Treat Lyme Disease with Over-The-Counter Chinese Herbal Medicines

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 by: Luke J. Terry
Tags: lyme disease, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) A silent epidemic is ravaging our people, inflicting a large and harrowingly complex group of symptoms including arthritic conditions, autoimmune conditions, cognitive problems, and many more. This quiet, nearly undetectable bacterial pathogen has infected millions, and most of them don't even know it. This disease has been identified as the fastest-growing infectious disease in the US, as well as the number-one insect-borne pathogen in the US. Yet this only represents the known cases of a disease that is known to be dramatically under-reported, under-diagnosed, and very difficult to both detect and treat. Up to one-half the population may have been exposed to this disease, according to Lyme disease expert Dietrich Klinghardt, MD, of Seattle, WA.

Lyme disease is a clinical diagnosed constellation of symptoms caused by a related group of pathogens, chief among them borrelia bergdorferi. Lyme Disease (LD) became widely known in 1975 after a large number of children and adults near Lyme, Connecticut, began to show symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is rare, and a team of researchers began to study the outbreak. It was discovered that all the children involved spent a great deal of time outdoors, and a high incidence of tick exposure was found. The pathogenic agent, a spirochetal bacterium, responsible for the disease, was discovered by a PhD biologist named Willy Bergdorfer. Thus this new pathogen was named for Dr. Bergdorfer: Borrelia Bergorferi. The group of researchers led by Dr. Bergdorfer found that LD is transmitted by a tick-borne vector to and from rodents and small mammals, deer, pets, and humans.

Lyme disease was first reported in California in 1978, and is now the most common tick-borne illness in California and the United States. Since Bergdorfer's work, other experts have discovered credible evidence of Lyme disease being transmitted via many more vectors, including mosquitoes, fleas, and even sexual contact, according to James Bowen, MD, of Portland, OR.

The complete clinical presentation of a patient with Lyme disease can present symptoms like many other diseases, including Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and many others. Because of this shape-shifting tendency, Lyme disease has been dubbed "the great imitator." However classical early-onset symptoms in humans may include pain, swelling in the joints, fever, headache, and fatigue—fitting a pattern that is described in the classical Shang Han Lun (Theory of Cold-Induced Damage), an ancient text in oriental medicine that has been used to successfully differentiate and treat illnesses for more than 1500 years.

The symptoms of Lyme disease usually show up days or weeks after a tick bite, though 50% of all LD patients cannot recall a tick bite, and it has been estimated that only 1-3% of all tick bites lead to LD. Several co-infections are commonly found along with LD, including erhlichosis, babiosis, and other forms of bacterium that are transmitted via tick or other insect bites.

Diagnosis in western medicine is made through identification of clinical signs and symptoms. No CDC-approved screening tests are accurate enough to be called definitive. Western diagnostic testing includes blood tests for IgG and IgM antibodies, such as ELISA and Western Blot, both showing poor sensitivity and specificity. Many experts in the field now believe that the borrelia pathogen assaults the B-lymphocytes, which are the components of the immune system responsible for making antibodies. When the antibody-producing cells are impaired, the immune system is blinded to the pathogens — and so are any diagnostic tests looking for antibodies. This mechanism may explain why many patients, both known Lyme carriers and those whose Lyme status is unknown, suffer from arthritic symptoms closely resembling those of Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus, yet not antibodies for Lupus or RA are found.

Thus the diagnosis must be made from looking at history, taking symptoms and general patterns into account. Diagnosis is additionally hampered by the co-infection factor, which may create a host of other sometimes strange symptoms.

The LD pathogen slowly makes its way through the body, the longer it remains in the body, the more severe the infection. The severity of the infection is categorized by western practitioners in one of three categories related to its progression in the body — early disseminated, late disseminated, and chronic. The disease is most treatable early in the progression. Standard western care includes immediate treatment with quinolone or cephalosporin antibiotics for a minimum of 6 weeks.

Mainstream western medicine treatment, limited to antibiotic treatment, commonly fails to provide relief or cure, and often results in worsening of the infection due to the side effects of the antibiotic therapy. Chronic LD has proven to be a very difficult infection to cure. End-stage patients can be severely neurologically compromised, and may resemble neurosyphilis in its clinical presentation: dementia, confusion, memory loss, delusions, and, eventually, complete neurological breakdown. This makes sense, because Borrelia Bergdorferi is in the same order as syphilis, the spirochaetalis order. Spirochetes are characterized by a flexible, spiral shape, not unlike a drill bit.

With so many factors involved, LD is an incredibly complex infection to describe, let alone to treat, and it is beyond the scope of this paper to describe in detail the unusual life cycle and characteristics of the organism that make it so difficult to treat with western medicine. The prognosis according to Traditional Oriental Medicine, or TOM, is much rosier, and demonstrates the power and optimism of this 5000-year old system of medicine. TOM has had much success treating both syphilis and leptospirosis, two cousins of Lyme disease. All three bacterium belong to the spirochete family. There is a large body of evidence demonstrating effective TOM herbal approaches to treating treponema palladium, and leptospira interogans, responsible for syphilis and leptospirosis, respectively.

Syphilis kills many thousands of people each year, though treatment with both western and oriental medicine effects a cure. Leptospirosis, from the Leptospira, is spirochetal infection transmitted to humans via flies, mosquitos and other insects, from pigs and other livestock. The symptoms of leptospirosis approximate those of Lyme disease, presenting with headache, severe muscle aches, chills, fever, and conjunctivitis, with the severe form known as Weil's disease causing hemorrhages, jaundice, and kidney and liver dysfunction.

Though there is little direct evidence of TOM success treating LD, clinical experience and success in treating other spirochetes demonstrates the strong potential of Oriental Medicine for effecting a cure for Lyme disease patients. Subhuti Dharmananda, PhD describes how early-stage disseminated LD follows a classic Shang Han Lun pattern. He also portrays the Lyme disease progression as one that fits the stages documented in the Shang Han Lun, with jaundice and meningitis both demonstrating severe and deeply penetrated pathogenic influence.

Bob Flaws, Dipl.OM, describes a progression in three stages; in the initial stage, LD is categorized as huo dan, or Fire Toxin, with Gan Mao, or contraction-encroachment, which are the flu-like initial symptoms. The initial pattern, then is one of damp heat & evil toxin entering the body. At this stage the immune system, called "the righteous qi" in traditional oriental medicine, still mounts a strong response. Traditional doctors would expect to see a red tongue with a slimy or greasy yellow tongue coating, and a floating, rapid pulse, along with the previously mentioned musculoskeletal symptoms.

The second stage, according to Flaws, is one of heat toxins with righteous qi vacuity. Thus the pathogen is stronger than in the first pattern, and the body somewhat weaker. The tongue in this stage would be less red, and more swollen, signifying more spleen xu. The pulse may be surging, indicative of more floating, unsupported yang energy as the yin is slowly consumed in the process of fighting the pathogen. Reiterating earlier, it is important to catch this disease as early as possible, as the longer it remains unchecked in the body, the more it damages the body's resources.

This is evident in Flaw's description of the deepest stage, one of profound qi, blood, and yin deficiency. Signs and symptoms would include extreme fatigue and loss of strength, tinnitus, low back pain, knee pain and swelling, dry mouth and throat, five-centers heat, malar flushing, hair loss, memory loss, confusion, and torpor.

This complicated clinical picture requires the deft use of herbs. The patient experiences both strong excesses (the pathogen), and potentially deep immune system deficiencies. Thus the treatment may be best approached with custom-blended medicinals. However, due to reasons of cost and convenience, commercially available, pre-prepared herbal supplements, or "patent" preparations may supplement or substitute for custom-blended powdered or raw herb formulas.

To begin with, a list of herbs that have been found to be medically effective against various spirochetes including borrelia bergdorferi is as follows: Coptis (huang lian), Scute (huang qin), Phellodendron (huang bai), Forsythia (lian qiao), Isatis root (ban lan gen), Isatis leaf (da qing ye), Andrographis (chuan xin lian), Smilax Glabra(tu fu ling), Asploidis (zhi zi), and Artemesia Annua (qing hao). Of these herbals, all are strong heat-clearing herbs with well-demonstrated antibacterial qualities. Chief among this group is artemesia annua (qing hao), showing an incredible effectiveness against malaria, another insect-born, though very different pathogen. In particular, an active ingredient called arteanuin is used alone as a western treatment for malaria. Many malaria experts believe this "drug" combats malaria more effectively than any man-made drug currently available.

This herb is readily available as a concentrated patent formula (Health Concerns, Artestatin). Others such as Forsythia (lian qiao), Isatis roots & leaves (ban lan gen & da qing ye), and Andrographis (chuan xin lian), are well-demonstrated against leptospirosis, and are readily available in balanced patent formulas. Of all of the above listed herbs, the best single herb is probably tu fu ling. This herb, Smilax Glabra, is perhaps the most gentle, most neutral and least damaging to the body. The "atmospheric qualities" of Smilax Glabra, or the way that the herb affects the body's condition globally, are categorized as sweet and neutral, meaning it is both gentle and nourishing. Smilax has shown to be profoundly effective against both leptospirosis (in large clinical trials) and against LD (by clinical experience). Unfortunately, there are few if any commercial preparations of Smilax Glabra, despite its profound effectiveness and mild nature. It appears that Smilax Glabra is underappreciated as a medicinal agent.

In the realm of patents, for acute phase, massive doses of Yin Qiao San are appropriate, as it contains Forsythia (lian qiao), and its usage fits the initial pattern of disease. Far East Summit's alcohol preparation would be an excellent choice, as the alcohol would drive the medicine into the channels and tissues. In addition, Artestatin from Health Concerns presents itself as a very effective medicinal agent, as its concentration and aromatic preservation are excellent. It also contains Coptis (huang lian,) and a number of balancing herbs, too long to be listed here, to balance the cold, draining qualities of Artemeseia (qing hao) and Coptis (huang lian).

In the early stage, this may be enough to arrest the development of the LD pathogen and cure the disease. If symptoms are still developing, another more tonifying formula, one which still contains a strong complement of the heat-clearing antispirochetal herbs, would likely result in much better clinical outcomes. Specifically, Astra Isatis from Health Concerns contains plenty of tonics for qi, blood, yin, and yang, in addition to its chief herbs, Isatis (ban lan gen and da qing ye). This formulation derives its punch from using the roots and leaves of the Isatis plant.

A compelling body of evidence exists demonstrating the significant potential of tu fu ling, or smilax glabra, also known as sarsparilla, in treating spirochetal diseases. It is the author's hope that manufacturers of quality Oriental herbal products will notice this market opportunity, and create a product to serve the many patients suffering from Lyme disease and its coinfections.


National Institutes of Health, 2003. Lyme Disease: The Facts, The Challenge, NIH Publication # 03-7045, p. 3

Sutter-Yuba Mosquito and Vector Control District, Lyme Disease, online at: (http://sutter-yubamvcd.org/Lyme%20Disease.as...)


Dharmananda, Subhuti, PhD, Lyme Disease: Treatment with Chinese Herbs, Institute of Traditional Medicine, online at: (http://www.itmonline.org/arts/lyme.htm)


Burrascano Jr., Joseph J. MD, September 2005. Advanced Topics in Lyme Disease, p. 4-5.

Flaws, Bob, and Sionneau, Phillipe, 2005. Treatmentof Modern Western Medical Diseases with Chinese Medicine, Blue Poppy Press. P. 329-332.

William Morris, OMD. Personal correspondence, and personal experience.

Gaeddert, Andrew, 2006. Health Concerns Clinical Handbook, 4th Edition, p. 45-46.


About the author

Luke practices acupuncture, Oriental & natural medicine, and conducts wellness retreats in the mountain resort community of Breckenridge, Colorado.
He sees clients at Sacred Tree, an integrative healthcare & wellness spa, located at the base of Peak 8 at Blue Sky.
Visit us at http://www.sacredtree.com

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