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Herbal and Nutritional Allies for Tick-Borne Illness

Clinical evidence supports the use of natural substances for reducing symptoms associated with Lyme disease

We all are becoming more aware of Lyme disease, as the incidence of this tick-borne infection is on the rise, particularly in the endemic regions of the upper Midwest and Northeastern United States.[1] Confirmed cases continue to show up far outside these regions as well, with documented cases in almost all of the continental states of the US yearly.

For some, Lyme disease can become a complex and chronic debilitating condition in part due to the cunning ability of the causative bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi to hide and change forms in the body. B. burgdorefi can switch to a cystic form, build a protective wall around itself known as a biofilm, and change its expression of proteins and genes to enable its survival in the human body.[2],[3],[4] Coinfections such as Bartonella, Ehrlichia, Anaplasma and Babesia are commonly transmitted with B. burgdorferi, [5],[6] and not only lead to symptoms associated with their presence, but also can increase Lyme disease severity.[7]

We not only see resistance [of tick-borne infections] to treatment with antibiotics, but also to botanicals, necessitating a multifactorial approach of rotating various botanicals and other natural substances through a long course of treatment.

Because of these many factors, we not only see resistance to treatment with antibiotics, but also to botanicals, necessitating a multifactorial approach of rotating various botanicals and other natural substances through a long course of treatment. Symptoms also can often worsen through the course of treatment, due to a reaction referred to as “die-off” or “Herxing” that is caused by the by-products associated with bacterial lysis increasing the inflammatory response in the body. These products of bacterial die-off not only stimulate a further immune response and inflammation, but can also adversely affect organ and systemic function, sometimes critically, in patients with Lyme disease.[8],[9]

It is important to consider options for treatment that can address each of these challenges distinctly when supporting a patient with Lyme disease. Additionally, support for symptom palliation also is often necessary to help alleviate the chronic symptoms of fatigue, brain fog, and pain that often come with this disease.

Systemic support to address the cause and the symptoms

Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa), also known in Spanish as uña de gato, is ideally suited in the Lyme setting, as in addition to its immune-supportive actions it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, and antioxidant effects, and supports cognitive function as well.[10] Cat’s claw has been shown to enhance proliferation of infection-fighting white blood cells, also increasing the time they are active and doing their job in the body.[11],[12] Cat’s claw has been shown in both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis to significantly improve symptoms of joint swelling and pain, which many patients also may experience with Lyme disease.[13],[14] Cat’s claw also is a potent inhibitor of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, a primary pro-inflammatory protein associated with the acute immune system response.[15] In multiple animal studies, cat’s claw has been demonstrated to protect the nervous system and improve memory as well.[16],[17]

Lactoferrin has been shown to neutralize lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a primary contributor to the “die-off” reaction, also directly inhibiting the immune system response caused by LPS.

Lactoferrin, a glycoprotein found in milk and at much higher concentrations in colostrum, has broad antimicrobial action against parasites, bacteria, fungi, and viruses.[18] It has been shown to inhibit the growth of Babesia spp.,[19] one of the common co-infections, and has an inhibitory effect on bacterial biofilms,[20] including that of B. burgdorferi.[21] Lactoferrin has been shown to neutralize lipopolysaccharide (LPS),[22] a primary contributor to the “die-off” reaction, also directly inhibiting the immune system response caused by LPS.[23],[24] Similar to cat’s claw, lactoferrin has been shown in several studies to decrease levels of TNF-α as well.[25]

Chitosan, a biopolymer derived from the shell of crustaceans, supports the removal of a wide array of toxins from the body, including mold toxins, heavy metals, and LPS.[26],[27],[28] Chitosan is able to chelate the metals manganese and zinc,[29],[30] both of which are necessary for the lifecycle and function of B. burgdorferi.[31],[32]  Chitosan has been shown to act as a biofilm-disrupting agent, particularly when the chitosan is of low molecular weight.[33],[34] Low molecular weight chitosan has also been shown to reduce symptoms attributed to the die-off reaction in Lyme disease.[35] In the gut, the larger chitosan particles have a prebiotic effect, promoting the growth of Bifidobacterium spp. and Lactobacillus spp., which are predominant healthy flora that also support the reduction of inflammation and a normal immune response.[36],[37],[38]

Low molecular weight chitosan has also been shown to reduce symptoms attributed to the die-off reaction in Lyme disease.

Finally, support for cellular function and repair may help to reduce the fatigue associated with Lyme disease. Lipid replacement therapy, the supplementation of glycerophospholipids that make up the body’s cellular membranes, in combination with additional antioxidants such as coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) supports cellular function and repair, in particular that of the mitochondria, the energy-generating units found in all of the cells. Multiple studies utilizing glycerophospholipids as a monotherapy or in combination with additional nutrients have shown positive outcomes in settings of chronic fatigue, including that specifically attributable to Lyme disease, also leading to improvements in mitochondrial function.[39],[40],[41]

Although the health challenges associated with tick-borne infections are complex, therapies such as these, or a combination thereof, are an excellent evidence-based starting point that may yield notable improvements.

 

Click here to see References
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Grape Seed Polyphenols and the Gut Microbiota
The Science Behind Some Liver-Loving Herbs: Milk Thistle and Berberine to the Rescue!

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