In a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, with colleagues at the California Center for Functional Medicine and Focus Health, surveyed the power of 14 plant-based extracts to kill Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme diseases, compared to the currently used Lyme antibiotics doxycycline and cefuroxime.

The researchers tested the extracts’ effectiveness in vitro, in test tubes, against the free-swimming “planktonic” form of the bacterium as well as against microcolonies. Microcolonies are aggregates of bacteria and the first stage in the development of biofilms — structured bacterial communities that stick to a surface and are embedded in a slimy extracellular matrix.

researchers show that plant extracts from black walnut, cat’s claw, sweet wormwood, Mediterranean rockrose, and Chinese skullcap had strong activity against B. burgdorferi, outperforming both tested antibiotics.

The strongest performers by far were Ghanaian quinine (Cryptolepis sanguinolenta; also known as yellow-dye root, nibima, or kadze) and Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum).

“These findings are exciting as they offer opportunities for improved treatment of persistent Lyme disease, which is not helped by the current standard treatment,” says co-author Dr. Ying Zhang, professor in the Bloomberg School’s department of molecular microbiology and immunology. “We are interested in further evaluating these potent herbal medicines through animal studies as well as clinical trials.”

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