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Teasing Out Lyme Disease

Updated: Aug 16


Unmistakably majestic, teasels are easily identified against a blue sky backdrop. Prickly customers, you either love them or hate them. They perform an important role in nature, being loved and well used by bees, butterflies and birds. But they have another important role - they hold a fairly vital natural medicine, one that can help us win the battle against Lyme Disease.


Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne human infection in England and Wales. (A vector is an organism, typically a biting insect or a tick, that spreads parasites or bacteria.) Lyme's spirochetes (spiral-shaped bacteria) are transmitted by ticks that are mainly shed by deer and sheep. Studies suggest that climate change has contributed to the spread of ticks, increasing the risk of Lyme disease. Changing weather patterns mean ticks are active earlier than usual and spreading faster. Although Western medicine can treat Lyme disease with antibiotics (if it is caught in time), some Lyme patients suffer with long-term symptoms, such as fatigue, muscle and joint pain and cognitive issues. Long term disease may be called “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome”, or more simply “chronic Lyme disease”.

Initial symptoms may include a localised circular bullseye-type rash at the place of the bite, but this does not always occur. The rash is not generally very itchy or very tender. There may be fever or headache, but again this is not always the case. Joint pains and flu-like symptoms take a little longer to develop. Since 2010 every laboratory that tests bloods in the UK is required to notify the UKHSA of all confirmed cases of Lyme disease. Official numbers have steadily increased, rising from 936 in 2013 to 1639 in 2019. (2020-2021 shows a slight drop, which is likely to be due to people staying at home more during the Covid pandemic.) However, these are just the confirmed cases. It is estimated that the true figure is at least 6 times the number of confirmed cases, as most patients are treated without recourse to a blood test. Even with this data it is impossible to be accurate because many cases can be misdiagnosed as other conditions such as fibromyalgia. What makes it hard for GPs is that a tick bite can easily go unnoticed, and symptoms can take up to 8 weeks to develop.

Not all ticks carry the Borrelia (Lyme disease) spirochete. When I lived in rural France my nightly “tick check” of my dog resulted in the removal of literally hundreds of ticks over a number of years. He got very used to this procedure and would willingly lie or sit absolutely still while I removed the latest stowaway. He never developed Lyme disease or any other ill effect. But that is no reason to be complacent because it only takes one infected tick...


Removing an embedded tick is actually quite easy. Every vet stocks packets of small two-pronged fork-type tools called Tick Twisters.

These can be used on humans too! I tried various other approaches such as putting strong essential oils on ticks but nothing worked as well as simply removing them with the twister. I hope you’re not too squeamish - yuk alert -: ticks bury their heads below the skin and you have to remove them with their heads intact, so with the Twister you basically catch them around the neck and slowly twist the body whilst pulling gently and gradually pulling harder. In a short while the tick has to let go, because it doesn’t want to lose its head. It is really important to kill the tick and that’s not easy because their body is a hard shell. Next yuk alert -: I used to sandwich them in a folded piece of paper towel, place them on a hard surface and, using the side of a knife, squash them until they popped. Yukky stuff I know, but if you don’t do it they’ll just climb out of wherever you dispose of them and move on to the next host.


Why is there so much angst about Lyme Disease? Probably the simplest answer to that is because since the development of antibiotics in the mid 20th century we have come to rely on them to deal with all bacterial infections, and if Lyme is not diagnosed in its very early stages then it can be too late for antibiotics to be able to help. This can leave doctors at a loss as to how to help their patients, and it leaves patients fearing there is little that can be done.


Antibiotics are carried through the blood stream, but the spirochetes corkscrew themselves out of the blood vessels and into deeper tissues such as cartilage and muscle, causing ongoing inflammation and pain. They hide away in body structures that don’t get reached by antibiotics, rendering the main weapon in Western Medicine’s arsenal ineffective. Lyme disease is not yet fully understood by modern science so there is no immediate answer for the classic symptoms of brain fog, fatigue, flu-like state and chronic joint pain. However, herbalists all over the world have been treating Lyme ever since it’s been around, so I suspect that modern medicine will aim its research more and more towards these successful plant based treatments, in order to develop drugs that can work in tandem with antibiotics.


As with all holistic healing therapies, herbal treatment is usually determined by the sufferer’s individual whole state, not just by the name of the illness. But where Lyme disease is concerned there are one or two herbs that are the mainstays in the herbalist’s tool box. The one that has gained most fame is Teasel.

Teasel is a biennial plant, producing just a rosette of leaves in its first year, and then shooting up in the second year with its unique stems of leaves and flowers. The second year is hugely dramatic compared to the first year, but that is because prior to shooting upwards most of its activity is going on, invisibly, underground. Its roots are growing and gathering power, and it’s in these roots where we find the answer to Lyme disease.


Teasel roots are harvested after they have developed over the first year, and before any of their energy has gone into growing their shoots, which starts in early spring of the second year. They contain major compounds such as glycosides, saponins, phenols and iridoids. Teasel root tincture has long been used in herbal medicine and has many health benefits. Inulin - a type of soluble fibre - absorbs water, which makes teasel a diuretic, aiding the kidneys. The roots also contain a scabicide – a chemical used to treat scabies (which is spread by small mites, another skin-burrowing type of parasite.) Teasel root is used for a variety of health benefits. You can find many online references. Here is just one.


Following the growing awareness of Teasel’s role in treating Lyme, I read one lab study that decided to compare its action with that of Japanese knotweed root. Japanese knotweed is very successful in killing the Borrelia spirochete, but access to this plant in the UK is strictly prohibited due to its invasive tendency so I haven’t yet been able to get my hands on any and make a tincture. The study concluded that Japanese knotweed did kill the Borrelia in the lab’s petri dishes, but the Teasel root did not. The easy assumption to make is that therefore all the "hype" about Teasel is just more fake news.


But they were looking in the wrong place, performing the wrong experiment!!

Teasel root doesn’t kill Borrelia. We never said it did! 😀 I found references to studies showing it can significantly inhibit Borrelia growth, sometimes up to 95%, so that is additional good news, but it won’t kill it. And even though Japanese knotweed has been proven to kill Borrelia, if you administer it to someone who is not responding to antibiotics, they will probably not respond to Japanese knotweed either. This is because the Borrelia has hidden itself away out of reach.


The role of Teasel root is to kick the Borrelia back into the blood stream so that the immune system, with the help of other medicinal preparations (Japanese knotweed, antibiotics, or anything else that is known to be effective) can access it and clear it out of the system. How does it do this? My honest answer is that I don’t actually know. Maybe it’s an action of the scabicide? General supposition is that it makes the environment (wherever the Borrelia has taken up residence) somehow less hospitable. This disturbs the Borrelia, which then mobilises itself back into the bloodstream where it is visible and vulnerable.


A word of warning: if you, or someone you know, decides to try teasel root tincture in combination with antibiotics or Japanese knotweed etc, be aware that because it will very likely be effective it is possible to trigger a Herxheimer effect. This is when you take something that kills off a lot of bacteria and you may experience healing aggravation symptoms from the waste products. You can read about how to dose with teasel root tincture and how to manage a Herxheimer reaction on my Lyme Disease page.


A little more about Teasel: WILDLIFE LOVE IT...


Many people believe that Teasel is a carnivorous plant. Darwin himself first made this suggestion, because rainwater collects at the base of the pairs of leaves that grow up the flowering stems, and insects drown in these “Venus pools”. However, it has since been concluded that they are not carnivorous. But don’t ever forget, modern science is peopled by the always super-confident “We-used-to-believe-X-but-now-we-know-Y” brigade… If you have some time to while away, you can read the study here.

Teasel has also been used in the production of natural dyes as an indigo alternative, and the heads have traditionally been used to card wool. I have an early memory of my grandmother (who used to make hats for a shop) using a spiky metal tool to fluff up an angora beret that she’d knitted. She told me this tool was called a teasel. I can still see it in my mind’s eye, but despite a fair bit of searching I cannot find an example of what she had. They seem to have gone out of fashion.

Fashions may change, but Herbal wealth and wisdom is deep-rooted and enduring.

***

Addendum

For anyone with an interest in biochemistry or medicine, Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), despite being much maligned because of its invasiveness, is actually an amazing plant. It has a wide range of actions. It is a long list, but worth citing here: antibacterial, antiviral, antischistosomal, antispirochetal, antifungal, immunostimulant, immunomodulant, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiatherosclerotic, antihyperlipidemic, antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, antineoplastic, vasodilator, inhibits platelet aggregation, inhibits eicosanoid synthesis, antithrombotic, tyrosine kinase inhibitor, oncogene inhibitor, antipyretic, cardioprotective, analgesic, antiulcer (slightly reduces stomach acid and protects against stress ulcers), haemostatic, and astringent. (taken from Beneficialbotanicals.com)





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