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Lyme disease medical treatment, whether it involves pharmaceutical or herbal antibiotics, is necessary for recovery. However, antibiotics alone are often insufficient for inducing long-term recovery. High-quality nutritional supplements are a powerful complement to antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease that can enhance your recovery process. Supplements for Lyme disease augment the treatment process by addressing factors that antibiotics alone cannot improve, including reducing inflammation, supporting the immune system, enhancing detoxification, and supporting gut health. Read on to learn about the top ten nutritional supplements that can complement your Lyme medical treatment and accelerate your recovery.
An Overview of Medical Treatment for Lyme Disease
Medical treatments for Lyme disease include antibiotics, herbal antibiotics, and other pharmaceutical drugs besides antibiotics. Combinations of antibiotics are typically used for Lyme disease treatment because the three types of Borrelia bacteria that cause Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi for short, Borrelia afzelii, and Borrelia garinii, morph into different forms that must be targeted with different antibiotics. Antibiotics that are commonly used to treat Lyme disease include penicillins (such as amoxicillin), cephalosporins (such as ceftriaxone), macrolides (such as azithromycin), and tetracyclines (such as doxycycline).
The natural world is filled with botanicals with antibiotic properties. Herbal antibiotic protocols incorporate many of nature’s most potent antibiotic plants. Two of the most popular herbal antibiotic protocols for Lyme disease include the Buhner and the Cowden protocols. A few notable herbs in these protocols include Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), which, in addition to being antibacterial, contains phytochemicals that alleviate Lyme-induced inflammation, and Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, a bitter botanical with potent anti-Borrelia activity. (1)
Several non-antibiotic drugs are also used in Lyme disease treatment, including artemisinin, an antimalarial drug, and low-dose naltrexone (LDN), an immune system-modulating drug. You can read more about the applications of LDN for Lyme disease in my article, Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) for Lyme Disease Treatment.
While medical treatment for Lyme disease is undoubtedly essential for recovery (I’ve used many antibiotic herbs personally), I’ve found that most people with Lyme disease do best on an integrative protocol that includes antibiotics and specific nutritional supplements. Next up, I’ll cover the ten vitamins and supplements that I’ve found to be most helpful for Lyme disease recovery in my clinical nutrition practice and my personal recovery from Lyme.
10 Supplements for Lyme Disease
The top supplements that support Lyme disease recovery help your body in several key ways:
- Reduce inflammation: Lyme disease elicits a significant inflammatory response inside the body. In fact, the out-of-control inflammatory response contributes to many symptoms of chronic Lyme, including joint pain, neck stiffness, fatigue, and brain fog.
- Support the immune system: To recover from Lyme disease, you need a strong and balanced immune system. Several of the supplements I discuss below help regulate the immune system to target harmful Lyme bacteria while reducing the risk of an autoimmune response, a destructive immune-mediated attack on the body’s tissues.
- Enhance detoxification: Killing off Lyme bacteria creates waste that must be eliminated from the body for successful healing. The body’s detoxification pathways can quickly become overburdened by the toxic detritus caused by antibiotics and antibiotic herbs. Supplements that support the body’s internal detoxification pathways can alleviate “die-off” symptoms related to compromised detoxification pathways.
- Support gut health: Antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease can adversely impact gut health for many people, contributing to gastrointestinal symptoms ranging from diarrhea to bloating to constipation. Supplements that support the gut can alleviate gastrointestinal side effects of Lyme disease treatment and build a more resilient gut, which is crucial for optimal immune function. The connection between the gut and immune system is so strong that it’s referred to in the scientific literature as the “gut-immune axis.” (2)
The following list of supplements for Lyme disease is not exhaustive; many more nutritional supplements can be helpful during the Lyme recovery process, depending on one’s unique health challenges. However, this list of ten foundational supplements provides a solid place for most Lyme patients to start when it comes to selecting helpful supplements.
Research indicates that approximately 42 percent of U.S. adults are deficient in vitamin D. (3) This is a BIG deal because vitamin D is absolutely vital for healthy immune system function and inflammation regulation (4,5), both of which are, in turn, necessary for Lyme disease recovery. Interestingly, Borrelia burgdorferi directly reduces vitamin D receptor expression in immune cells and can thus increase the need for vitamin D. (6)
Vitamin D deficiency is most common in adults older than 65, those with minimal sun exposure, and those on long-term prescription medications or with poor dietary habits.
While daily sun exposure is the best way to shore up your levels of vitamin D, the reality is that most of us don’t spend enough time outdoors to make sufficient vitamin D through our skin. Furthermore, gut imbalances, excess body fat, and chronic inflammation increase our vitamin D needs, making it difficult for us to meet our vitamin D needs solely through sun exposure. If your vitamin D levels are suboptimal, supplementing with vitamin D can thus have a powerful positive impact on your recovery process.
It is best practice to supplement with vitamin D at a dosage that allows you to maintain a serum vitamin D level between 40-60 ng/mL. Your optimal vitamin D dosage will depend on your current serum level of vitamin D and how far away you are from the 40-60 ng/mL target. I recommend partnering with a healthcare provider who can measure your vitamin D level and determine your optimal supplemental dosage of this nutrient. I frequently run vitamin D labs for clients in my nutrition practice.
Also, it is crucial to balance your intake of vitamin D with vitamin K2, another fat-soluble vitamin that works synergistically with vitamin D to regulate calcium metabolism. The best vitamin D supplements pair vitamin D3 with vitamin K2.
Magnesium is essential for human health, yet research indicates that up to 50 percent of the U.S. population is deficient! Furthermore, magnesium deficiency and Lyme disease can go hand in hand, with magnesium deficiency intensifying symptoms related to Lyme disease, such as fatigue, anxiety, sleep disruptions, and muscle weakness. Therefore, an optimal magnesium intake is crucial for helping your body properly use vitamin D. (7) For people with Lyme disease, increasing magnesium intake may improve nervous system health, muscle function, hormone regulation, and energy production.
Magnesium is available in certain foods, such as dark leafy greens and avocado. However, food alone is typically insufficient for raising bodily magnesium levels because the amount of magnesium in our food has declined due to intensive agricultural practices that deplete soil magnesium.
The forms of supplemental magnesium most efficiently used by the body are magnesium glycinate and magnesium malate. Magnesium threonate is also an excellent option, but it is more specific to the brain because it can cross the blood-brain barrier. This characteristic makes magnesium glycinate useful for quelling anxiety, supporting focus and attention, and improving sleep quality.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a supplement derived from the amino acid L-cysteine, a precursor to glutathione. Glutathione is one of the most critical antioxidant molecules in the body and is essential for helping the body fight Borrelia. (8) Glutathione also plays a vital role in detoxification. (9) Supplemental NAC can improve die-off reactions triggered by Lyme antibiotic treatment by boosting glutathione levels and enhancing detoxification processes.
Binders are substances that bind to toxins in the gut, preventing them from being recirculated between the gut, liver, and bloodstream. When toxins repeatedly cycle between the gut, liver, and blood, referred to as the “enterohepatic circulation,” they exert toxic effects on the body that can manifest as fatigue and joint pain, among other symptoms. Binders stop this vicious cycle by mopping up toxins in the gut, including microbial toxins related to chronic infections like Lyme, and ushering them out of the body via the stool.
Binders also bind heavy metals and mycotoxins, which compromise the immune response. (10, 11) Removing these environmental toxins may allow the immune system to fire “on all cylinders” and become better able to clear Lyme disease. Examples of binders include activated charcoal, chitosan, and bentonite clay. I often recommend utilizing a supplement that combines multiple binders since each binder has a slightly different affinity for toxins.
Antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease can wipe out beneficial bacteria, causing gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. In addition, by altering the gut microbiota, antibiotics can also promote leaky gut, gut inflammation, and symptoms related to these processes, such as new-onset food sensitivities. While pharmaceutical antibiotics are sometimes necessary for Lyme treatment, there are measures you can take to protect your gut microbiota, including taking probiotics during treatment.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide benefits when consumed and generally improve the gut microbiota or the community of microorganisms that live in the gut. Numerous probiotic supplements are available on the market, with widely varying quality. I recommend selecting a probiotic that provides at least 10 billion CFU (colony-forming units) of probiotics from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria families, as these are the most well-studied types of probiotics. While on antibiotics, you should also consider taking Saccharomyces boulardii, a probiotic yeast that inhibits the overgrowth of Candida, a yeast that commonly overgrows during antibiotic treatment. (12)
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids in the human diet, meaning they cannot be synthesized by the body in adequate amounts and must therefore be consumed through food. Two omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have potent anti-inflammatory effects inside the body and can help alleviate inflammation caused by Lyme disease. (13) The primary source of EPA and DHA in the diet is seafood; I strongly encourage people with Lyme disease to eat wild-caught seafood several times a week. However, fish oil offers added benefits by supplying even more omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, fish oil supplementation can improve mood, joint function, and eye health by alleviating Lyme-induced inflammation. (14, 15, 16)
Monolaurin is a fatty acid naturally found in coconut products and human breast milk; in fact, it contributes to the broad antimicrobial properties of breast milk that assist in building up an infant’s immune system. (17) Monolaurin has extensive antimicrobial activity, including antibacterial effects against Borrelia burgdorferi (18), and upregulates the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which have natural immune-supportive properties. (19) Monolaurin can thus be a helpful immunity-supporting treatment for Lyme recovery.
Biocidin is a blend of herbs, including grape seed extract, goldenseal root, and garlic, that assists with Lyme disease recovery in several ways. For one, the herbs in Biocidin break biofilms, a protective matrix secreted by communities of bacteria to protect the bacteria from antibiotics, including herbal antibiotics. By breaking down biofilm, Biocidin allows antimicrobial therapies to more directly target Lyme bacteria. Several herbs in Biocidin also decrease the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria by blocking efflux pumps, “pumps” inside bacterial cell membranes that allow the bacteria to remove substances toxic to them, including antibiotics. Biocidin is best utilized under the guidance of a skilled functional medicine practitioner.
Sulforaphane is a phytochemical that our bodies can make when we consume cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower. However, the amount of sulforaphane our bodies can make from cruciferous vegetables is highly variable, making sulforaphane supplementation a wise choice.
Sulforaphane has anti-inflammatory effects on the brain (20) and may thus alleviate neuroinflammation caused by Lyme disease. In my nutrition practice, I’ve found supplemental sulforaphane extremely helpful for clearing brain fog, a common manifestation of neuroinflammation. It also induces the expression of genes and proteins involved in detoxification. (21) Look for a product that contains stabilized sulforaphane.
Curcumin, a brilliant yellow phytochemical found in turmeric root, has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. In recent years, scientific research has validated the uses of curcumin, causing it to hit the mainstream. In clinical research, curcumin has been found to alleviate symptoms of osteoarthritis with an efficacy similar to diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). (22) It can also relieve musculoskeletal pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that attacks joints throughout the body and can be instigated by Lyme disease. (23) Curcumin may mediate anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects partly through its inhibitory influence on the COX-2 inflammatory pathway. (24)
While curcumin can be acquired by consuming turmeric root, it comprises a meager 3.14 percent of the turmeric root, meaning one would need to eat large amounts of turmeric to consume a clinically significant quantity of curcumin. Furthermore, curcumin is a hydrophobic compound that does not dissolve readily in water. (25) These properties make supplemental curcumin more effective than pure turmeric root extract for alleviating Lyme-induced inflammation. Therefore, look for a curcumin supplement that provides at least several hundred milligrams of curcumin per serving. Patented forms of curcumin, such as Meriva® curcumin, offer exceptional bioavailability.
High-quality nutritional supplements can make all the difference in your Lyme disease treatment process by reducing inflammation, supporting your immune system, enhancing detoxification, and supporting your gut health. One final note – when selecting supplements, I recommend purchasing from practitioner-grade supplement brands, such as Pure Encapsulations and Thorne Research, to make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for. For example, many consumer-grade supplements sold on Amazon may be adulterated with non-functional ingredients and contaminants, including pharmaceutical drugs. (26) When you select high-quality supplements from reputable companies, you are making an investment in your health that will pay you well over time!