When standard antibiotic treatment fails, many of us give holistic or complementary protocols a try. It takes determination to battle the stealth pathogens associated with Lyme and its coinfections. Where pharmaceuticals bombard the body, herbs are more elegant and complex. They work synergistically when encountering these organisms.
As Stephen Harrod Buhner says, “The bacteria are evolving, we need to, too.”
Buhner, master herbalist and author, is well-known to many in the Lyme community for his informative, meticulously researched, and beautifully written books. His popular Lyme protocol has helped scores of Lyme patients, as it picks up where technological medicine leaves off.
His new work, Healing Lyme Disease Coinfections is a reference book for people struggling with these common Lyme coinfections. There is increasing evidence that coinfections such as Bartonella and mycoplasmas are the rule, not the exception, when Lyme is present. How do these coinfections behave in the body, and what can be done to alleviate the problems they create?
Q: Who would you like to read this book, and what do you want them to walk away knowing?
A: Well, the book was written for both people with Lyme and Lyme coinfections and for health professionals and I tried to make it accessible to both groups. These kinds of emerging infections are what some epidemiologists and researchers are calling “second generation” infections. “First generation” are those bacteria that antibacterials were developed for after world war II. In essence, technological medicine already dealt with the easy ones.
The emerging infections, among which are included Lyme and its coinfections, are much more difficult. They tend to be stealth pathogens, much more clever when they infect the body, and they take a different approach. Technological medicine, while a great adjunct, is not capable, at this point in time (if it ever will be), of dealing with this second generation of infectious agents.
So, the purpose of the book is twofold. First: to begin giving a good general sense of how these infectious agents behave and why they do so. This takes a lot of the mystique away from them, lowers the fear level, and allows an intelligent response to treating them. This creates empowerment both for healing professionals and those who are infected.
Second: The standard medical model for treating infections is tremendously flawed and those flaws are rather glaring when it comes to treating stealth infections such as these. I am hoping the book will stimulate the development of a much different approach to treating infections, one that is a great deal more sophisticated than the one currently in use. The bacteria are evolving, we need to, too.
Q: Why should people with Lyme be concerned about coinfections and mycoplasma?
A: Coinfections make treating Lyme much more difficult due to the synergy between Lyme and other coinfectious agents. Research has found, time and time again, that coinfection is much more common than not. Those with coinfections tend to be sicker longer, have more difficult symptoms, possess a lower quality of life, and are much less likely to heal from the use of monotherapies such as antibiotics.
Q: Please give us a basic working definition of mycoplasma.
A: Perhaps the tiniest bacteria known, mycoplasma must scavenge almost all of its nutrients from its host by breaking down host cellular tissues. It has an affinity for mucus membrane systems and cilia and once in the body creates a kind of nutrient starvation in the host which results in a wide range of symptoms, much as lyme does.
Q: What is mycoplasma's relation to Lyme disease? How long have medical doctors been noticing its relationship to Lyme?
A: Mycoplasma, like most of the coinfections, is very new to medical doctors. Like most [coinfections], it has only come to prominence in the past 15 years or so, more so each year. As with the other coinfectious agents, it is spread by tickbite (among other things). As researchers have looked deeper into the Lyme epidemic, they have found that mycoplasma is a much more common coinfection than realized.
Q: Please elaborate on the issue of chronic Lyme -- the idea being that many of us go 'chronic' because we were not diagnosed early enough for treatment to be fully effective. How can a working knowledge of herbal remedies help?
A: About 60 percent of people who are infected with Lyme can be helped by antibiotics. Five to ten percent are not. Thirty to thirty-five percent appear to be helped initially but relapse. Added to that are the very large group of people who are never properly diagnosed with lyme. About half of those heal naturally over time, the others do not.
In consequence there is a large group of people that develop chronic Lyme. In that population, about half will respond to a fairly simple herbal protocol, the others will not. Herbs are much more elegant medicinal agents than pharmaceuticals in that they contain hundred to thousands of complex compounds that work together synergistically when confronted by disease organisms.
The plants have been here much longer than people and they have developed extremely sophisticated responses to infections. when we take them internally, those responses are medicines for us. The very nature of stealth pathogens and their wide impacts on the body make herbs a very useful approach.
In essence, successful treatment of Lyme infections needs to address: immune status, inflammation dynamics that are breaking down cellular tissues in the body (cytokine cascades), specific symptoms, and the long term damage, especially in the nervous system, that lyme causes. Pharmaceuticals are useless for most of those. Each of those problems can often be addressed with one or two plants due to the complexity of compounds in the plants.
Q: Please say a few words about the difference(s) between plain old resveratrol capsules and Japanese knotweed, and why you prefer whichever you prefer.
A: I always wanted to use Japanese knotweed root itself for treating Lyme, however, when I first wrote the book there were no decent suppliers for the herb in the U.S. It turned out that a number of resveratrols were made using knotweed root, in fact what they were were actually standardized knotweed root, so that is what I first suggested.
Now that the herb has proved so helpful to so many, a number of growers and harvesters have made it commonly available. I like the whole, powdered, root the best for several reasons. First it is much cheaper than the capsules. Second, I think that it is much easier to take these herbs if the powder is simply blended into liquid and then drunk. Taking all those capsules is a pain.
And, just my own preference . . . I like wild plants or those organically grown. They haven’t been mucked about with; there is much less standing between us and the plants.
Thank you, Stephen!
Buy the book
More Stephen Harrod Buhner
“Researchers note that multiple textbooks and websites prominently feature the bull's-eye image as a visual representation of Lyme disease.” They write, “This emphasis on target-like lesions may have inadvertently contributed to an underappreciation for atypical skin lesions caused by Lyme disease.” -- Some Visible Signs of Lyme Disease Are Easily Missed or Mistaken, Science Daily, Apr 22, 2013
Disregard for skin lesions that are unlike the bull’s-eye rash can be a mistake. Early detection and diagnosis is crucial in getting proper treatment, and early treatment is the best prevention for trouble down the road. Steven E, Schutzer, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School,
Clinical diagnosis must consider any skin rash, regardless of its resemblance to the bull’s-eye. Other symptoms may include fever, flu-like malaise, and headache, as well as sensitivity to bright or fluorescent light. Doctors must also consider context, and whether the patient has been in an area where Lyme disease is endemic.
Misdiagnosis is problematic. Get a second, third, or fourth opinion if your doctor does not listen to your concerns, or if he or she disregards unusual skin lesions, or any of your symptoms.
This development in the evolution of Lyme diagnosis is exciting, because it can help medical experts to dispel one of the common myths regarding symptoms that indicate the presence of the Lyme bacteria. Our gratitude goes out to the medical research team who made this discovery, guided by Steven E, Schutzer, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School.
Personal experience taught me what took medical science years to prove. Having had Lyme before these studies were conducted, I am one of the many who did not benefit from the latest research. Instead, doctors and dermatologists insisted that my severe skin lesions were a bad case of eczema and not an indication of Lyme. I was told to “take it easy,” and “get a handle on my stress levels,” and my skin condition would go away.
Nothing like a life-threatening skin rash to make you a little stressed.
Even after being admitted to the ER with a staff infection due to the increasingly spreading rash, doctors believed that only the bull’s-eye rash would signify Lyme. As a result, proper diagnosis and treatment were significantly delayed. Do not let that happen to you or your loved ones.
“We live in the most extraordinary country, with the best doctors in the world. But the truth is, we don't have proper diagnostic testing,” Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member Yolanda Foster told the audience at the Gala held for the Lyme Research Alliance on April 6. The LRA honored Foster with the Star Light Award, in recognition for her advocacy and for serving as a role model for people suffering with Lyme.
In her acceptance speech, Foster describes her frightening decline from “being an outspoken, multi-tasking social butterfly, to being trapped in a mentally paralyzed cocoon.” Doctors did not find any indication of Lyme disease in their standard blood tests, so they missed important clues. She knew something was wrong, intuiting that it may have been an infection in her brain. But doctor after doctor misdiagnosed her, advising her to cut back on her busy schedule. She was put on subscription drugs.
“Sleeping pills, Adderall, steroids, and anti-depressants,” she recalls, reciting the litany of drugs she was given. “[But] I was so so not depressed,” she adds. Increasing frustration and annoyance were closer to the mark.
After a two-week stay at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles that achieved nothing, Foster returned home to bed. Hopeless, and believing that in her native Europe she might find a doctor to help, she to embarked on the long flight from California to Belgium. After a test showed spirochetes in her brain, she finally received a correct diagnosis of Lyme Neuroborreliosis and co-infections.
Thankfully, zeroing in on the pathology leads to treatment, but as anyone who has been through this crazy-making process knows, Lyme treatment is a double-edged sword. To begin with, it is not so cut and dry. And antibiotic therapy also causes Herxheimer reactions which can be as debilitating as the symptoms themselves. Friend Suzanne Somers led Foster to the Sponaugle Wellness Institute in Clearwater, Florida. Foster reluctantly left her family to go for a 6-week treatment. She reports that now she feels about 80% back to normal.
The LRA event raised more than $1 million to fund research for finding a cure for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Doctors Steven Schutzer, M.D., of the University of Medicine and Dentristy of New Jersey, and Mark Eshoo, Ph.D, director of new technology at Ibis Biosciences, were also honored at the Gala and received an award for their significant contribution in research and treatment in the quest to find a cure for Lyme.
Please watch Yolanda Foster's speech.
Interview with director of the Lyme Research Alliance
“I'm sick,” she managed hoarsely. “The flu.”
So instead I drove to Whole Foods, my pharmacy of choice, and foraged through the produce department for lemons, oranges and fresh ginger. In the spice aisle I picked up a jar of cayenne pepper for topping off a hot citrus-ginger drink. All fall and winter this immune-strengthening drink has helped keep me well.
I let myself into my friend's apartment building, pushed the elevator button and rode up to her floor. I could hear coughing from another apartment as I knocked on her door. She opened it and stepped back, covering her mouth with the sleeve of her bathrobe. She's a nurse, so taking precautions is simply commonsense. I set my offerings down in her kitchen.
We waved and air-hugged from across the room. I promised I would not catch it. As soon as I got home I washed my hands well.
If you've been lucky enough to not catch it yourself, it's hard to miss the prevalence of stories about this winter's flu epidemic. Common also are stories about the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the flu vaccines and prescription drugs designed to combat the bug or virus causing the terrible problems.
My bias is to bone up on prevention. I know it's sometimes impossible to ward off these nasty critters, but I've managed to stay out of harm's way for a good long while now, and I like to think my hot lemon & ginger drink with two shakes of powdered red pepper on top,is helping.
I decided that I needed an antidote to all the dire flu-bug warnings – and also to the unwelcome news story about the latest Lyme-like bug in the US, the Borrelia miyamotoi (more on that in a minute). So I picked up Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. This is a good time to revisit the sound advice of master herbalist and author Stephen Buhner.
Stephen has a thorough scientific approach and vast knowledge of healing herbs. His thoughtful, user-friendly writing is informative and comforting, even when describing the “rise of the superbug.” This is his alarming account of the increasing powerlessness of conventional antibiotics.
In this book, Stephen investigates natural alternatives to conventional antibiotics for treatment of drug-resistant bacteria. If you want to hear a sound argument for using herbal or plant-based antibiotics, check it out. He generally includes as much information as you would want about each herb. One thing I adore about Stephen's books is that he includes recipes for making tinctures, teas, tonics and soothing soups. If you are a DIY'er like me, you'll like that too.
Strengthening the immune system is the first line of defense. As Stephen says: “Countless studies have found that the healthier your immune system, the less likely you are to get a disease and the more likely you are, if you do get sick, to have a milder episode. This is especially true in diseases such as Lyme.”
Bear in mind, not all flu-like symptoms are an indication that you have the flu. Another bacteria carried by deer ticks is now being investigated. It also causes a Lyme-like fever and symptoms resembling flu.
This organism, the Borrelia miyamotoi, was first discovered in Japan in the mid 1990s and detected in deer ticks in Connecticut in 2001, and California in 2006. Lead research scientist Dr. Peter J. Krause at Yale explains.
Buhner, Stephen Harrod (2012-07-17). Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Workman Publishing. Kindle Edition.
According to the CDC, what many call "chronic Lyme disease," is properly known as "Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome" (PTLDS). Doctors can follow protocol and treat patients who have been diagnosed with early-stage Lyme.
The fact that there is no insurance code for chronic Lyme, or PTLDS, means that many doctors will not treat chronic Lyme with long-term antibiotics.
Dr Lee Cowden, whose Lyme protocol has helped many, including me, agrees about the debilitating effects of long-term antibiotics. Dr Cowden would rather the patient detox and kill the Borrelia bacteria with herbal tinctures such as Cumanda, Samento, Banderol and others which will not punch holes in the gut lining and create problems in addition to the Lyme infection.
Stephen Buhner’s core herbal protocol for Lyme includes Cat’s Claw, Sarsaparilla, Japanese Knotweed and Eleuthero. Stephen is also devoted to helping Lyme patients and his alternative treatments are soundly researched. Many people opt to self-treat with these or other herbal protocols while also still on the doctor-prescribed antibiotics. Stephen has told me that his core protocol will not interfere with standard antibiotic treatment.
My personal approach to treating chronic Lyme, or “late-stage” Lyme as my doctor called it, did include treatment with long-term antibiotics (six months). After that, I embarked on the Cowden protocol for a couple of years. During that time, I would never have had the stamina to work full-time outside my home. My work as a freelance writer allowed me to keep hours that fit with my quirky schedule of daily napping, frequent breaks, and staying in bed all day when I simply had zippo energy. Talking to sources over the phone, writing propped up on pillows, and a supportive, compassionate partner smoothed the brutal lows and quickened the recovery time.
However, my long healing journey has been successful for one main reason, and it isn’t just afternoon naps or diet or exercise, or love, or even the expensive Resveratrol that makes the difference -- but all of those do definitely have their place. The real key is a continual re-commitment to healthy living every day, through several daily practices that address and acknowledge these four fundamental areas: my intentions, behaviors, my culture and shared values, and the social systems that play a major, yet somewhat invisible, role in life. I go into further detail about this approach over at 100 Perspectives.
Chronic Lyme or PTLDS will continue to dampen and depress our spirits if left untreated. And long-term antibiotics may not be the answer.
"While putting a stop to the easy sale of assault rifles is a warranted endeavor, I believe the more important focus should be on the failure of America’s mental health system to properly diagnose and treat patients like Adam Lanza."
Dr Sponaugle, founder of Florida Detox & Wellness Institute, claims to have designed a rapid detox protocol that is assisting people to recover quickly from drug and alcohol addiction. Sponaugle’s clinic also offers treatment for chronic Lyme sufferers. He makes the case that Adam Lanza’s severe rage may have been caused by a condition he calls “exito-neurotoxicity,” which is an excess of electrical current flowing through the brain.
Click here to read Dr Sponaugle’s statement about Adam Lanza and Lyme disease.
The treatment is based on the thesis that a vital connection exists between gut toxicity and brain toxicity, and that patients suffering from chronic Lyme disease have exacerbated the situation with continued use of antibiotics. This is not a new finding. Dr Lee Cowden talks at length about the role of the intestines in the immune system, and the importance of detox as central to Lyme treatment.
Dr Sponaugle has “personally treated over 2,000 patients, who because of rage issues, were previously misdiagnosed by Psychiatrists as having a genetic Bipolar disorder, when in fact, their rage issues were caused by a brain full of toxins. The majority of these patients suffered from a combination of severe Mold toxicity and Neuro-Lyme disease, in addition to a Bartonella co-infection.”
-- Diane Hamilton
As a supporter of a multi-faceted approach to healing chronic Lyme, I try to read widely and
consider many different types of advice from a wide range of teachers and experts. The quote
above is from one of my meditation teachers. She is referring to the benefit of developing
the ability to see more perspectives. To see is to acknowledge and recognize the value in a
perspective that may be different from one we normally take.
I think this is valuable advice, particularly in light of Lyme treatment where so much contention
divides doctors, limiting their points of view instead of expanding them. Does it have to come
down to “either/or” choices between Western medicine and natural or alternative therapies?
Or can we embrace a healthy “both/and” perspective to include whatever works best for each
What works for one of us may not work for another. Further, what works at one stage may
not be best for another stage. In my own case, it’s taken some careful experimenting to find
out what works. For example, I began treatment on what used to be known as an “antibiotic
cocktail,” which included several different strong antibiotics administered orally for at least six
months. But when I couldn’t afford to continue, I started the Cowden protocol. I stayed on that
for about three years. I switched to Teasel root extract after that. And now, I take a handful of
supplements every morning and remain stable and healthy.
But the key to my current state of good health, I’m convinced, is that multi-faceted approach. I
am devoted to strengthening my body as well as stretching it, so I do strength training exercises
as well as yoga. I cured a frozen shoulder using these exercises a few years ago, when most of
my Lyme symptoms were well on their way out. I knew another woman at the time who suffered
from the same painful condition in her shoulder. She was able to afford treatments administered
by a chiropractor, who used electricity to break up the adhesions. She regained use of her arm
about a year into treatment. My arms continue to get stronger and feel fine, all through simple
push-ups and yoga. We both got the treatment we needed. Hers was passive. Mine was active.
When we do whatever we can to help ourselves heal, we become stronger and more aware.
Our healing is not only in the hands of the doctors, although I thank god for good doctors
every day. It’s in our own hands as well. It isn’t an either/or situation. It’s a both/and. Trust your
instinct. Read tons. Use every approach you can think of, diet, exercise, meditation, study,
medicines -- prescription and/or complementary or alternative.
In the New Year, let’s continue to use all our awareness to develop a more comprehensive path
of healing from Lyme at any stage. Let’s see more perspectives, allow ourselves to care more
deeply, and participate more vigorously in our own healing.
On this winter solstice, chill winds and snow swirl through the giant bamboo forest
just outside our windows.
Since last Friday morning, we’ve shed a lot of tears.
Our broken hearts can heal but it will take time. In my own reflections over the course of the past week, I’ve recommitted to get stronger and healthier in 2013, in mind, body and spirit.
That’s my New Year’s wish for you, too.
-- All my best, Suzanne
Holiday gatherings usually center around sharing a meal together. You might be anticipating some changes in your dishes of choice this year. Where is the list of “should” or “shouldn’t eat” foods? And, the most important question of course: is chocolate on the list?
Food choice is so personal. Is there a good “Lyme diet” to follow? Take a peek at this food pyramid shared by Dr. Andrew Weil (and not just because chocolate is on the list!)
We hear a lot about how a particular food is good for us, such as salmon or flaxseed for the omega oils, and avocado for its ‘good’ fat. But how big a portion is advised, and why it is good are something you might not yet know. That’s why I like this simple chart. It tells you the how-much and the why.
An anti-inflammatory diet is beneficial for anyone suffering from Lyme, an inflammatory illness. Chances are, your doctor and your medical advisors are not well-informed about the way your diet affects you, so it’s worth looking into.
Most of us with Lyme have specific needs at mealtime. Communicate your wishes to your family. If you are the main chef and bottle washer at your house, encourage and allow others to help out in the kitchen. Let them do the shopping and the cleanup.
Aside from knitting irresistible toys for the adorable little ones, my preference during the holidays is to renew, reconnect and reflect. Since Lyme, I pay more attention to my breath, I take more time to write and walk. Give yourself permission to enjoy whatever activities you find regenerative. If it expands your spirit, feels loving and healthy, it’s a worthy pursuit. Healing comes from such wholeness.
A word about frenzy, which is so often the tone around this time of the year. It’s defined medically as temporary madness, “a state of violent mental agitation.” Its synonyms include fury and rage. Let’s focus on the symbols of the season, on faith and on relationships that matter. Or have you succumbed to old habits, struggling through city streets and stores clogged with impatient shoppers. It’s always our choice.
Faced with a few days off, it’s tempting to try to get as much done as humanly possible with the extra down-time. But your body and mind needs slowing-down-time. Don’t try to rush the healing process with your willpower.
If you’re in pain and the weight of the world feels like it’s on your tired shoulders, please be generous with yourself and rest. The world’s wisdom traditions teach that this dark season naturally facilitates surrender. So allow the healing process to move through you, and perhaps move you to a new place in your journey. With grace, you will be yourself again in time.
I wish you a peaceful and joyful holiday -- with an oz of 70% chocolate!
Suddenly, a driver stopped to wave me in. Hallelujah! I couldn’t believe it. I watched as everybody in the long line of cars behind her was forced to stop and wait while I made my turn. With a wave and a smile and a tap on the brakes, she had flooded my heart with hope and love for my fellow humans. If she hadn’t voluntarily stopped like that, I might still be sitting there.
An hour later, stuck in a checkout line held up by a woman buying 4,000 rolls of ribbon, I overheard the couple behind me. They were griping quietly at each other. I encouraged them to go ahead of me, and they suddenly smiled and said thanks, both wishing me a Merry Christmas. It felt so nice to pay back the generosity that had been extended to me that I actually wished there were more shoppers standing in line to wave ahead.
In times of stress, whether from traffic, sickness, or other events, it seems we have a choice. We can’t control the events themselves, but we can choose how we react. The glee and gratitude I felt for that driver infected my mood instantaneously. In every crowded lane and line for hours afterward, I enjoyed interacting with clerks and shoppers and felt genuinely uplifted with every sincere smile and upbeat thank you. It got me thinking about generosity and vulnerability.
We’re more vulnerable when we’re ill and suffering. Pain breaks down the normal barriers that healthy people take for granted, the psychic boundaries we put up in a grocery store or a crowded elevator. When we’re spending most of our energy trying to feel normal or attempting to breathe through the pain in our muscles, our skin, or the fog in our mind, I think we’re more naturally vulnerable and open to other people’s moods and actions.
This open attitude of heart or viewpoint can make us feel weak. After all, it is only the strong ego that can construct barriers and know exactly who it is and what it wants. But these days, having returned from the trip to the underworld of Lyme disease, I feel, at times, much less attached to the picture of who-I-think-I-am. I feel more porous, less fixed. That fluidity has its own sort of strength.
I wish I could thank that anonymous driver for her small gesture of kindness, which felt to me like a light of consciousness in a murky sea. It could have worked the other way. We’ve all been the recipient of an angry gesture by an impatient driver (or we ourselves have been that angry driver), and we know how that affects us and others too. But as the recipient of her generous action, I went on my merry way with an attitude of gratitude. Like a fairy godmother, she’d waved her wand and changed the landscape from black-and-white to technicolor. In the crowded store, I passed her kindness along like an unexpected gift, and I bet it’s still working its way around town.
Serious illness not only brings suffering, it has another side which is filled with gifts if we are open to receiving them. When I take a genuine, hard inner look, I know I have Lyme to thank for the tremendous blessings in my life now. Riches beyond measure. Among them, more patience, resilience and humility, and an extraordinary awakening of consciousness which is largely unexpected but certainly profound.
Here’s to the spirit of gratitude and vulnerability. What are you grateful for?
SpiroFind was developed in Mellrichstadt, Germany by the European subsidiary of Boulder Diagnostics, a privately owned company in Colorado that focuses on diagnosing diseases that are not reliably diagnosed.
The SpiroFind test detects Borreliosis through each stage, from early to late or chronic manifestation. It works by measuring the immune response to the Borrelia bacteria. Europeans may now contact the clinical laboratory, which is accepting blood samples for testing.
The effectiveness of the SpiroFind test was confirmed in a clinical study at the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands. Conclusions of the study have been submitted for peer-reviewed publication and presentation at a conference in Berlin, Germany in April 2013.
DNA Test in US Available
Another new Lyme disease test, which tests DNA, became available in the US in 2010. I talked to Dr. Sin Hang Lee about this test, which is available in Milford, Connecticut. Patients and physicians interested in information on this DNA test may call George Poole, manager of Milford Medical Laboratory, at 203-876-4496.
New diagnostic tools give us hope for earlier and more effective treatment.