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Borrelia burgdoferi, the cause of the tick-borne Lyme Disease, is a microbe. Does that mean herbs with proven antimicrobial properties can help you prevent Lyme Disease?

With Sweden's long history of military neutrality and its continued focus on peace-keeping and humanitarian aid, it just might be one of the safer countries in which one can serve as a member of the armed forces. Is a tiny eight-legged foe that often escapes detection the biggest threat Swedish soldiers face? 

Southern Sweden has some of the highest rates of Lyme Disease, with neurological complications also being extremely prevalent [1]. With the disproportionate risk that their soldiers would develop signs of chronic Lyme Disease in mind, the Swedish military started an experiment in the year 2000. One hundred soldiers wore the same kind of uniform, engaged in the same kind of daily routine, ate the same kind of diet, and spent equal amounts of time in tick-endemic areas. While 50 of them ingested placebos, the other half of the study group instead used 1200 mg strong Allium sativum supplements. 

The results? Well, these members of the Swedish armed forces continued to be bitten by ticks at alarming rates — 66 of the 100 recorded tick bites during the study period, and a total of 286 tick bites were recorded. The study's authors noted: "On average, the participants recorded 0.2 tick bites per week during military service, compared with 0.03 tick bites during leave." As shocking as the risk of tick bites is among this particular group of people, the Allium sativum supplements led to "a significant reduction in tick bites". [2]

Those not versed in Latin or biology would be forgiven for thinking that Allium sativum is a novel pharmacological protocol, but it isn't, and you probably have it in your kitchen right now. It's garlic, folks.

As the study authors concluded, continuing work on more effective preventative mechanisms, including a vaccine, makes all the sense in the world. Garlic is, however, completely safe and doesn't produce side effects (other than perhaps perceived bad breath in other people?). So considering helping yourself to abundant servings of garlic may be sane if you live in areas where ticks and Lyme Disease are common. While garlic supplements don't cure chronic Lyme Disease, they might indeed help you prevent getting it in the first place.

Garlic, the study concluded, works as an insect repellent. It also, however, has antimicrobial properties that will help guard you against infection, and it strengthens the immune system — mostly thanks to allicin, its main active component [3]. Might other herbs with antimicrobial properties also help you prevent Lyme Disease?

Herbs With Antimicrobial Properties You Might Try To Prevent Lyme Disease

  • Holy Basil in English, Tulsi in various Indian languages, and scientifically designated Ocimum sanctum L. or Ocimum tenuiflorum L — whatever you want to call this plant, it's been used in Ayurvedic medicine for a long time. It has antimicrobial properties, helps with inflammation [4], and I've seen several proponents of alternative treatments for chronic Lyme Disease talk about using it in their medicinal regimes. 
  • Most people will have heard of echinacea, which has been proven effective against certain microbes [5]. Borrelia burgorferi may not be one of them, but again, plenty of people fighting (chronic or post-treatment) Lyme Disease choose to include it in their treatment protocols. 
  • Stinging nettle, or Urtica dioica L, has been found to have antimicrobial properties that work against nine different micro-organisms [6]. It also makes a great soup ingredient. 
  • Cat's claw, often discussed in alternative Lyme circles, indeed works as an antimicrobial — against oral pathogens. [7]
Numerous other herbs with proven antimicrobial (anti-infective) properties are constantly discussed in online venues where people seeking alternative methods of treating chronic Lyme Disease congregate. These include cilantro, turmeric, Chlorella, Sarsaparilla, and Andrographis [8]. Before you conclude that "antimicrobial" means the herb in question will fight Borrelia burgorferi, remember that antimicrobial doesn't mean the thing in question is going to battle all microbes. It doesn't work like that. It not working like that is, among other reasons, why different antibiotics are prescribed for different infections. 

Those who have already had a Lyme Disease diagnosis should remember that only antibiotics have been proven to rid people of this tick-borne disease [9]. Foregoing modern medicine in favor of unproven and often dangerous alternative remedies for chronic Lyme Disease isn't wise. 

People who live in tick-endemic areas who simply want to have the best shot they can at preventing Lyme Disease are in a different boat, though. As long as the herbs you're taking...

  • Aren't inherently dangerous
  • Aren't being consumed in ridiculous doses
  • Aren't contraindicated for you for some reason

...the worst that can happen is you taking something that won't help prevent Lyme Disease. Herbs commonly consumed in meals definitely fall into this category, and we say you should take them if you want to. Especially pile on the garlic, which holds actual promise in the prevention of Lyme Disease (maybe more because ticks don't like its smell, but still)! Still remember to check yourself for ticks after spending time in nature, and still use DEET-based insect repellent, and you're good to go. 

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