I have had Lyme disease for eleven years. For the first five years, I was taking a drug that suppressed the symptoms. After a round of antibiotics, which worsened my migraines, I went back to herbs and have been controlling it with teasel and chaparral. I am concerned about long-term side effects of the herbs. I also wanted to see if any other herbs are known as anti-spirochetal. Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete, like syphilis, with the same ability to go dormant, thus making a cure questionable.
—K. R., via e-mail
Stansbury responds: Unfortunately, natural treatments that are effective in eradicating Lyme disease remain to be proven. Antibiotics are the mainstay of allopathic therapy, and antimicrobial and antiparasitic plants are the most promising botanical options. If you are seeing good results with teasel (Dipsacus spp.) and chaparral (Larrea tridentata), by all means continue. However, it would be advisable to take breaks from the chaparral and have liver-function tests performed at least yearly. As you may be aware, there have been some rare but reported cases of liver pathology associated with the use of chaparral capsules.
Stillingia (Stillingia sylvatica), once popular for cancer and chronic infections, and spilanthes (Spilanthes spp.) are two other immune-enhancing and antiparasitic plants that may prove to be of value for Lyme disease. Spilanthes is noted to have antiparasitic and possibly anti-spirochetal effects. Both stillingia and spilanthes are considered possible therapies for syphilis in the homeopathic literature, as are the remedies based on highly diluted metallic mineral salts. Poke (Phytolacca spp.), a potentially caustic and blood-altering plant to be used by skilled practitioners only, has also been credited with antiviral and immune-enhancing effects in modern times and as having anti-syphilitic properties in the folkloric literature. Taheebo (Tabebuia heptaphylla) and other Tabebuia species have been verified as having antifungal properties; and myrrh (Commiphora spp.), an antimicrobial of biblical fame, is a fairly strong and broad-acting natural antimicrobial agent. Both have been reported in the historical literature for syphilis, but any effect on spirochetal illnesses is unknown.
Being a West Coast practitioner, my experience with this predominantly East Coast infection is very limited. The other tenacious and persistent infections that I have more experience with, such as the Epstein-Barr virus, require fairly aggressive and long-term therapy. A combination of different tools and approaches—and rotating through antimicrobial agents that work by many different mechanisms—while optimizing immune function, digestion, nutrition, and nervous function appears to yield the best results.
Willard responds: Lyme disease is caused by spirochete bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi), carried on some ticks. It is the most common tick-related disease in North America, happening mostly in the northeastern provinces and states, as well as in California. Even though Lyme disease is considered severely underreported, there are more than 15,000 known cases a year. The disease causes an acute inflammatory condition of the joints, heart, and nervous system occurring anywhere from two to thirty-two days after the tick bite. Symptoms often start with a rash, often in a bull’s-eye shape. Other symptoms include backaches, sleeping problems, fatigue, flulike symptoms, headaches, muscle weakness, and a stiff neck. Lyme disease can cause severe, long-term, debilitating arthritis and trigger chronic fatigue syndrome if not treated early enough. There is no long-term concern with using teasel or chaparral. You will see some controversy in the literature over chaparral, but in my experience (and from discussing this with many other practitioners), there is no long-term side effect. Chaparral has been used for millennia by indigenous peoples. The other remedies I would recommend for a case such as yours are reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), three 60-mg capsules twice daily; antler horn tonic (a Chinese remedy), 1 tablespoon twice daily for two months; garlic (Allium sativum), one to two 500-mg capsules twice daily; mixed essential fatty acids (black currant, borage, and evening primrose oils), two 1,000-mg capsules twice daily; coptis (Coptis chinensis), one 1,500-mg capsule twice daily; and chlorella, 1,000 mg twice daily. Eat lots of raw and cooked onions and garlic. A person with Lyme disease should avoid sugar, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, white flour, and hydrogenated oils and fats.
I presume that you took probiotics during and for at least one month after the course of antibiotics. If not, please take 2 high-potency (3 billion organisms) capsules for at least three months.
Terry Willard is a clinical herbalist, president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners, and founder of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of eight books and a CD-ROM, Interactive Herbal.
Jill Stansbury has been a naturopathic physician for more than ten years, with a private practice in Battle-ground, Washington. She is the chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and the author of many books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997).
The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.