In the clinic, one of the top questions I get from patients is “How do you kill Lyme?”
Since Lyme is a bacteria, patients and doctors often assume that taking an antibiotic will take care of the infection quickly. However, once a Lyme infection has entered into a chronic state, it isn’t that simple.
Even if you receive timely treatment when the infection is fresh, roughly 10-20% of people who receive treatment within two to three months of getting infected will still develop chronic Lyme, aka post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.
Why would an antibiotic fail to heal you from an infection? What is the best way to kill Lyme, particularly once it’s been in your system for over three months? What if it took you months or years to find out Lyme was the cause of your symptoms?
Along with sharing the reasons why I prefer to take an herbal approach to healing from chronic Lyme disease, I will go over studies that back up the success we’ve had in the clinic.
In this article, I’ll be focusing on step 1a in the above graphic, particularly where we are killing Lyme bacteria in its stationary phase. I’ll go over what has worked the most effectively for the patients in our clinic.
My family’s journey with Lyme and co-infections
The fight against Lyme disease has been a personal journey for my family and me.
In 2010 my wife Anne became mysteriously sick. It was devastating for her and us as a family. My once active, vibrant wife became incapacitated, and we had no idea what had caused this sudden change in vitality. As a doctor and a husband, I was determined to discover what was going on and how we could help her heal.
At one point, I tested for Lyme, not knowing the tests I had run weren’t accurate and reliable. Because of this, I dismissed Lyme as a possibility.
I dove into the world of immunology, testing, diagnostics, genetics, detoxification, and other topics to try to target her problems. In 2013, after attending 27 seminars, reading countless books, discussing her case with colleagues, and administering more testing, with the help of a dear friend, we figured out the problem had been due to Lyme and co-infections all along.
It took a few years, and we had a baby in the middle of the program which slowed us down, but by 2015, Anne had finally recovered. She could live again as a mom, wife, and friend! It had been a long and tumultuous journey, and we were so grateful her health had returned.
Throughout Anne’s recovery, I utilized what I had learned to help more patients suffering from Lyme. What had started out as a mission to help my wife soon became the next chapter in my professional career as a practitioner. I recognized my pain and frustration when another person was falling through the cracks of the medical system. It’s a pain I have felt personally and one that always breaks my heart when you tell me how this disease has impacted your life.
You can be healthy. You can live your life again. I believed that for my wife and me, and I believe it for you.
Lyme disease and long-term antibiotics
Throughout my wife’s battle, I learned more about the processes of diseases, complex illnesses, and multifactorial illnesses and took a deeper dive into immunology, nutrition, endocrinology, gut microbiomes, and genetics. I observed other doctors who used antibiotics, IV, herbs, homeopathics, oxygen, and diets to help their patients. I searched for anyone who had success treating Lyme and took note of what they were doing.
When people find out Lyme is a bacteria, antibiotics seem like the obvious treatment choice. However, I quickly found out that while antibiotics can be effective for acute Lyme disease, it’s much more complex for chronic Lyme cases.
For acute Lyme, one antibiotic (typically doxycycline) is used for two to four weeks to treat the patient. This is usually effective enough. But when you’re dealing with chronic Lyme that’s not the approach effective doctors take.
The vast majority of doctors who treat chronic Lyme have their patients simultaneously take three to four antibiotics for one to two years. But this approach seemed off to me. If Lyme bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics, why would you only use antibiotics to try to kill it?
The differences between the active and stationary phases of Lyme bacteria: Why antibiotics don’t work quickly
To understand why Lyme disease can become antibiotic-resistant, you need to know there are different phases B. burgdorferi (Lyme bacteria) can enter into.
For example, if you just got bit by an infected tick last weekend and develop symptoms and/or a bullseye rash, you can usually go to the doctor and receive treatment immediately. In 80-90% of acute cases like this, the antibiotics will take care of Lyme bacteria in this initial active or “log” phase and it won’t enter a chronic state.
Unfortunately, not everyone develops a bullseye rash, notices symptoms, or contributes symptoms to the tick bite. Many people don’t even realize they’ve had a tick bite, so tracking symptoms back to an unknown bite isn’t possible.
When someone has been infected longer than two to three months, it is then considered a chronic infection because the Lyme bacteria have morphed into a stationary phase. Antibiotics usually cannot reach the bacteria to kill it at this point, making them largely ineffective. This is primarily due to the bacteria’s ability to hide and form biofilms. The screw-like form of Lyme spirochetes (spiral-shaped bacteria) can burrow deep within tissues to hide, and biofilms that form around the bacteria protect them from invasion.
After years of researching this disease, I was aware of the different stages Lyme bacteria can morph into. This is one reason why I had already been using a variety of herbs and nutriceuticals to try to balance the protocol with detoxification. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that a study came out with a picture that made the concept of these different phases click for me.
The different forms of Lyme bacteria: 2019 study
In 2019, a study came out from Johns Hopkins that effectively helps paint the picture of how this bacteria becomes antibiotic-resistant.
During this study, the researchers took photos of Lyme bacteria through a microscope during its different stages.
In the picture below, you can see Lyme bacteria in A) its log phase, its initial form, B) its microcolony phase, and C) its stationary phase.
When Lyme is in stage A, the log phase, doxycycline and other antibiotics can work extremely well. However, once the Lyme bacteria has entered the B and C stages, antibiotics are no longer effective because the bacteria become antibiotic-resistant.
The graph below displays the varied success of their attempts at killing Lyme in different phases with four different antibiotics that are routinely used for Lyme patients. Residual viability indicates how much of the bacteria remains in the sample after administering the antibiotics. The red line shows the log phase, and the purple and green lines indicate the bacteria once it has entered the biofilm or stationary phases.
You can see the effectiveness of the antibiotics diminish drastically once the bacteria has entered into its new, more protected stages of development. On this graph, a low bar means you killed a large amount of bacteria and there is a small amount left alive. A high bar means you didn’t kill much bacteria, and there is a large amount of it left alive.
As illustrated by the microscope images and the graph, once the bacteria have entered the microcolony and stationary phases (purple and green bars) it’s very resistant to killing agents.
If you’re going to use antibiotics to combat chronic Lyme disease, you’re going to have to use multiple high-dose antibiotics for several months to years to kill the bacteria. In my opinion, this is the hardest way to try and heal from Chronic Lyme.
Co-infections: Another reason antibiotics aren’t always effective at killing Lyme
Along with the bacteria morphing into different stages of its development, another reason chronic Lyme patients have a difficult time eradicating the infection is due to other infections being present.
An overwhelming number of chronic Lyme patients are also dealing with Lyme co-infections, such as Bartonella, Babesia, Anaplasma, Powassan virus, and others.
It’s estimated that over 93% of chronic Lyme or PTLDS patients have other infections present, and this is a crucial reason why you may still be sick.
The harsher option: Treating chronic Lyme disease or PTLDS with antibiotics
Once Lyme has entered its chronic stage, it’s difficult to kill with antibiotics. While this isn’t impossible to accomplish, unpleasant side effects almost always accompany the treatment.
The side effects of taking high doses of multiple antibiotics for several months to years often result in exacerbated symptoms. Symptoms that often get more intense with antibiotic treatment include:
- Chronic pain
- Heart palpitations
- Memory problems
- Leaky gut
When using antibiotics, you’re constantly putting out fires. You may get better in two years, but the journey can be much harsher. In my experience, using antibiotics to kill Lyme bacteria also results in a higher recurrence of disease after treatment.
The better choice: Killing chronic Lyme disease with herbs
As a practitioner who has researched and successfully treated patients with chronic Lyme disease and co-infections, I know there is a better way to approach these infections.
Many of my patients want to combine the use of antibiotics with herbals and nutrition, while others go the all-natural route.
In 2018, I realized patients who were only using herbals and nutrition were doing better than those who were also using antibiotics. It still took the same amount of time to recover at around six to 18 months. However, the people who weren’t taking antibiotics could participate in their everyday activities better.
What solidified my preference for herbs was when I looked at the recurrence rate of the disease. The patients who had been on antibiotics had a higher rate of getting an active infection back than those who had only used herbals and nutrition.
After realizing this, I started to only use antibiotics on people who could greatly benefit from them. Today, about 90% of our patients are healing with herbs and nutrition.
What herbs should you use to kill Lyme?
Johns Hopkins studies showing the effectiveness of herbs
When I started treating my wife in 2013, I was primarily using oregano, garlic and wormwood to kill Lyme bacteria while simultaneously providing support for different functions of the body. The number of herbs I used grew over time and we tested and measured what worked.
Between 2017 and 2020, we started getting corroborating studies from Johns Hopkins. We made a few changes after these studies were published, but the herbs we used were 80% the same because the Johns Hopkins team was researching many of the herbs we were already utilizing.
The 2017 study compared the effectiveness of 23 essential oils and antibiotics, including doxycycline and the harsh persister drug Dapsone.
Among all the essential oils and antibiotics, oregano, cinnamon and clove demonstrated the best activity against Lyme bacteria, showing complete eradication of stationary phase B. burgdorferi even at a very low concentration. Prior to this study, I was already using cinnamon and clove, but as I started using more cinnamon I have been extremely pleased with the results in the past six or seven years.
This was especially exciting to find out that herbs beat antibiotics (once Lyme was chronic) because the side effects are greatly reduced when taking herbs.
In the 2018 study, they were trying to kill the persistent form of Lyme and found that 10 of the 30 herbs they tested showed incredible activity against Lyme bacteria, even at low concentrations. However, garlic stood out among the rest as the all-star herb and exhibited the best activity against B. burgdorferi.
Researchers tested more herbs in 2020, including cryptolepis, Chinese skullcap, black walnut, Japanese knotweed, cat’s claw, and wormwood. These were all herbs we were already using in our clinic.
The only surprising find was how cryptolepis showed amazing activity against Lyme bacteria. It’s long been known as a crucial herb to fight Babesia, a parasitic infection and a common Lyme co-infection, but it wasn’t known as a Lyme killer prior to this study.
The herbs we use to fight Lyme
My top herbal choices for killing Lyme are oregano, clove, cinnamon, garlic, Chinese skullcap, cryptolepis, and Japanese knotweed. I have tried many things over the past decade and these have worked the best.
The herbs we use are a significant part of how we help people recover from chronic Lyme. However, these are part of a complete program. Please don’t expect to recover from taking one or a handful of these without taking into account dose, quality, timing and other factors. Remember the picture above! Taking killers is only a piece (step 1a under the orange arrow) of a complete recovery program for healing from Lyme.
You need to be properly tested and assessed so you can accurately address the infections you have, the state of different systems in your body, which systems need more support, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, your immune system, and other factors.
Antibiotic + Herbals and Nutrition: A more difficult choice that isn’t faster
Recovery time: average of 1-2 years
More side effects
Patients felt worse throughout the protocol
Disease recurred more often
Herbals and Nutrition: Better Results
Recovery time: average of 1-2 years (yes, some people are faster)
Fewer side effects
Patients felt better throughout the protocol
Less recurrence of disease
Originally (10 years ago), about 50% of the people I worked with did antibiotics plus natural remedies. The other half did it without antibiotics. My patients who did it without antibiotics got better results.
Because of this, I transitioned my practice to only have people take antibiotics under extremely specific circumstances where I have seen them be successful. Now, about 90% of the people I work with don’t use antibiotics.
To be clear, the patients who took antibiotics weren’t faster in their healing journey. In fact, I often had to spend six months fixing their gut, healing neuropathy, or stopping everything to try and save the liver because the therapy was so harsh on their bodies. I also have had more and more patients who have been on months or years of antibiotics, only to still have Lyme and co-infections. For these reasons and many others, I believe the herbal route is the most effective, scientific way of healing from chronic Lyme for the vast majority of people.
My family today
At one point, we weren’t sure my wife would ever be healthy enough to have more children. But after her recovery, she soon became pregnant and Gabriella was born.
This is a picture of my lovely daughter Gabriella and my beautiful wife Anne.
For many years, Anne and I saw our dreams of living life together and raising a family threatened by serious health problems. But since her recovery, my wife’s vitality has returned. She is healthy enough to raise, nurture, and homeschool our four children and live the life she yearned for when she was sick. We’re now able to better enjoy this beautiful life we’ve been given together with our children.
This is what I want for you, too. Whether you have had Lyme for months, years, or decades, there is hope and you can recover.
I hope you found this information helpful in your journey toward healing from chronic Lyme.
This article explained why there are downsides to doing high-dose, long-term antibiotics and why herbs are a better, more effective choice when Lyme bacteria have entered into a chronic state.
Here are some important points found in the article:
- Antibiotics may seem like the obvious treatment choice. However, while antibiotics can be effective for acute Lyme disease, it’s much more complex for chronic Lyme cases.
- For acute Lyme, one antibiotic (typically doxycycline) is used for two to four weeks to treat the patient. This is usually effective.
- Acute Lyme disease is when the infection is caught quickly (within 2-3 months) and is still in its initial active or “log” phase.
- When someone has been infected longer than two to three months, it is then considered a chronic infection because the Lyme bacteria have morphed into a stationary phase. Antibiotics usually cannot reach the bacteria to kill it at this point, making them largely ineffective.
- An overwhelming number of chronic Lyme patients are also dealing with Lyme co-infections, such as Bartonella, Babesia, Anaplasma, Powassan virus and others.
- The 2019 Johns Hopkins study showed that when Lyme is in stage A, the log phase, doxycycline and other antibiotics can work extremely well. However, once the Lyme bacteria has entered the microcolony and stationary phases, antibiotics are no longer effective on their own because the bacteria become antibiotic-resistant.
- In 2018, I realized patients who were only using herbals and nutrition were doing better than those who were also using antibiotics.
- Numerous studies have come out over the years that show herbs are more effective against stationary phase Lyme bacteria (B. burgdorferi) than leading antibiotics.
- It’s estimated that over 93% of chronic Lyme or PTLDS patients have other infections present, and this is a crucial reason why you may still be sick.
- My top herbal choices for killing Lyme are oregano, clove, cinnamon, garlic, Chinese skullcap, cryptolepis, and Japanese knotweed.
- The herbs we use are a significant part of how we help people recover from chronic Lyme. However, these are part of a complete program.
Studies and my opinion current as of Fall 2023
By Dr. Kyle Warren
Edited by Meghan Feir Walker
Studies Johns Hopkins 2017-2020
- Feng J, Leone J, Schweig S, Zhang Y. Evaluation of Natural and Botanical Medicines for Activity Against Growing and Non-growing Forms of B. burgdorferi. Front Med (Lausanne). Published February 21, 2020; 7:6. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2020.00006. PMID: 32154254; PMCID: PMC7050641.
- Feng, J.; Shi, W.; Miklossy, J.; Tauxe, G.M.; McMeniman, C.J.; Zhang, Y. Identification of Essential Oils with Strong Activity against Stationary Phase Borrelia burgdorferi. Antibiotics 2018, 7, 89. https://doi.org/10.3390/antibiotics7040089
- 22 Feng J, Zhang S, Shi W, Zubcevik N, Miklossy J, Zhang Y. Selective Essential Oils from Spice or Culinary Herbs Have High Activity against Stationary Phase and Biofilm Borrelia burgdorferi. Front Med (Lausanne). 2017;4:169. Published 2017 Oct 11. doi:10.3389/fmed.2017.00169