Please note that I am an affiliate for some of the products I’ve linked to in this post. If you click the link here and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no extra cost to you.
If you’ve been dealing with Lyme disease for any length of time, chances are you’ve experienced the notorious “Lyme brain” – a troubling array of symptoms that includes brain fog, impaired cognition, mental fatigue, low mood, and anxiety. In some cases, these symptoms can be debilitating, preventing people from attending school, working, and functioning well in their daily lives.
During my Lyme disease journey, I dealt with significant Lyme brain symptoms, including severe depression, anxiety, and brain fog. In fact, the brain fog I experienced that was so severe I had to withdraw from college 6 times over the course of 6 years because I couldn’t think clearly, learn, and retain information. I also felt mentally exhausted and on edge constantly.
While antibiotics and other antimicrobial treatments are vital for treating Lyme, these strategies on their own are often insufficient for fully repairing “Lyme brain.” However, antimicrobials COMBINED with evidence-based supplements can make a major difference in Lyme brain! Read on to learn about the ten best supplements for Lyme brain that can help you reclaim your mental clarity and mood during your Lyme disease recovery!
In This Article:
What is Lyme Brain?
Why does Lyme disease cause “Lyme brain?” Chronic infections, such as Lyme disease, can cause inflammation in the brain. This inflammation can disrupt your body’s production of neurotransmitters and compromise neuronal function (neurons are key cells in the brain), leading to the cognitive and mental health imbalances that are characteristic of Lyme brain.
While treating Lyme disease with antibiotics and antimicrobials is crucial for recovery, antibiotics and antimicrobials alone are often insufficient for supporting recovery from Lyme brain. A functional nutrition approach to Lyme brain recovery that includes vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and herbs can make an enormous positive difference, helping you reclaim your brain!
The Top 10 Best Supplements for Lyme Brain
The ten supplements for Lyme brain featured in this article are ones I’ve successfully used with clients and in my own Lyme disease recovery. As always, the content I’m sharing here is for informational purposes only, and I always recommend that you check with your healthcare provider before taking any new supplements.
Part of what drives Lyme brain is a heightened stress response. Chronic infections increase the body’s stress burden and can lead to elevated levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol. Over time, chronic stress and high cortisol levels can promote neurodegeneration, a breakdown of nerve function in the brain and peripheral nervous system. (1) Neurodegeneration can lead to brain fog, cognitive impairment, memory issues, and mood changes.
Chronic stress significantly depletes the body’s magnesium levels, and low magnesium levels perpetuate the stress response. (2, 3) In fact, low magnesium levels are associated with anxiety, irritability, and depression. Therefore, optimizing magnesium intake is crucial for dampening the stress response and protecting the brain against the harmful effects of chronic stress.
Magnesium is also a cofactor for tryptophan hydroxylase, an enzyme involved in serotonin production. (4) Serotonin is the body’s primary “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Low magnesium levels may impair serotonin synthesis, causing a low mood.
Without sufficient magnesium, your brain can’t function properly. If you’re dealing with Lyme brain, replenishing your body’s magnesium level is crucial. This common mineral truly is one of the best supplements for Lyme brain!
Up to 50 percent of the U.S. population may be magnesium deficient, making magnesium deficiency far more common than most people expect. (5) Furthermore, if you regularly consume caffeine, take proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), or struggle with digestive issues, your magnesium needs may be even higher compared to the average person.
The best food sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, cashews, cacao, avocado, salmon, and halibut.
My preferred form of magnesium for supporting brain health is magnesium threonate because this form of magnesium is uniquely bioavailable to the brain, unlike other forms of magnesium like magnesium citrate.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that affects both the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (all nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord). It regulates voluntary muscle movement and the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary actions, such as smooth muscle contraction in the intestine.
The ANS, in turn, is made up of the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the “fight, flight, freeze” response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for the “rest and digest” response).
The vagus nerve is a significant part of the parasympathetic nervous system. When it is functioning properly, the vagus nerve exerts anti-inflammatory effects on the body, helping regulate mood. Chronic stress (such as the stress experienced by an individual with chronic Lyme disease) can impair the vagus nerve, causing mood changes. (6)
For proper vagus nerve function, we need to support acetylcholine signaling. Vitamin B1 (thiamine) supports the formation of acetylcholine, and may thus support healthy vagus nerve function. (7)
One of my favorite long-term supplements for supporting Lyme brain recovery, Parasym Plus, contains vitamin B1 along with other nutrients that support healthy vagus and overall parasympathetic nerve function.
The kynurenine pathway is an inflammatory signaling pathway involved in both Lyme disease and mental illness. (8, 9) When this pathway is active, it promotes brain inflammation and neurotransmitter imbalances. The kynurenine pathway is also significantly impacted by nutritional status.
Vitamin B6 deficiency can dysregulate the kynurenine pathway, causing brain inflammation and mood issues. (10) Based on the available research and my clinical experience, supplementation with vitamin B6 may be useful for restoring a healthy mood in people with Lyme disease and Lyme brain symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.
Supplemental vitamin B6 is typically supplied as pyridoxal-5-phosphate, abbreviated “P5P.”
Vitamin B12 is a member of the B vitamin family that regulates the production of myelin, the cholesterol-rich fatty sheath that insulates our neurons and allows them to conduct signals properly. (11) While the research is not definitive, studies suggest that Lyme disease may drive demyelination of neurons which, in turn, could significantly impact neurological health. (12)
Vitamin B12 is also required for methylation, alongside folate (vitamin B9) and riboflavin (vitamin B2). Methylation is a process by which the body takes a small chemical group called a “methyl group” and adds it to DNA, proteins, and other molecules. Methylation is essential for neurotransmitter production. Without adequate vitamin B12, we cannot make neurotransmitters.
Lyme disease is well known to compromise cognition and trigger depression and neuropathy; we thus want to ensure we have sufficient B12 coming in through our diets to protect our neurological systems.
Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal foods, including red meat, poultry, and seafood. Vegetarians and vegans are highly susceptible to B12 deficiency due to the absence of these foods from their diets.
While early studies showed that vegetarians and vegans had slightly higher deficiency rates than omnivores, these studies used relatively insensitive markers, such as serum B12. Conversely, the newer, more sensitive measures of B12 status indicate that the prevalence of B12 deficiency is much higher in vegetarians and vegans than previously believed. (16, 17)
If you are a vegan or vegetarian and are struggling with Lyme brain, you may want to reconsider your dietary choices to better support your brain health. I don’t say this to stoke controversy, but rather as a well-intentioned warning because I’ve seen the detrimental impact these diets can have on cognitive function and mental health over the long-term.
While you can supplement with vitamin B12 on a vegetarian or vegan diet, I always prefer a food-first approach to meeting nutritional needs, especially because whole foods often contain synergistic nutrients that work together to optimize nutritional status, whereas supplements do not.
Vitamin B12 levels can be assessed using a serum B12 measurement. However, this is not the most sensitive marker of B12 status. To gather more information on B12 status, I often pair a serum B12 measurement with a methylmalonic acid (MMA) measurement. MMA is a marker of functional B12 status that rises when B12 levels are low.
Choline is neither a vitamin nor a mineral, but is similar in structure to many B vitamins. It is a crucial component of acetylcholine which, as you may recall, we need for proper vagus nerve function.
Research shows that choline plays important roles in cognition and memory. In older adults, higher choline intakes correlate with better cognitive performance. (18) Adequate choline intake may also reduce anxiety. (19)
The best whole-food sources of choline include beef liver, chicken liver, cuts of beef other than liver, egg yolks, cruciferous vegetables, and salmon. However, individuals with Lyme brain may benefit by taking supplemental choline in addition to consuming whole-food sources of this nutrient.
My preferred form of supplemental choline for cognition is alpha-GPC (alpha-glycerylphosphoryl choline) because it has been shown in studies to improve motivation (Lyme brain can often lower motivation) and enhance cognition. (20, 21)
For some people with Lyme disease, gut imbalances are one of the root causes of Lyme brain.
Both Lyme infection and Lyme disease treatment (particularly antibiotics) can disrupt the gut microbiome, creating an imbalance between beneficial and harmful microbes in the gut. This microbial imbalances if referred to as “gut dysbiosis.”
Research indicates that gut dysbiosis can cause cognitive dysfunction, depression, and anxiety. While this research isn’t specific to Lyme patients, it is possible that gut dysbiosis Lyme patients may contribute to cognitive and mood issues. In my practice, I have clients do stool testing to assess their gut microbiomes, and I frequently find gut imbalances in clients with cognitive and mood issues.
How does gut health impact brain function? The gut and brain, while seemingly distinct, are actually connected to each other through a network of nerves called the “gut-brain axis.”
The gut-brain axis connects the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is the nervous system in the gut, with the central nervous system (CNS), that includes the brain and spinal cord. It also includes the vagus nerve, a part of the autonomic nervous stem. By causing dysfunction along the gut-brain axis, gut dysbiosis can potentially lead to cognitive and mood issues. (22, 23)
Probiotic supplementation is one way to restore balance to the gut-brain axis and promote better cognitive and mental health.
Several probiotic strains show promise for supporting mood and mental health, and may be useful supplements for Lyme brain. In fact, probiotics with effects on mental and cognitive health now have their own special name – “psychobiotics!” (24) These promising probiotic strains include:
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus: Research suggests this probiotic can reduce anxiety and depression by affecting GABA neurotransmission in the body. (25, 26) GABA is the body’s primary calming neurotransmitter.
- Lactobacillus plantarum: This probiotic has been found to reduce alleviate stress and anxiety and improve memory and cognition in stressed-out adults. (27)
- Bifidobacterium longum: This probiotic modulates neural responses associated with mental fatigue and may improve mental resilience. (28) It may also help to reduce stress and improve memory. (29)
Holy basil, also known as Tulsi, is an herb with an extensive history of use in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Research indicates that it can reduce anxiety and stress. (30) In my practice, I find Holy Basil especially helpful for clients who are dealing with anxiety related to Lyme brain.
Tulsi can be consumed as a whole herb extract in capsules or as a tea. The tea version is lovely to consume as a “wind-down” beverage an hour or two before bed in the evening!
Eleutherococcus senticosus, also known as “Eleuthero” or “Siberian ginseng,” is an adaptogenic herb that has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has also been heavily studied and utilized in Russia.
An adaptogenic herb is an herb that helps the body and brain adapt to stressful situations. Stephen Harrod Buhner, the wonderful herbalist famous for the book Healing Lyme, described Eleuthero as as helpful herb for “chronic fatigue, mental fog and confusion…”
I use Eleuthero regularly in my practice with clients who have Lyme brain to combat symptoms of brain fog and low mental energy and stamina.
This is a great herb for those with chronic fatigue and brain fog. I find that it synergizes well with many Lyme herbal treatment protocols. It can be taken as an herbal tincture or an encapsulated herbal extract.
Zinc is a mineral required for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including many involved in neurochemistry and brain function. Zinc regulates neuronal growth and signaling, and a lack of zinc compromises neuronal repair and increases neuronal death. (31, 32)
Zinc deficiency is associated with depression and suicidal tendencies, both of which can, unfortunately, occur in Lyme disease patients. Conversely, healthy bodily levels of zinc are associated with improved mood, memory, and attention. (33, 34, 35)
In my clinical practice, I prefer to optimize zinc levels with a “food first” approach. The top whole-food sources of zinc include red meat, poultry, seafood, and shellfish, such as oysters.
If an individual isn’t able to optimize their zinc level just through whole foods, since supplementation may be warranted. However, I don’t recommend isolated zinc supplementation over the long term because it can cause an imbalance in copper levels.
Red blood cell zinc is an ideal way to assess zinc status. The enzyme ALP (alkaline phosphatase), which is measured with a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), tends to be low in zinc deficiency and can thus be used as a potential indirect marker of zinc status. (36)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot manufacture, meaning we must consume them in our diets. The omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are particularly important for healthy brain function.
Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in the cell membranes of neurons, where they facilitate neurotransmission between brain cells. EPA and DHA regulate mood, learning, behavior, and healthy brain aging.
The omega-3 fatty acid found in plants, alpha-linolenic acid, must be converted into EPA and DHA inside the body; unfortunately, this conversion is not efficient in many people. Seafood is by far the richest dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids, and most people will need to consume either seafood or fish oil to optimize their omega-3 levels.
If you are working to heal from Lyme disease, it is crucial that you optimize your omega-3 status. Try to consume 2-3 servings of low-mercury seafood per week. A helpful way to remember which types of fish are lowest in mercury and highest in omega-3’s is to use the “SMASH” acronym, which stands for “salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring.”
If you don’t have access to wild-caught seafood or don’t like the taste of seafood, then you’ll want to take a fish oil supplement. Nordic Naturals ProOmega 2000 is currently my favorite fish oil supplement, providing 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per serving.
The Bottom Line on Supplements for Lyme Brain
Antibiotics and antimicrobials are crucial for Lyme disease recovery. However, on their own, these treatments are typically insufficient for repairing Lyme brain. The strategic use of nutritional supplements can help you recover from Lyme brain and reclaim your cognitive clarity, attention, focus, and a balanced mood. The ten best supplements for Lyme brain that I recommend as a Lyme warrior and practitioner working with clients who have Lyme disease include:
- Vitamin B1
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Holy Basil
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Finally, while the ketogenic diet is not a supplement, I would be remiss not to mention it in this article because of the profound impact it can have on Lyme brain! To learn more about the ketogenic diet, read my article, “Keto and Lyme Disease: 5 Ways a Ketogenic Diet Can Aid Lyme Recovery.”
Are you in need of personalized functional healthcare support in your Lyme disease journey? I’d love to work with you one-on-one in my practice! If you’re ready to get started, book your free discovery call to learn more about how I can help!