How Herbs Treat Lyme Disease

April 21, 2020

As many as 400,000 new cases of Lyme disease occur in the United States each year, according to 2018 statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—more than 10 times the number of annual diagnoses of HIV/AIDS.

Lyme disease can invade a person’s organs (including the heart and brain) and damage the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to a host of many common health problems that can affect every system in the body. In fact, Lyme can manifest differently in different people, and it can sometimes take many years and visits to several different doctors before patients realize what is at the root of their health problems.

Lyme is typically transmitted through a tick bite, but other insects may also carry the disease (it can even be transmitted sexually.) However, the actual cause of a Lyme infection is a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Under the microscope, this organism looks like a wiggling corkscrew—a bacterial shape known to microbiologists as a spirochete. Conventional treatment is antibiotics, but Borellia can be very difficult bacteria to kill.

Evidence suggests that herbs may offer treatment advantages that antibiotics don’t.

A new study published in the peer-review journal Frontiers in Medicine found that seven herbal medicines are capable of killing Borrelia in test tubes, and one of these plants caused complete eradication—a result that regularly prescribed antibiotics such as doxycycline and cefuroxime couldn’t deliver.

This high performing plant is the West African shrub, Cryptolepis sanguinolenta (also known as nibima, Ghanaian quinine, or yellow-dye root). Cryptolepis is an herb best known in traditional Ghanaian medicine for treatment of malaria. Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) was also found to be highly effective. The five other herbs shown to kill Borellia include black walnut (Juglans nigra), sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa), rock rose (Cistus incanus), and Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis).

The lab work was done at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and funded primarily by the Bay Area Lyme Foundation—a nonprofit whose mission is to make Lyme a disease that is “easy to diagnose, and simple to cure.” It may sound simple, but this mission is an ambitious one.

The foundation’s founders started the organization because of several challenges that weigh on Lyme diagnosis and treatment.

Testing

Conventional tests used to identify the disease are often unreliable. And even after several courses of antibiotics, the symptoms, and the bacteria that causes them, may still persist. Some experts estimate that at least 2 million Americans may be suffering from debilitating long-term complications because of Lyme disease.

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