One of the reasons why Lyme may be so difficult to treat is that it can morph into various forms (spirochete) and persist in nongrowing forms in tissues (granules, cell wall deficient forms, and cysts or round bodies).1 We know that those who are treated with antibiotics, even combination therapies, may experience symptoms long after treatment has been completed. Persistence of infection with Borrelia has been demonstrated in a study where live spirochetes were found in culture of tissue and body fluids taken from antibiotic treated individuals.2 It is imperative that studies look at effective treatment against all forms of Borrelia, including these persister (stationary/latent) forms. Persistence of B. burgdorferi may also be due to another form in which it exists, and that is within biofilm. Biofilm with Borrelia have been isolated from human tissue.3 Below are some of the studies that looked at herbs and their activity against various forms of Borrelia species.
In one study, Uncaria tomentosa, also known as Cat’s Claw, and Otoba parvifloia both eliminated spirochete and round forms of Borrelia burgdorferi. In clinical practice, herbs are usually blended as herbs work synergistically, often with smaller concentrations of each herb combined being more effective than a single remedy itself. This study reflected this notion, as both herbs had significant activity against all forms of Borrelia, especially when they were mixed.4
In another study, a specific brand of stevia whole leaf extract (extracted with alcohol) did show activity against growing and nongrowing forms of B. burgdorferi in vitro, whereas doxycycline and cefoperazone only showed activity against growing phases of B. burgdorferi.5 Purified stevioside and a powder form of stevia had no effect. The same specific stevia showed activity against persister forms, which was reflected by the inhibition of all viable cells in 7-day subcultures and with an increase in only 10% of viable cells in 14-day subcultures. This particular stevia also had an effect on biofilm, reducing growth by 40% in comparison to control, whereas doxycycline, cefoperazone, and daptomycin actually induced growth of biofilm.
A more recent study published in 2020 by Feng et al, looked at 12 commonly used botanical herbs and three natural agents in its effects on the growth of B. burgdorferi in culture.6 They found that Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, Juglans nigra (Black walnut), Polygonum cuspidatum (Japanese knotweed), Artemisa annua (Sweet wormwood), Uncaria tomentosa (Cat’s claw), Cistus incanus I, and Scutellaria biancalenis at 1% had good activity against the stationary phase, or nongrowing phase, of Borrelia in culture. Only two herbs, Cryptolepis sanguinolenta and Polygonum cuspidatum showed activity against the growing and nongrowing phases of Borrelia burgdorferi. Of particular interest was the finding that Cryptolepis sanguinolenta caused complete eradication of Borrelia, including spirochetes, whereas doxycycline and cefuroxime did not.
These studies certainly have implications for treating Lyme disease and it would be interesting to see further studies looking at the effects of these herbs on an in vivo level. Herbs are rarely used as monotherapies and studies looking at blends of herbs used in conjunction with pharmaceutical agents would be helpful. Various brands, preparations of herbs, and parts of herb used can impact the results of studies and should be noted.
- Rudenko, N., Golovchenko, M., Kybicova, K., Vancova, M. (2019). Metamorphoses of Lyme Disease Spirochetes: Phenomenon of Borrelia Persisters. Parasites Vectors, 12;237-247.
- Middelveen, M., Sapi, E., Burke, J., Filush, K., Franco, A., Fesler, M., Sticker, R. (2018). Persistent Borrelia Infection in Patients with Ongoing Symptoms of Lyme Disease. Healthcare, 6: 1-19.
- Sapi, E., Balasubramanian, K., Poruri, A., Maghsoudlou, J., Socarras, K., Timmaraju, A., et al. (2016). Evidence of In Vivo Existence of Borrelia Biofilm in Borrelial Lymphocytomas. Eur J Microbiol Immunol, 6(1):9-24.
- Datar, A., Kaur, N., Patel, S., Luecke, D., Sapi, E. (2010). In vitro effectiveness of samento and banderol herbal extracts on the different morphological forms of Borrelia burdorferi. Townsend Lett, 7:1-4.
- Theophilus, P., Victoria, M., Socarras, K., Filush, K., Gupta, K., Luecke, D, Sapi, E. (2015). Effectiveness of Stevia Rebaudiana Whole Leaf Extract Against the Various Morphological Forms of Borrelia Burgdorferi in Vitro. Eur J Microbiol Immunol, 5(4):268-80.
- Feng, J., Leone, J., Schweig, S., Zhang, Y. (2020). Evaluation of Natural and Botanical Medicines for Activity Against Growing and Non-growing Forms of B. Burgdorferi. Front. Med, 7(6): 1-14.
The above information is not intended to serve as diagnosis or treatment for Lyme disease. Please consult with your healthcare provider regarding the treatment of Lyme disease.