I live and work in Connecticut, the state with the dubious distinction of being “the birthplace of Lyme disease.” But this nasty tickborne illness isn’t limited to the Northeast. It occurs in every state (with the possible exception of Hawaii), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prompt antibiotic treatment often cures the infection—but when it doesn’t, certain herbs can help get rid of the infection and its nasty symptoms.
Frighteningly, experts now report that the deer tick bite can transmit not only the infamous spirochete (spiral-shaped bacterium) but also multiple infectious agents, I heard from Richard Horowitz, MD, a board-certified internist whose Hyde Park, New York, clinic has treated more than 12,000 Lyme disease patients in the past 20 years. Thus, the disease is more complicated to treat than had previously been understood.
A PERSISTENT PROBLEM
If acute Lyme disease goes untreated or if antibiotic treatment is unsuccessful, patients can develop an array of persistent symptoms in the following weeks and months. The CDC’s symptom list includes palsy (loss of muscle tone) on one or both sides of the face… severe headaches and neck stiffness due to meningitis (inflammation of membranes covering the brain and spinal cord)… heart palpitations… dizziness due to changes in heartbeat… severe joint pain and swelling… shooting pains, numbness or tingling of the hands and feet… irritability… and problems with concentration and memory.
Though some patients have symptoms that last for years, chronic Lyme disease is a controversial issue. In fact, The Journal of Pediatrics recently reported that half of physicians surveyed question the existenceof chronic Lyme disease—even though, as Dr. Horowitz pointed out, there are numerous scientific articles proving the existence of persistent infection despite both short-term and longer-term antibiotic use. The skepticism of some doctors can be incredibly frustrating for patients, as I know from my friend Sheryl, whose two teenagers were diagnosed with chronic Lyme that was not resolved with antibiotics alone.
HERBS IN ACTION
When I called Dr. Horowitz on Sheryl’s behalf, he told me that numerous clinical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of including certain herbs in the treatment of chronic Lyme disease. Why do herbs help achieve what antibiotics alone cannot? Because chronic Lyme disease can involve not only the main spirochetal infection, but also multiple bacterial, viral and/or parasitic coinfections transmitted by the same tick bite, Dr. Horowitz said. Herbs typically prescribed for chronic Lyme are able to combat these various infections because they have antispirochetal, antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic and/or antimalarial properties. They also help reduce inflammation… protect the heart… support the liver… aid kidney function… provide antioxidants… and/or boost the immune system.
Herbs to ask your doctor about: Herbal extracts usually are taken in capsule or tablet form. Among the herbs most commonly prescribed for chronic Lyme are…
- Andrographis paniculata
- Polygonum cuspidatum
Dr. Horowitz emphasized that Lyme patients should take herbs only under the guidance of a health-care practitioner who knows their benefits, side effects and interactions… who can determine which of the various herbal protocols that have been developed for Lyme would be most appropriate for an individual patient… and who can prescribe the right dosages. Referrals: Visit LymeDiseaseAssociation.org, click on “Doctors,” then “Search Our Dr. Referral System.” Note: Certain herbs should not be used by patients who have particular medical conditions (such as gallbladder disease), who take certain medications (such as cyclosporine, cortisone drugs or blood thinners), who are or plan to get pregnant, or who are breast-feeding.
Some herbs initially can cause gastrointestinal side effects, such as constipation or nausea, so patients may start with a small dosage and increase gradually over several weeks… maintain the top dose for several months or so… then reduce the dosage incrementally as their chronic Lyme disease symptoms subside at last.