Small herb doses work against Lyme

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Please forgive the abrupt headline, but it’s needed to debunk a dangerous myth out there in the Lyme world.

During the countless hours I’ve spent scanning Lyme forums, I’ve seen dozens of posts from people saying they think treating Lyme and its coinfections with herbs can’t be working because they can only tolerate a drop or two of tincture without feeling too sick to continue.

Personally, I wasn’t sure if small doses could slay one of these dragons. Until recently.

What changed was a webinar I watched hosted by Dr. Marty Ross. Ross, a well-known Lyme literate medical doctor based in Seattle, has treated thousands of Lyme patients over the past two decades. He explained that he has seen some of his patients get over Lyme or a coinfection taking as little as a drop or two a day of an herbal tincture.

“People need to move out of the idea that you need so many drops,” Ross said. The key, he continued, is to have a dose that is killing the bugs. For most people that dose is 30 drops or more. But for those who are extremely sensitive to herbs and medicines in general, it can be a fraction of that.

Ross uses both traditional antibiotics and antimicrobial herbs in his practice. Usually, he lets the patient choose.

Sometimes in his webinars, he can be seen pulling one of master herbalist Stephen Buhner’s books out of his desk drawer. He bases his herbal protocols on Buhner’s books. 

For example, the primary herbs he uses to treat Bartonella are Houttuynia and Sida Acuta. His standard dose of each is 30 drops twice a day for 4-6 months. But if a patient can only tolerate a small dose, he finds they can still overcome the infection in 6-12 months. In all cases, he suggests patients gauge their progress after a couple of months, and ask themselves if the treatment is working. If it isn’t working, it’s time to try something else.

He says he’s not sure why some people can’t handle large doses, but thinks it’s because their bodies are having difficulty detoxifying. As a result, the herb isn’t removed from the body as quickly as would normally be the case. Because of this, the level of herb in the body stays high and retains a good killing effect.

Since treating Lyme and co-infections varies so much from one individual to another, two drops twice a day in one person could have the same effect as 30 drops twice a day in someone else.

Take me for example. I am treating Bartonella. I started at one drop of Houttuynia once a day, then added a drop of Sida Acuta. Slowly, over the course of two weeks, I moved it to two drops of each twice a day. 

Then I started to feel impatient and wonder if I could tolerate a lot more. I suspect many in the ranks of those highly sensitive to herbs and other meds can relate to this. “What would happen if I just tried a normal dose?” I asked myself.

Fortunately, I kept the increase to three drops of each twice that day, making a total of four extra drops. Predictably, I woke the next day feeling like I had a hangover. It took about eight hours to wear off, enough time to convince me to keep further increases to a drop a day at a time.

Even that has been a challenge. After going back to the two drops of each twice a day for a few days I decided to dip my toe back into the pool. An extra drop of Sida Acuta and I woke the next morning feeling totally spaced out for an hour or so.

Okay. Back to two of each twice a day. A few days later I tried an extra drop of Houttuynia. That produced a night filled with nausea.

So, I’m back at two drops twice a day. It’s been nearly a month since I started treating the Bartonella, and I have seen some improvements like less foot pain, fewer rashes, and better mood. So, I choose to believe Dr. Ross. I’ve watched dozens of his webinars and he clearly knows his stuff. And I will try very hard not to lose my patience again. It’s not much fun getting hangovers, especially when you haven’t had a drop to drink.

Stephen Buhner vs. The Lyme Conventional Wisdom

You can approach treating Lyme Disease in two basic ways. First, you can look at it purely as a science. Or, you can look at it as partly a science and partly an art.

The conventional wisdom says go strictly with science. Over the past few decades since Lyme hit the map, Western medicine has developed treatment strategies that for the most part fit the disease into its existing paradigm.

It goes something like this. We’ve discovered Lyme is a bacterial infection. We test for it. If the test is positive, we throw antibiotics at  it.

This works great for some people, but it doesn’t work very well for a lot of other people.

Enter Stephen Buhner, master herbalist and author. He is far from the only proponent of the science plus art approach, but no one has done more to champion it.

Among his books are two editions of Healing Lyme, plus two books on treating coinfections associated with Lyme. If you read these works carefully, you’ll clearly see how different his way of treating Lyme is from the conventional wisdom.

It’s not that Buhner isn’t scientific. He worked from 1980 to 2005 as a clinical herbalist and psychotherapist and also has treated many Lyme patients since. In Healing Lyme, Second Edition, he says that he has had contact with more than 25,000 people with Lyme and has read more than 10,000 peer-reviewed papers on Lyme.

In this book, he also gives some stats on his Lyme protocol’s success, saying that from the feedback he received from 2005-2015. he estimates that 75 percent of people experienced what they considered a cure from the program, 15 percent needed to continue with a reduced form of the protocol, 5 percent had some relief, and 5 percent got no help.

The purpose of this blog is to highlight the differences in the two approaches. As mentioned earlier, the conventional wisdom has worked well for many people, while Buhner’s way has helped many others.

I should mention that I’m referring to the conventional wisdom for treating persistent, or chronic, Lyme. It should also be noted that not all Lyme doctors fall completely into one camp or another. Some are a totally conventional, some a bit unconventional, and others quite a bit unconventional in their treatment methods.

But, for the sake of comparison, here’s how I see the main differences between Buhner and the conventional Lyme wisdom.

Conventional wisdom: Only antibiotics will cure Lyme.

Buhner: Lyme can be cured by using herbs and other natural products. Several natural protocols have been developed  by Buhner and by others, and one particular protocol may or may not work for one person, and another protocol may or may not work for another person.

Buhner is not against antibiotics. He says they work very well for some people and they can be combined with herbs, but they often aren’t necessary.

Conventional wisdom: Fighting Lyme is like fighting a conventional war. You have to keep blasting away at the bugs until they are defeated. Sometimes this means taking high doses of antibiotics for a year or more.

Buhner: Fighting Lyme is like a guerrilla war. You have to outsmart the bugs. The goal isn’t to bludgeon the enemy into submission, it’s to understand what the bugs want and need from their hosts and to find ways to deny those needs and prevent them proliferating.

Conventional wisdom: Strong and highly unpleasant die-off (Herxheimer) reactions are an unfortunate, but necessary, part of getting well from Lyme.

Buhner: Herxheimer reactions aren’t necessary. They sometimes happen, but you should try to avoid them.

Conventional wisdom: The doctor creates the protocol and the patient doesn’t deviate from it.

Buhner: Patients should listen to their bodies and tweak their protocols according to what works best for them. Having patients educate themselves and develop a feel for how herbs and natural products interact with their bodies is a crucial part of treatment.

Conventional wisdom: Patients need to push themselves and fight through difficult patches in treatment.

Buhner: Only go as fast as your body is telling you to go. If an herb is making you feel significantly unwell, back off and cut down on the dose.

So now that I’ve gone through the main differences in approaches, I’ll admit to having a bias. The conventional wisdom didn’t work well for me. Buhner’s protocols haven’t gotten me fully well, yet, but they have contributed to substantial improvement.

I also find the Buhner model more sustainable. Going on long-term antibiotic programs wreaks havoc on many body systems, especially the gut, and nobody knows what long-term effects that will have.

The conventional wisdom approach is also hard on the human spirit. The consequence of taking antibiotics long-term is often feeling awful day after day, month after month. Many times the treatment feels worse than the disease.

A lot has changed since the first edition of Healing Lyme came out in 2005. The trend in the conventional wisdom among leading Lyme doctors has slowly been moving in Buhner’s direction.

Herbs and other natural products are more commonly used as many doctors are now willing to look beyond solely an antibiotic approach. And this makes sense to my mind. Buhner strikes me as someone who has studied Lyme Disease as thoroughly as anyone and understands it as well as anyone, and people should look closely at what he’s doing.

The Lyme bacteria is known as one of the most intelligent and resourceful of bugs, and the conventional wisdom approach hasn’t stopped it from spreading rapidly worldwide. One hopes that more people like Buhner will step forward and put the focus on figuring  out more new and perhaps unorthodox ways to neutralize Lyme and reduce the tremendous damage it is causing around the globe.

The Lyme World’s Unsung Hero

Did you realize there’s a guy who’s spent decades figuring out precisely how Lyme Disease and its coinfections work, and precisely how to treat them?

More than that, did you realize the same guy has had considerable success in getting people well from these miserable diseases?

My guess is that most people with Lyme don’t know this, and that is regrettable. I, for one, owe this man some major gratitude.

I’m referring to Stephen Harrod Buhner, the author of many books including Healing Lyme (two editions), Healing Lyme Disease Coinfections: Complementary and Holistic Treatments for Bartonella and Mycoplasma; and Natural Treatments for Lyme Coinfections:  Anaplasma, Babesia, and Ehrlichia.

I call him the unsung hero because there are several other Lyme heroes that also have made tremendous contributions to understanding and treating the disease – people like Dr. Richard Horowitz, Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt, and Dr. Joseph Burrascano. But they all have a relatively high profile, and, if you have Lyme, chances are you’ve heard of them.

Buhner stays mostly under the radar. He doesn’t run a world-renowned clinic or give lectures all over the globe. He’s a master herbalist living in an American culture in which the medical system places far less value on herbalism than it should.

You can gauge his lack of fame by the way people butcher his name. I’ve seen him referred to as Stephen Bruhner on many occasions, and on others as Stephen Harold Buhner. Then again, herbalism is known for taking a humble approach.

Despite the praise I’ve been laying on here, I want to be clear that I’m not recommending that you dive right into the protocols that Buhner has developed for Lyme and coinfections. I think they are brilliant, but herbal medicine can be very complicated. If you choose to go on them, I suggest doing so under the guidance of an expert herbalist or holistic medical practitioner extremely familiar with herbal medicine.

If you don’t have a good sense of what you’re doing with herbs, it’s been my experience that they can make things worse. There are many possible pitfalls, such as taking an herb that for one reason or another doesn’t mesh with you, taking the wrong dose, or taking a combination of herbs that doesn’t work for you.

I tried the Buhner protocol for Lyme a few years back and it didn’t produce results. That wasn’t the protocol’s fault; it was my fault for not having enough experience working with herbs. But now that I’ve taken more herbs and read many books on the subject, including the above-mentioned works and several others Buhner has written, I have a much better feel for the process. Thus, fortunately, the herbs Buhner recommends are working well for me and are making me feel better and better.

In his writings, Buhner stresses the need for people to tweak his protocol to meet their individual needs and circumstances because nobody has precisely the same case of Lyme Disease as anyone else does. Treating Lyme this way is scientific, but there’s also a lot of art to it.

Some people are wary of his methods because Buhner is not a medical doctor. But he worked from 1980 to 2005 as a clinical herbalist and psychotherapist and also has treated many Lyme patients since. In Healing Lyme, Second Edition, he says that all told he has had contact with more than 25,000 people with Lyme and has reviewed more than 10,000 peer-reviewed papers on Lyme.

In this book, he also gives some stats on his Lyme protocol’s success, saying that from the feedback he received from 2005-2015. he estimates that “75 percent of people experienced what they considered a cure from the program, 15 percent needed to continue with a reduced form of the protocol – generally small doses of knotweed and cat’s claw to keep symptoms from returning, 5 percent had some relief and 5 percent got no help.”

Backing for his claims comes from other sources as well. In his book, “Suffered Long Enough“, Dr. William Rawls says “thousands of patients have followed his protocols with exceptional results.” Dr. Klinghardt has noted that Buhner’s contributions to herbal treatment for Lyme have made him “the outstanding man in his field.”

I’ve always believed in giving recognition to people who deserve it but don’t seek it, and who don’t get as much of it as they should. This is what makes an unsung hero, and, for his exceptional work with Lyme Disease the past few decades, Stephen Buhner certainly deserves the title.