I’ve been wanting to write for a long time now about my journey with chronic Lyme disease, and what has supported my healing thus far. Many people ask what me what has worked well in treating Lyme holistically, since there are so few practitioners or doctors who have a lot of experience helping those with Lyme. This is a summary of my experiences with the medicines that have been amazing blessings along my path with this hidden teacher. I have followed my body and my intuition’s guidance, knowing there are many different allies in the healing journey that come at the right time for each of us.
Lyme has brought important transformations and blessings into my life, as well as a lot of challenge. Lyme has helped me to change in ways that were very needed and long overdue. It has taught me to care for myself in ways I had not been able to, and to finally learn to reduce stress drastically in my life. Lyme is a transformer. With this teacher, you are forced to create needed changes internally and externally, without much of an option to continue to avoid or bypass them – or you will often remain very sick.
Foods, herbs, supplements, and therapies will not work on their own without changing how you live life. As with all illness, Lyme challenges you to address how you care for yourself, for your nervous system (stress levels and emotions), how you tend your heart, and care for your body. I believe Lyme is a teacher showing us that the way the world is moving, and how our lives are operating currently, is needing to change right now for many of us. When a plant is weak and sick, not receiving its basic needs, it becomes infected with pests, bacteria, and fungi… natures way of recycling. This in my experience, is what happens with Lyme infections.
There isn’t one treatment regimen that will work for everyone, or that will always work for you. Anyone who tells you there is is trying to sell something, or has a limited understanding of illness and healing. There are some therapies I have not tried that I know are very helpful for many people dealing with Lyme and co-infections, that are not included here. It is not possible to do every therapy there is, nor is it necessary. Find what helps you, keep experimenting, and keep listening to yourself.
It’s been a 15 year journey with chronic illness (possibly much longer without my awareness) and is still continuing, though I seem to be in slow recovery now. I am still working closely with myself and with Lyme. By my guess and test results, I was infected around the age of 23 and then again around the age 30. After my second infection, I was very, very sick for a couple of years, on and off for 2 years of herbal treatments, and this past year I’ve felt tremendous relief. (That said I was not even close to as sick as some people get with advanced chronic Lyme disease.) My illness was made worse by living in a house filled with mold, which after extensive visits by mold inspectors and remediators, we had to have burned down by the fire department. Like many people with chronic Lyme, I was in denial for a long time. I rationalized and downplayed what I was experiencing until I couldn’t anymore because I could no longer function. I was hard on myself daily, choosing not to listen to what my body was truly telling me.
As someone who teaches herbalism and holistic healing, very often caring for myself was in the past still last on my list. Though I have led a ‘healthy’ lifestyle, ignoring my own needs in favor of another’s had become an art form I’d mostly perfected. And so of course, the perfect teacher arrived.
When my illness was at the worst (lasting about 2 years), I experienced daily burning body pain, often leaving me unable to move. I have a very high pain tolerance, and many days it was more than I could handle. Migraines that lasted all day every day for about a year, and on and off for another year – after never having had headaches in the past. Unbearable joint pain. Inability to digest almost any food, pain in my abdomen all day, and diarrhea for years – a new experience since having no digestive issues to speak of in my adult life. Swollen lymph nodes, difficulty breathing, chest pain, alzheimer’s symptoms, difficulty speaking and organizing thoughts into sentences (not great when you are a teacher), and body weakness making it difficult to stand, walk, or lift a cup. Sleep became very difficult and disturbed, frequent high levels of stress/anxiety (and a feeling of going crazy), crying fits, and complete emotional and physical exhaustion. Many days my energy levels were so low all I could do was lie in bed, on the floor, or in a bath for most of the day. For a few weeks I slept all day, every day, sometimes on the living room floor if I couldn’t get myself back to the bedroom. Teaching every weekend meant I’d often have to stay with the pain through class, trying to focus through the headaches, and with frequent difficulty finding my words where they had always been before.
Healing through Lyme disease is difficult. It’s much more difficult when you have chronic Lyme, and co-infections. It is a marathon, as treating any chronic illness is. If you treat Lyme right after infection, it’s easier to get rid of, but often it isn’t taken care of fully and turns chronic. I won’t be writing about co-infections, since according to tests, I do not seem to have any (though regardless of tests I am more interested in treating what I’m experiencing than trusting tests completely). That said, these recommendations should also help with treating many of the co-infections as well.
I have not taken any Western antibiotics, though I also haven’t been opposed to it. I’ve felt very protective of my gut flora, knowing that my immune system is depending heavily on those bacterial allies. I’ve chosen to listen to my body and my intuition, focusing on what I have seen helps to restore health, strength, and vitality.
What has helped me will have to be adjusted for you, as we are all different. This takes listening to your body, adjusting doses of herbs and supplements moment to moment, and guiding yourself each step of the way. Since Lyme die off can cause intense worsening of symptoms, inform yourself about Herxheimer reactions, so you understand what is occurring as you begin treatments. Be gentle with yourself, be steady in your self care, and support Lyme or co-infection die off reactions by gently cleansing and nourishing the body through the process.
Lyme disease is degenerative, meaning it weakens and wears away at your organs and tissues, sometimes causing damage that cannot be fully repaired. I’ve felt this degeneration/weakening in my heart, brain, nerves, kidneys, lungs, joints, adrenals, endocrine glands, and intestines. Treating Lyme should be taken very seriously – it can leave you mostly paralyzed and be the cause of death if you let it take over your body and cause damage for long periods of time. Many degenerative illnesses and organ/tissue failure can be attributed to Lyme disease and its co-infections, something that is now becoming more understood.
As I shared above, Lyme is about restoring health to many aspects of yourself and your life. The focus of treatment is not just on creating Lyme die off, but in restoring your whole being so that you aren’t an easy target for Lyme to thrive on – as the sick plant infected with parasites. This translates to strengthening and restoring individual organs and tissues, your nervous system/mind, and supplying yourself with the essential nutrients needed in your life to be nourished.
You will need to be focused and disciplined about creating the space for healing, and creating changes in your life, even if you have to take breaks now and then. After years of treating yourself, the constant self care can become exhausting. Taking breaks in little ways helps. Seek help from healing practitioners, and find those around you who can help provide support, encouragement, and can cheerlead you.
One thing I can say is Lyme is not your enemy, it is a master teacher/healer/transformer. You will have to work with it to heal your life, and you will have to fight. The only way through is the focused practice (and sometimes hard work) of self-care and learning to receive help.
*** As you work with herbs and supplements to help support you through healing Lyme, I suggest you find a recommended Lyme literate naturopathic doctor (ND) to support you through the process of healing. As an herbalist, I also had naturopaths who helped monitor and explain more of what was happening, through my often mentally blurry and weakened states. This is especially important if you have been sick with Lyme for a long time, as the die off process can be hard on already weakened organs. They should work WITH you, as you navigate treating Lyme holistically, since you know your body more intimately than they do. Together you make informed decisions.
*** Course of any treatment for chronic Lyme disease is years, in what I’ve witnessed, 2-5 years of continual focused treatment depending on the situation/person. After 2 years of very focused treatment (taking breaks from the herbs for a week or two at a time as needed), herbs and supplements are then taken for years afterwards for months at a time, but with longer breaks. I’ve listened to my body to dictate the length of time I take certain herbs or supplements for, and when to take breaks.
*** This list of herbs, supplements, and therapies might seem long, and too much to do. This is the regimen that has worked for me, and I chose to treat Lyme without any antibiotics. As an herbalist, working with these plants came naturally and intuitively. If I were to write an article for what someone else should do, it wouldn’t be accurate since I can’t navigate what works for someone else and what doesn’t. The best we can do is try the therapies and herbs on our own that are recommended – those we intuit we might want to try. Exploring each herb, supplement, or therapy, and adding them together slowly until we find what’s helping us. This focused treatment schedule has resulted in the most supplements and herbs I’ve ever taken daily in my life. But for me, it was a question of being able to get out of bed and function, or not. When there isn’t much else you can do daily but rest in bed, drinking a couple of quarts of tea a day, adding some tinctures in, and taking a bunch of supplements is pretty easy. Once we become stronger and busy again, it’s harder to keep up with. That’s when we adjust what we are doing, and when the hard work of self care during daily life comes in… What I’m including here is what has given me my life back. To adapt what worked for me, you might start with one plant at a time, one tea or tincture at a time, getting to know them in your body.. adding what works as you go, and working with practitioners to support your exploration.
INFORM YOURSELF ~ Understand Lyme… know what is in your body.
Here are some links with a lot of information to understand Lyme better. In this post I’m focusing on what to treat it with, but if you don’t know much about Lyme, it’s very important that you inform yourself. I have done this through shamanic journeying, researching, talking with others, meditation, listening to my body, and listening to the Lyme bacteria themselves.
LYME INFORMATION LINKS ~
* Lyme Disease Guide – http://lymediseaseguide.org
* Very Helpful Lyme Information – http://www.livelongercleanse.com/page/lymes- disease
* Information & Forum – http://www.tiredoflyme.com
Lots of resources – http://www.lymeinfo.net/alt.html
DIET CHANGES ~
I have never been a fan of restrictive diets. I also don’t believe in one diet working for us all of the time, since we need different nutrients & energies at different times, day to day, week to week, year to year. The best we can do is learn to listen to our body (rather than just our mind/emotions/taste buds).
I am a gluten LOVER. Crispy sourdough bread will always be one of the easiest to digest and loved friends. But with Lyme disease, gluten, sugar, alcohol, and processed foods have had to be either completely eliminated or seriously reduced. Eat all organic as much as possible (eating out is tough), and grains have to be soaked or cooked until almost mushy. I still enjoy gluten now and then, but mostly I eat gluten free – thankfully there are many great options out there! Thankfully, as you heal through Lyme, eating becomes pleasureful and easeful again.
HAPPY LYME BODY DIET ~
* Gluten Free ~ As health improves, you will be able to enjoy it again occasionally.
* No Sugar ~ Fruits are good, but no dried fruit or fruit juice. This includes less simple carbs (pasta, bread, etc, even if its gluten free).
* No Alcohol ~ This is the absolute worst for Lyme I’ve found.
* Periods of complete dairy elimination, meat elimination, grain or bean elimination depending on state of digestive system. During extremely weekend states of Lyme illness, meat can be medicinal, though not a lot is needed. When strength and digestion recovered, a vegan diet became the most healing and anti-inflammatory for me.
* Avoid processed foods in boxes… Fresh whole food.
* Low grain diet ~ Grains can really increase inflammation, and can be tough with gut inflammation. Soaking grains, sprouting, or over-cooking them seems to work well.
* For Legumes ~ Overcook, they will cause inflammation and gut pain if undercooked.
* LOTS of fermented foods ~ Kombucha (drinking 2-3 bottles a day saved me when I was really sick), fermented vegetables, vinegars etc. Kombucha is cleansing, anti-inflammatory, and helps to increase healthy gut flora and immunity.
* Vegetables well cooked. Raw can sometimes be good, but other times indigestible.
* Lots of fruits and veggies.
* Meat when the body feels the weakest.
* Soup is always the best…
* Fresh vegetable juice ~ Veggie juice along with kombucha and coconut water, became a savior on the hard days.
*Coconut water ~ This raw coconut water saved me repeatedly when Lyme was at its worst. ~ http://www.harmlessharvest.com. Good for dry mouth, dry eyes, and generally dry mucus membranes. Chia, flax, and marshmallow root tea also helped greatly for dryness, when even water felt dry to me.
Vegetable juicing has saved me during my worst Lyme days… Readily absorbable nutrients! Helping with cleansing, nourishing, easing inflammation, poor digestion, and restoring tissue health.
HERBAL SUGGESTIONS ~ Plants have helped me more than any other therapy or medicine…
This is partly due to plants being such great allies of mine. They have saved me in so many moments of my life, and are what I can attribute most of my healing through Lyme to. They have always been my guides through the journey of healing. Because I practice plant spirit medicine, I work with these plants as conscious beings, helping me along the path, and listening to what my body and whole being is needing each moment.
In deep states of meditation while drinking these plants, I am able to communicate with them around the support and healing I’m seeking, and allow them to bring me into deeper connection with myself and my body. I’ve developed amazing plant friends that have cared for me during very difficult stretches of Lyme, and I highly recommend spending time meditating and communicating with them as you go.
*** Not recommended to exceed 6 droppers full of herbal tincture/s in one dose.
1. DAILY NOURISHING HERB ~ 1 quart Infusion drunk daily ~
Nutrient rich, cleansing to fluids, anti-inflammatory, whole system building & restorative.
NETTLES (Urtica dioica) ~ 1 quart drunk daily.
2 handfuls (1 cup) of dry nettles in a quart jar, covered in hot water, steeped overnight or 3-6 hours. Drunk through day. I drank nettles for adrenal support, cleansing, joint pain, inflammation, immune strengthening, nutrients & nutrient absorption, kidney & urinary system support, whole system healing. Green mother milk, teaching us of healthy boundaries, self care, and healing on all levels.
BURDOCK (Arctium lappa) ~ 1 quart drunk a day.
By itself or combined with Marshmallow root(Althaea officinalis) for inflammation.
1 handful (about 3 spoonfuls) dried root in 3 quart saucepan. Simmer 15-20 min on low. I enjoy burdock for inflammation, pain, detoxing, liver & kidney support, digestive healing, feeding healthy gut flora, joint pain, blood cleansing etc. – Nutrient rich. Deep rooted elder, teaching us to let go and allow for change…
2. POWERHOUSE LYME – ADAPTOGEN BLEND ~
1 quart infusion drunk daily, or 2-3 doses of tincture a day.
Kills Lyme. Increases immune system strength and ability, balances and rebuilds the nervous system & endocrine system, strengthens adrenals, lowers stress, anxiety, and depression. I’ve found these adaptogens are powerhouses of healing, strengthening, re-balancing, and rebuilding many organs of the body and tissues. There is some thought that astragalus should not be taken in situations of chronic Lyme, which I have not found to be true in my experience. It has been amazingly helpful for many with chronic Lyme inflammation and immune weakness.
Blend Together –
(Ganoderma lucidum or tsugae)
Personal additions ~ I often add a small amount of Fo Ti (Polygonum multiflorum), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Maca (Lepidium meyenii), and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Sometimes I throw in a little Cacao, Ginger, and/or Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) depending on my mood/desires. If my pain/inflammation is really up I add a good amount of Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) when I need an extra anti-inflammatory boost. These are some suggestions for additions, if you are familiar with these plants.
To make infusion – Mix all of these together, and then simmer on very low 1 handful (a little less than a 1/4 cup) in a 3 quart saucepan of water for 15 minutes. I drink 1 quart a day. Dilute with water to taste – listen to your body!
To make tincture – Fill a quart mason jar 1/2 way full with dried herb blend, cover completely in high quality vodka (from a glass jar, no plastic!), label, and steep for 4-6 weeks. Strain and tI take 4-6 droppers full in a big glass of water 2-3x a day.
*** I alternate between the tincture and decoction, depending on the day.
3. TO CAUSE SERIOUS LYME DIE OFF – ANDROGRAPHIS TINCTURE ~ (Andrographis paniculata)
15 – 30 drops in a big glass of water, or added to the adaptogen blend.
Taken 2-3x a day, listening to your body. – I would take it for a week, then a day or two break, and then continue for another week, followed by a break, and so on for a month or two at a time. Then give your body a rest, and repeat as your body dictates.
This plant should be used with caution, and give your body breaks when it feels too weak. It can kill off your gut flora, and cause abdominal pain. Andrographis can also cause intense herx symptoms as the Lyme bacteria die off quickly. I rely on Turmeric tea for herxing, as well as Nettles and Burdock infusions, hot baths, and rest – as well as lowering my dose if the herxing becomes too intense.
LYME DIE OFF ~ Herxing (common Lyme die off symptoms) is very difficult, as the Lyme bacteria releases toxins into the bloodstream when they die, sending your body into shock. This can be very harmful, and can cause a lot of inflammation and stress on your organs, which in cases of chronic Lyme, are already weakened. Turmeric, nettles, marshmallow root, and burdock help a lot when this happens, as well as slowing down the amount of andrographis you are taking. Herxing can be very scary, so please be careful and listen to your body.
4. JAPANESE KNOTWEED TINCTURE ~ (Polygonum cuspidatum)
2-3 droppers full in water, taken 2-3x a day. To kill Lyme, for inflammation, joint pain, heart health, circulation, kidney health, etc.
Sometimes I add this tincture to the adaptogen blend, or I take it just with sarsaparilla or cat’s claw tincture. I don’t like to take too many doses of tincture in one day long term. 2-3x a day of up to 6 droppers full of any combinations of tincture is plenty for long term use.
To make tincture – Fill a jar 1/2 way with dried root. Cover in high quality vodka, and steep for 4-6 weeks. Strain and use.
5. CAT’S CLAW TINCTURE ~ (Uncaria tomentosa)
2-3 droppers full in water, taken 2-3x a day. To kill Lyme, for inflammation, and joint pain.
To make tincture – Fill a jar 1/2 way with dried root. Cover in high quality vodka, and steep for 4-6 weeks. Strain and use.
6. SARSPARILLA ROOT TINCTURE ~ (Hemidesmus indicus)
2-3 droppers full in water, taken 2-3x a day. To kill Lyme, strengthen the immune system, cleanse the blood, ease inflammation, and reduce joint pain. To make tincture – Fill a jar 1/2 way with dried root. Cover in high quality vodka, and steep for 4-6 weeks. Strain and use.
More herbs that have helped me greatly at different times ~
HAWTHORN or MOTHERWORT TINCTURES ~ When my heart was being affected greatly by Lyme, causing palpitations, weakness, chest pain, irregular heartbeats, and poor circulation. They ease emotional pain, stress, anxiety, and soothe any suffering in the heart.
BITTER ORANGE or TURMERIC TEA ~ For cleansing toxins from the body, healing the digestive system, and helping to kill off Lyme. If bitter orange was ever too bitter and drying, I’d enjoy sweet orange instead. Powerful allies who bring in light, strength, courage, and willpower.
SKULLCAP or BLUE VERVAIN TINCTURES OR TEA ~ For the many times I thought I was going crazy with anxiety, worry, panic, and difficulty sleeping. During herxing when the Lyme bacteria release nuerotoxins (resulting in the nervous system going haywire), these two nervine relaxants provided a lot of relief. Rebuilding to the nervous system, emotional body, and easing stress reactions.
TEASEL TINCTURE ~ (Dipsacus sylvestris) – (15-30 drops) helped with nerve and brain repair, where the Lyme had caused damage. Often used in combination with nervines and adaptogens to help rebuild the nervous system, brain, repair mental functioning, and lower stress response. Eases inflammation, supports musculoskeletal system, and detoxification.
COMFREY JUICE (Symphytum officinale)
PLANTAIN JUICE (Plantago major)
VIOLET JUICE (Viola odorata)
MARSHMALLOW ROOT TEA (Althaea officinalis) ~ These 4 are vulnerary wound healing herbs that also help to cleanse and nourish the body. When my tissues were feeling very damaged and wounded, these three healers were absolutely incredible restoratives. They soothe inflammation, intestinal damage, and heal wounds in the body/organ tissues. The dry mouth, eyes, and other mucus membranes can be unbearable with Lyme. These herbs and coconut water are what helped the most.
TO MAKE HERBAL JUICES – 1-2 handfuls of fresh leaves (only 1 handful with comfrey or plantain), in a blender filled with water. Blend, strain, and drink.
Some other plants that have been inviting me to work with them on my Lyme journey – Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua), Calamus (Acorus calamus), and Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus). And more are still coming… I hear them whispering.
SUPPLEMENTS ~ They are needed…
I usually rely on herbs and foods solely for all I need, but with Lyme the body becomes depleted of nutrients often. These supplements have helped tremendously, and increased energy when it was unbearably low. Some of the supplements listed below are for inflammation/pain, others for die off, cleansing, or restoring body tissue to health.
PROBIOTICS ~ Interspersed through your day, away from any antibiotics or antibiotic herbs, 4-6 capsules a day. I recommend Megafood’s brand, Garden of Life, and New Chapter.
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS ~ OMEGA 3 & 6 ~ 4-6 capsules a day. I’ve taken up to 8 capsules a day when inflammation and pain was at its worst. This is one of the best supplements you can take for inflammation/body pain and Lyme headaches. It also helps to improve brain and nerve function and repair. Lots of information online. I mostly buy Nordic Naturals brand.
SERRAPEPTASE ~ 1 capsule 2x per day – To dissolve biofilm of Lyme bacteria. I use Doctor’s Best brand, but there may be a better brand out there. THIS IS ESSENTIAL.
When Lyme is attacked, it goes into cyst form so that it cannot be killed off. You will need to take serrapeptase to help dissolve the biofilm of the cysts, in order for the Lyme to be killed off.
RESVERATROL ~ 2 capsules a day (400-500mg total per day) — Try Garden of Life Raw trans resveratrol. Important compound in Japanese Knotweed. For inflammation, heart health, joint health, circulation, etc. Very helpful for pain and inflammation. More information – http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/resveratrol
RAW CHLORELLA TABLETS ~ 20 small (200 mg) tablets per day – Try Raw Power Organics brand. Detoxing to whole body and heavy metals (carried by bacteria and released into bloodstream as Lyme dies off), nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory.
ZYPHLAMEND or TURMERIC FORCE Capsules by New Chapter ~ 2 capsules 2x a day of either one. I am not a capsule fan usually, but these have worked incredibly well for Lyme die off inflammation, detoxing, joint and body pain, and headaches.
WHOLE FOOD VITAMINS & TRACE MINERALS ~ LIQUID OR CAPSULE – I love Floradix, New Chapter’s whole food vitamins, Megafood’s whole food vitamins, Garden of Life, and trace minerals (from taking internal clay, spirulina, or a liquid trace mineral).
ZINC & MAGNESIUM ~ Often depleted in Lyme cases.
OTHER VITAL THERAPIES ~ Providing tremendous relief…
LYMPH BRUSHING ~ Many days the only way to keep the pain down was a really hot bath or shower, and a lot of Lymph brushing. Find an exfoliating glove, and vigorously rub your whole body, moving always in the direction of your heart. Boost immunity, relieves pain and inflammation, cleansing to the body.
AVOID EMF’s ~ They increase Lyme symptoms and infection immensely. Studies have shown the Lyme seems to feel attacked, and begins to reproduce at quicker rates. (Produced by cordless phones, cell phones, wireless technology, home near airport (radar), computer.
HOT/COLD WATER TREATMENTS ~ INFARED SAUNA ~ Another saving grace when the Lyme episodes were really bad, and the pain was to much to bear. Hot baths, infrared sauna, and cold water swimming helped tremendously with detoxification, inflammation, joint pain, and herxing.
LESSEN CHEMICAL EXPOSURE ~ Lyme is often made much worse by exposure to chemicals, toxins, dust, mold, etc. Often inflammation, headaches, and other Lyme symptoms are aggravated tremendously by exposure to these allergens/irritants.
MASSAGE & CUPPING/ACUPUNCTURE ~ Massage helps tremendously with pain relief and inflammation. Massages kept me mobile and functioning many many days… Self massage is very helpful, as well as receiving massage from practitioners. Often the only way I could handle the pain while teaching was to lead the class in self-massage before we began! Herbal infused oils I used for inflammation and pain relief that have helped greatly.
Herbal Massage Oils for Pain & Inflammation – Black birch, spruce, pine, juniper, cedar, turmeric, ginger, and warming adaptogen Ayurvedic blends.
YOGA & EXERCISE ~ If you have the energy and your body is strong enough, exercise and yoga is very healing to Lyme. Increasing lymph and blood flow, cleansing, and activating the body’s own healing capacity. Restorative yoga is incredibly helpful when the Lyme symptoms are very intense.
Remember Lyme is a teacher of deep inner listening and self care. If you allow your life to be transformed in ways that will nourish and support you, Lyme will not stick around. Lyme forces you to make changes in how you live, learning to lower stress, treat yourself with kindness, rest often, and to listen more deeply to yourself.
Blessings on your healing journey… May you care for yourself well, with your body and the earth as your guide, trusting the blessings you are receiving on the path of healing through Lyme.