With summer in full swing, pests like mosquitos and ticks are a concern. Not only are ticks annoying, but they can also be carriers for the dreaded Lyme disease. Infected blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, bite unsuspecting humans and transmit the bacterial infection into the blood stream. Unlike the common dog tick, deer ticks are very small and hard to spot.
Today, I want to explore Lyme disease a bit by looking into what it is and does in the body, how to prevent getting it in the first place, and how to support the body through it using natural remedies.
What Exactly Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease usually starts with a rash that looks like a bullseye. Unfortunately, only around 50% of people get this classic Lyme disease rash. It may not be itchy, and it can show up anywhere on the body. There can be lots of different symptoms for Lyme Disease, but they commonly include extreme fatigue, headache, and jaw, neck, joint, bone or back pain. People who have Lyme’s generally feel extremely achy, sore and tired. Lyme disease is a multi-system disease meaning it affects a lot of different systems of the body. It also starts out as acute Lyme disease, but can turn chronic over time.
It’s also important to know that Lyme disease can only be diagnosed by a physician. To get a firm diagnosis for Lyme disease, there are tests available, but some are more accurate than others. Direct microscopy is the preferred method for holistic practitioners according to Dr. Josh Axe’s site.
Lyme disease can be transmitted when you are bitten by an infected deer tick. There’s some disagreement about how long a tick needs to be attached before disease transmission takes place. The CDC says the tick has to be attached for 36-48 hours, but other studies have shown that 5% of transmission can occur during the first 24 hours (Lyme Disease: Transmission, n.d.; Mervine, 2013). Besides being spread via tick bites, the disease has even been shown in animal studies to be transferred through blood transfusions. It can also affect an unborn baby if the mother is sick, causing birth defects or even death. With over 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease each year, it’s worth knowing how to protect yourself.
How To Avoid Being Bitten By A Tick
Obviously, the best defense against Lyme disease is to stay away from ticks. With summer camping trips and events, though, staying inside 24/7 isn’t really an option for people. Here are some ways to minimize your chances of getting Lyme disease.
- Wear loose, long sleeves and pants, a hat and closed toed shoes while in tall grass and woods where ticks like to hide.
- Check clothing, pets and all items brought back, as ticks like to hitch hike.
- Shower immediately after going outside in tick-heavy areas.
- Dry any clothing worn out on high heat for 1 hour to kill any missed ticks.
- Use natural insect repellents
Plants That Repel Ticks
The CDC recommends dousing yourself with the toxin DEET to prevent tick bites, but certain plants have been found to work just as well. Lavender and geranium essential oils, as well as juniper leaf essential oil have all been found to be comparable to DEET (Thomas, 2006; Carroll, 2011). Tea tree essential oil also showed great results as well (Lori, 2005).
One thing that is certain among the many studies I read about using essential oils as effective bug repellents was that the higher the percentage of essential oil, the more effective they were. This can be fine for clothing, but not so much if you’re using them on your skin… especially your children’s skin. Ultimately, use common sense and proceed with caution when using large percentages of essential oils.
What To Do If You Get A Tick Bite
If you do fall prey to a tick bite, you’ll want to take care of the wound properly. The CDC gives guidelines for how to properly remove a tick here.
After removing the tick, place it in a plastic baggie to send off for testing. Testing isn’t always 100% accurate and often can take a long time to get results, but from my research, there are some facilities that claim fast, accurate results (like this one and this one). If you’re in this position, I’d research the companies well to see if they’re a good fit for you. Also, keep in mind that some health departments test ticks, but I’m not sure if they test specifically for the Lyme disease bacteria. You’d have to call and ask that yourself.
Once the tick is removed you can then apply lavender essential oil to the bite every 5 minutes for half an hour (source).
When To Take Prescription Antibiotics
Because Lyme Disease is a serious illness, most all doctors will recommend a full course of prescription antibiotic treatment if you show early signs of Lyme Disease symptoms. Thankfully, when treated early, most times treatment is successful and you won’t experience any long-term effects of this disease.
Dr. Aviva Romm (one of my favorite natural medicine doctors) has a great post on how to avoid Lyme Disease where she shares some of her experience working with patients who have had this illness as well as how she would handle treating someone with symptoms of Lyme Disease.
Like I said earlier, the general course of medical treatment for Lyme disease is to give antibiotics. While conventional antibiotics may wipe out the disease when taken early enough, they’ll also wipe out all your good gut bacteria. This can cause a serious imbalance leading to a whole host of other issues. Thankfully, there are simple things you can do to protect and restore gut health during a course of antibiotics if you chose to take this route.
With that being said, Lyme disease is no disease to mess around with, and you need to weigh the risks versus benefits of the disease and the antibiotics.
Approaching Lyme Disease Naturally
If you get bit by a tick, before you ever have the tick or yourself tested, it may be a good idea to take some natural antibacterial supplements to decrease your likely hood of contracting the disease.
If you notice symptoms of Lyme disease, see a doctor as soon as possible. Talk with them about combining modern treatment with natural remedies for Lyme disease as there are ways to help your body heal naturally.
Natural antibacterial supplements that have been used include:
- Oregano essential oil
- Colloidal silver
- Juniper berries
- Oregon grape
Cleanse Your Body
In addition to antibiotics, you’ll also want to repair the body and cleanse the blood. Milk thistle is beneficial to cleanse the liver, which is the body’s main filter. Red clover, dandelion root, hawthorn and marshmallow are all useful in restoring the blood and repairing organ damage.
Herbalist Shoshanna Easling created several teas and products specifically for her Lyme disease that you can get from the Bulk Herb Store. They’re one of my favorite places to buy from because the quality is fantastic! Her “Journey Back to Health” kit includes six different products crafted to help the body detox, fight infection, bacteria and fungus all while boosting the immune system.
Dr. Axe also mentions that he believes bacterial infections, a weak immune system and exposure to mold and parasites all play a key role in Lyme disease. One of his recommendations to help detox is bentonite clay, which is also strongly suggested by Shoshanna in her healing protocol.
A body can’t heal unless it’s treated properly, though. All the supplements and herbs in the world won’t help if we’re gorging on sugar and processed foods. This means that healthy eating, rest, and stress reduction are vital to the body’s healing process.
- Prevent Lyme disease by deterring bugs with essential oil bug repellents.
- Remove ticks properly, save them in a plastic baggie and send off for testing, clean bites well, and use essential oils on bites.
- Take natural antibacterial and blood cleansing supplements for prevention.
- If tick testing comes back positive for Lyme disease, see a medical doctor to get yourself accurately diagnosed.
- Consider taking alternative therapies for strengthening the body in fighting Lyme disease alongside modern medical treatment.
For more information on using herbs to support the body through Lyme disease, check out fellow herbalist Carol Little’s article – Exploring Lyme Disease with Herbs.
How do you prevent summer bug bites? Do you know of any natural, herbal remedies that can help with Lyme disease? Share your thoughts, tips, stories, and resources in the comment section below.
- Carroll, J. (2011). Essential oils of Cupressus funebris, Juniperus communis, and J. chinensis (Cupressaceae) as repellents against ticks (Acari: Ixodidae) and mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae) and as toxicants against mosquitoes. Retrieved July 19, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22129397
- Lori, A. (2005, April 20). Acaricidal properties of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia Cheel (tea tree oil) against nymphs of Ixodes ricinus. Retrieved July 13, 2015, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304401704006132
Lyme Disease: Transmission. (n.d.). Retrieved May 04, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/transmission/
Mervine, P. (2013). HARD SCIENCE ON LYME: Ticks can transmit infection the first day. Retrieved May 04, 2016, from https://www.lymedisease.org/hard-science-on-lyme-ticks-can-transmit-infection-the-first-day/
- Thomas, G. (2006, July 1). Repellency of Oils of Lemon Eucalyptus, Geranium, and Lavender and the Mosquito Repellent MyggA Natural to Ixodes ricinus (Acari: Ixodidae) in the Laboratory and Field. Retrieved July 17, 2015, from http://jme.oxfordjournals.org/content/43/4/731.abstract
- Journey Back to Health– Shoshanna Easling
- Practical Herbalism– Phillip Fritchey
- Natural Strategies to Cure Lyme Disease– Dr. Josh Axe
- Preventing Tick Bites – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- The Vinegar of the Four Thieves – Bulk Herb Store
- Modern Essentials
- Lyme Signs and Symptoms – Lyme Disease Association INC
Post updated May 4, 2016.