It used to be believed that Lyme disease always resolved after a few weeks of antibiotics. But more and more reports are coming out of people who remain sick or even get worse after antibiotic treatment. For this reason, many physicians treating Lyme disease have also begun using natural methods like nutrition, herbs, and supplements.
"I believe it's important to address all aspects of a person," Kristin Reihman, MD, family medicine doctor and author of Life After Lyme, tells Bustle. The treatments she recommends to her patients include "supplementation, taking out allergens and inflammatory foods in the diet, making sure work and play environments are not toxic, remediating any mold and other issues that might be there that could undermine an otherwise healthy immune system, and looking at toxic relationships."
Having chronic Lyme disease may feel hopeless when there's no straightforward treatment that works for everyone. But that doesn't mean there isn't any treatment for you at all. To the contrary, there are lots of alternative options out there. Doing some research can help you find the one that suits your needs.
Acupuncture has been shown to help with symptoms like pain, insomnia, and anxiety that are often associated with Lyme, Dr. Reihman says. It may even help get rid of the Lyme altogether, since there's some research suggesting that acupuncture can strengthen the immune system.
2. An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Many Lyme symptoms stem from inflammation, so the fewer inflammatory foods you eat, the more you can keep your symptoms at bay. Dr. Reihman recommends that people with Lyme avoid sugar, alcohol, caffeine, gluten, and dairy to the best of their abilities.
"Sugar and alcohol can both undermine an immune response, making it less robust, which is the last thing anybody wants when they're trying to fight a Lyme infection," she explains. "Dairy creates mucus in everybody, and because mucus is a common place for microbes to hide in the body, I recommend they stay off dairy." Dr. Reihman also recommends staying away from gluten because of the effects it can have on your gut lining.
Dr. Reihman suggests going on an elimination diet to figure out what your trigger foods are. This can help people "heal the gut and experientially gain awareness of what feels good in their body," she explains.
Lyme patients can benefit from trace minerals, vitamin D, probiotics (especially if you're taking antibiotics), and omega-6 and omega-3 fats, Dr. Reihman says.
However, she recommends using as few supplements as possible. "The gut can only handle so much before becoming overwhelmed," she explains. Instead of taking a lot of supplements, it's better to eat six cups of leafy greens or brightly colored vegetables per day.
Chlorella, a type of algae, has been touted as a superfood because of its antioxidant and detoxifying properties. Dr. Reihman recommends it for Lyme patients because it binds to toxins and helps you eliminate them.
This can help you avoid a Herxheimer reaction, where Lyme gets released into the bloodstream and causes inflammation in the process of being killed.
Exercise is good for pretty much everyone, but it has extra benefits for Lyme patients. "Lyme hates heat and it hates oxygen, and exercise can bring both of those things to all parts of the body," Dr. Reihman says. "I encourage people to do as much as they can tolerate every day."
There's some research showing that stevia, a natural sugar-free sweetener, can kill Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria species that causes Lyme. It's not entirely certain if this would kill Lyme in the body, as the study was done on isolated bacteria, but some people swear by it. Naturopath Julia Greenspan, ND recommends stevia because she considers it a biofilm disruptor.
Lyme bacteria "produce something called biofilm, which is a protein matrix creating treatment resistance, so it is important to incorporate biofilm-busting herbals," she tells Bustle. "The more varied the herbal treatments, the more success one will have resolving symptoms."
8. Banderol And Cat’s Claw
"These two herbs are commonly dosed together because they work synergistically with clinically proven action against Borrelia species," Greenspan says. "The goals with any treatment with Lyme disease spirochetes, whether chronic or acute, is to have a combination of herbs to be effective with the shape-shifting behavior of this microbe."
9. A Good Support System
Healing Lyme, like any illness, is also about emotional health. This means having supportive people around you and setting boundaries with those who trivialize your illness or claim it's in your head.
"When people are surrounded by people who don't believe them, that can create undo stress," Dr. Reihman says. "Feelings of lack of efficacy can be harmful to someone's long-term healing project. I encourage people to have conversations with people in their lives who may not know how to be as helpful as they can be."
Healing from Lyme disease is a journey, but it's one you need never give up on. When one method fails, that's just a chance to try another one.