whole Leaf Extract Against the Various Morphological Forms of Borrelia Burgdorferi in Vitro. Eur J Microbiol Immunol (Bp), 5(4), 268-280. doi: 10.1556/1886.2015.00031

Ellingwood, Finley. (1908). Treatment of Syphilis without mercury. Therapeutist, December.

6 Medicinal Foods for Lyme

Is your food helping you?  Take your diet to the next level with heavy hitting anti-inflammatory foods.

1. Turmeric  is my favorite “ace” anti-inflammatory herb.  Research shows benefit in reducing inflammatory processes in neurodegenerative disease, joint inflammation, infection induced inflammation and potentially on reducing biofilms.  In medicinal herb formulas I use much larger quantities than would ever taste palatable in a curry dish.  However, small amounts on a regular basis will have a useful effect when combined with other anti-inflammatory foods and herbs.  Are you having a particularly inflamed day?  Add 1 tsp to 4 oz water, swish and drink.  Repeat 2-3 x a day.

2. Garlic  is best raw for antibacterial and anti fungal properties.  It is a good food to help prevent candida, improve circulation and potentially help with biofilms as well.  You have to be creative to eat garlic raw… and a little brave.  Add 1-2 crushed cloves to salad dressings, add to homemade or store bought pesto and guacamole, add 1-2 cloves to fresh homemade veg and fruit juice.  Make garlic oxymel for a sweeter delivery.  

Indian proverb – “Garlic is as good as ten mothers.”

3.  Blueberries are rich in polyphenols, and in particular OPC’s a unique antioxidant that has specific affinity for capillary function, improving microcirculation, reducing oxidative damage to capillaries, improve venous return and more.  All red and blue fruits are particularly rich in these compounds.  Increasing intake of blueberries (and other red and blue fruits) can help with symptoms such as shortness of breath, and numbness and tingling.

4.  Avocado  Rich in monosaturated fat and fiber, two essential nutrients for healing, avocados are a good addition to one’s healing diet.  A half cup avocado contains 5 grams fiber, and keeping fiber to at least 30 g a day will help reduce ‘herx’ response from antibiotic treatment and improve detoxification and elimination.  This west-coast fruit is also very rich in monosaturated fatty acids that are key for healthy cardiovascular health and neurological function.  Fats improve absorption of key nutrients like D and carotenoids.  It is best when dealing with Lyme to shift the balance towards less starch and more high quality fat.

5.  Kombucha   For many of my clients kombucha is a favorite way to get healthy live bacteria (probiotics) in a non-gluten and non-dairy food source.  It is fairly low in sugar, usually having less than 3 g per serving.  I recommend 4-6 oz a day.  A strange drink, certainly.  It is much cheaper if you can make it at home. Daily intake of probiotic foods is a key to survival from long-term antibiotics and systemic infectious disease in general.

6.  Kale is the ‘green of the moment’, but really it is one member of a wonderful group of nutrient-dense dark leafy greens.  Dark leafy greens like kale, collards, mustard greens, spinach, etc provide minerals, fiber, folate and support detoxification and assist healing from Lyme.  Dark leafies are a great source of magnesium, which is depleted by some antibiotics, most notably the macrolide antibiotics (Azithromycin, Zithromax, Biaxin​).  Dark leafy greens are calming to nervous and muscular skeletal systems.

Most effective dietary changes for Chronic Lyme Disease

We won’t debate the existence of CLD (Chronic Lyme Disease) in this post.  The fact is most people feel unwell if Lyme disease is untreated, co-infections are undiagnosed/untreated or if these infections are ineffectively treated.  So what to do now?  There is a lot you can do and it starts with what you put in your mouth 3-6 times a day.  You guessed it. FOOD.  You have to eat right? Why not make it work FOR you and not against you.

Tasty vegetables in vector set - green peas, eggplant, potato, c1. Eat lots of vegetables – baked, steamed, in smoothies, in salads.  Fill 1/2 your plate with these amazing foods.  Get diversity in color, red beets, orange carrots, yellow squash, white leeks, green kale, blue potatoes.  Have fun.

2. Eat fruits too.  Vegetables are more important than fruits but fruits matter.  The red and blue ones are particularly supportive, reducing symptoms of numbness, shortness of breath.

3.  Eliminate or reduce coffee and alcohol.  80% of the people I see with Chronic Lyme are reactive to coffee and alcohol, whether it is caused by altered liver metabolism or excess irritation of the nervous system, it seems to occur whether or not individuals are on antibiotics.  You can replace with herbal teas, like gotu kola (support collagen), skullcap (relaxation), holy basil (support blood sugar), dandelion root (support liver health), etc.

4.  Eliminate gluten and sugar.  These inflammatory foods will slow healing.  It is a challenging task.  Ideally one would do a “food elimination and rechallenge” and identify all potential food sensitivities and allergies that may inhibit healing.  But this is even more challenging.  Best to start with these two (gluten and sugar).

5.  Eat fermented foods.  What are those???  Foods with live bacteria.  You can take probiotics in a capsule and yet it is so enjoyable to eat fermented foods.  Examples include: kombucha, real fermented pickles like Bubbies, yogurt, sauerkraut, miso.  Real fermented foods can only be found in the fridge section of your grocery store. They are not easy to find and it is best to make your own.  See a sample video here.

40-25-15-10 copy6.  Eat balanced meals to stabilize blood sugar, fuel the brain, provide proper nutrition for healing. What is a balanced meal? See the sample plate to the right.  If vegan, proteins can be beans, nuts, seeds, soy, nondairy milks like hemp to name a few.

This is just the beginning, but what a change you can feel if you follow these 6 tips.  Next up… Best medicinal foods for Lyme